It was hard for me to figure out what I should write about for today, since I was trying to narrow it down a bit. I decided I want to talk a little bit about what has been difficult for me and how important neurodiversity is. I have been diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome, which means I am very high functioning. Most people I meet never know I have autism, they might just think I’m a little weird. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that I think sometimes it’s harder when you’re “less impaired.” I don’t want to minimize the difficulties and hardships for families with severely autistic children. But, when a person is clearly disabled people don’t expect them to act the same way as everyone else. When your disability is more subtle people are expecting you to act like them, and when you don’t they think you’re being rude or stupid. Neurodiversity is the idea that there is a natural variation in brain functioning in humans, and that there isn’t one type of brain structure that is better or normal. People process the world in different ways, and that’s okay.
I’ve been lonely for a lot of my life. I know enough about social interaction to know when I’m not doing it right but I don’t always know what to do to fix it. It hurts when you want to have friends and you want to interact but you don’t know exactly what you’re doing wrong. It is also common for people with autism to have anxiety disorders or depression, which can make social interaction even harder. I floundered around for years feeling like an outcast and not knowing why things were so difficult for me. I spent a lot of time feeling sorry for myself and even pushing people away to avoid getting hurt. Since my diagnosis I’ve done a lot of work on myself and I’m much more aware of my actions and how other people see me, and I’m still working hard at it. Getting diagnosed allowed me to know what I needed to work on and to know that I’m not an unlovable, bad person.
I guess what I want people to know is that we need to be more tolerant of everybody, not just people who are visibly disabled. We don’t know what’s going on in other people’s lives. We don’t know what all their motivations are or why they’re acting a certain way. But, I think it’s our duty as compassionate human beings not to take things personally and try to accept people how they are. I’m slowly getting better at this and working at it every day.
I think it’s also important to understand that different things are difficult for different people. Just because something isn’t a big deal for you, it may be very hard for somebody else. People with autism are often upset by different things than the average person. My mom once said about me, as a child, “You weren’t upset more than other kids, just upset by different things.” This can be difficult for people to understand. In college I once stayed up all night, the entire night, worrying about a pair of pants. It seems ridiculous, but the anxiety was very real at the time. When we have meltdowns or anxiety attacks it can be impossible for us to control it at the time. People with autism also don’t always notice when something is upsetting to someone else. People sometimes think I’m being bitchy because I just say what I think, and I don’t edit myself much. But I’m really trying to be socially acceptable, I just don’t always know when I’m sounding brusque.
And finally, I think it’s important to have open dialogue with other people and to speak up when you don’t understand something. This would have helped me immensely at various times in my life. I’ve had very difficult situations at a previous job because my actions were being misinterpreted by my co-workers and no one ever said anything to me. Meanwhile, my boss was getting a lot of feedback about me and I was totally clueless. The situation turned very uncomfortable and I felt hurt that my co-workers thought I wasn’t being a team player or wasn’t doing my job well. I almost felt like I was being lied to because nobody ever told me that my behavior was making they annoyed or uncomfortable. But miscommunication can happen between any two people, whether they are autistic or not. It’s important to talk to people when there’s a problem and to be as open and understanding as possible. Tolerance and acceptance is what’s needed most of all, for autistic people and for everyone.