Whenever I, an autistic person who just barely passes for neurotypical, mention that I mentor and support autistic adults for a living, the most common reaction that I get is something along the lines of ‘that’s amazing’ or ‘that’s very kind of you’ or ‘you’re a saint!’ I secretly seethe when I hear these remarks. This leads me to feeling hesitant to talk about my job with new people, despite it being a source of pride for me. Yes, the people with whom I work need some help in their daily living and yes, basic decency and empathy are required to do this job well but I think that calling me something along the lines of a ‘saint’ for doing it is a stretch.
In fact, I find the notion that I’m a ‘saint’ for deliberately associating with and working with autistic people (and, by extension, disabled people in general) to be personally quite hurtful. It’s a weird two-faced problem that exposes people’s hypocrisy literally as fast as you can say ‘I like trains.’ The fact that I’m supposedly a charitable person just because I associate with autistic people sends the message that we are clearly an unwanted people. At the same time, however, they still recognize the loneliness that we occasionally feel (because of their general ableist assholery) and as a result, there’s a begrudging acknowledgement of our humanity. Basically, when I mention my work and when they talk about ‘how great I must feel about myself,’ they’re effectively saying ‘well, better you than me!’ Whether or not they know of my being autistic is irrelevant, although it may be a huge mindfuck to them if they knew.
But seriously, the message that autistic people are unlovable and that support workers are highly charitable people for being around them had been responsible for lowering my expectations in friendships and relationships. The message had been that my friends and lovers would have to ‘tolerate’ my being autistic and see past it rather than see it as part of a whole that cannot be separated. The message had been that I couldn’t reasonably expect anyone to fully love me because apparently, a prerequisite for associating with me, never mind liking me at all, is pure saint-like goodness and in my almost-23 years of living, I’ve learned the hard way that there are very few people with such character.
This pervasive assumption concerning us had left me feeling jaded and bitter. I viewed my friends and family members as people who merely tolerated me and kept me around because they were actually selfishly seeking recognition for being A Good Person, despite how wrong I turned out to be most of the time. In fact, it’s possible that it was my accusatory yet baseless suspicions that manifested themselves implicitly, rather than my Big Bad Autism, that drove people away from me, thus creating a self-fulfilling prophecy.
On a side note, I should mention that as I write this, the root of my anger and cynicism is becoming clear to me.
Sometimes I wonder if my mentees secretly or unconsciously loathe me because I’m paid to spend time with them; they probably suspect that I wouldn’t hang out with them otherwise (which, for the record, isn’t true in all cases). Lord knows that that’s how I felt when I had people supporting me in middle school and high school.