Before I go into this post, let me preface everything I’m about to say with this: As I’ve written before, because of the inescapable pressure that I’ve faced to ‘pass for normal,’ I’ve internalized the message that ‘normal’ is ideal and I have more or less succeeded in ‘passing for normal.’ In retrospect, it was an awful message to internalize but regardless, it has affected how I view other autistic people and, as a result, how I do my job. I’ve been trying to deprogram this message and undo the effects that it has had on me, which is proving itself difficult, but that’s another story for another post.
If you follow my blog, you probably already know at this point that my day job is being a mentor for autistic adults, usually in their twenties. My job is to help them with some everyday tasks that they are inept at or completely deficient in. Because of my academic background (meaning I graduated from college magna cum laude studying philosophy, music, psychology, and English), my supervisors tend to give me jobs where I help autistic people who are in school and to assist them in class but I could end up doing anything for them. I once had to teach one guy how to get around on the subway.
Anyways, I’ve recently become more easily exasperated at my job and have even had passing thoughts of quitting. I’m not sure if it’s my mentees (you know, someone who is mentored) or if I’m generally an impatient person or if I’m just going through some I-have-no-future-as-a-professional-musician-or-writer-so-I’m-doing-this-instead-related depression/angst. I did, however, come to a (not-so-) startling realization as I was wondering if my mentees had anything to do with my irritation: that the actions of an autistic are viewed very differently from those of a neurotypical. If you watch a neurotypical and an autistic performing the same action, how you perceive and interpret both the neurotypical and the autistic will usually be very different, even if it’s just being idle. The underlying assumption in virtually every single case is that the autistic is intellectually inferior and has less control over his actions than does a neurotypical person. If the neurotypical performs an action well, we think nothing of it. If the autistic performs an action well, it’s somehow by accident that he performed it well and we tend to notice the mistakes more easily (and if we’re really awful people who are truly a part of the system, we are more unforgiving of those mistakes). If the neurotypical says something intelligent, he’s an intelligent person, regardless of whether or not the idea is genuinely his own. If the autistic says something intelligent, he must be parroting something he heard.
Because of my internalization of the ‘be normal’ attitude that I mentioned in the first paragraph of this post, I view my mentees through a completely different and less flattering prism. For example, when one mentee of mine is supposed to be doing work on his computer, I often erroneously and irrationally assume that he’s not doing his work and this leads to some apprehension on my part. I’m aware of the awfulness of this and how insulting and oppressing my instinct is.
One thing that I’m doing in order to rid myself of this faulty lens is some good old-fashioned Socratic questioning (my solution to everything, really): see if I can make my initial reactions sound like preposterous nonsense. It may not work initially since we’re dealing with visceral reactions but there’s some therapeutic value in recognizing the flaws of what other people think, especially of auties.
I asked myself “assuming that the source of my irritation is, in fact, the people I mentor, what are they doing exactly that could potentially be a source of irritation for me?” Of course, I didn’t have a sensible answer to that question because they are, in fact, not doing anything to irk me intentionally so I figured that this was the wrong question to be asking.
And then the next question that I considered was “why am I even considering my mentees a candidate for the source of my recent irritability?” Again, I had no reasonable answer to this question. The fact that there’s no reasonable answer to this question shows that there’s no reason to perceive the actions of an autistic person any more differently than how we perceive the actions of a neurotypical. And yet we do.
Why is this? Does it have something to do with the stigma that we attach to autism? Is there an inherent assumption that we are stupid? Is there a vague inclination to believe that because we have the wrong mind, everything we do is wrong on some level?
“Maybe it boils down to an ignorance of repercussions?” Yes and no. Neurotypicals are just as capable of being shortsighted and doing things without being aware of the consequences. No reason to hold auties to different standards. Besides, even actions that have no consequences whatsoever are frowned upon when we do them (eg. stimming).
I wish I could completely kill this way of thinking but that’s impossible to do with a blog, let alone a single blog post. I can only encourage you to think before you assume. There will be the occasional asshole who will not heed my advice (probably because I’m autistic. In that case, oy.) but there’s nothing I can do about that. I guess I’ll just have to get used to the assumption of being inferior and thus miss out on a chance to prove myself. Or ‘pass for normal’ so I wouldn’t have to face that assumption. Either way, I can’t win.
Also, some grand not-tism news: I released an EP as Mr. Anthrope! It’s called “The Grand Ridiculous.” You can download it for $4 (or more if you’re feeling generous) at Bandcamp. It’s a fusion of metal, jazz, and electronic music. Crazy stuff. I’m embedding it here for your listening pleasure: