personal space

Regardless of what his detractors say about Cesar Millan, he has pointed out many very important things about dogs. Temple Grandin, who is acquainted with Millan, has once remarked that he is best with the strong ones, i.e. the ones with more forceful breed features or personalities. I observe this to be true, his trademark, is of course, rehabilitation of errant behaviour in dogs and their owners. I don’t recall seeing him with a Greyhound. Would love to, if there was an episode. But then again, I seldom read about aggression in adopted Greyhounds, they are such regal and gentle beings by nature.

Whatever the case may be, so much of his advice about personal space, proprioceptive and sensory perceptions in dogs ring similar chords with autism.

I love this one (in the first few minutes of this video): “No touch, no talk, no eye contact!” His subsequent parody of American dog lovers is amusing, but also very real of the reactions of most neurotypical humans (regardless of cultural backgrounds) towards anything they perceive as ‘cute’ – dog, cat, rabbit, whatever pet, and children. Well, animals don’t want that – but neither do autistic children / persons.

I have always hated effusiveness directed towards me. Even now, I shrink with repulsion, but am better able to quell the instinctive reflex to hit out at or ‘kick’ the source of this unrestrained outpouring of emotion, which, to me, instantaneously feels unnatural, superfluous, perfunctory and invasive of my sanctuary. When I was a child, my immediate reflex (so I have been told) was to scowl, look away, or just sink into sullenness. I would become even more unresponsive or unpleasant if someone touched me – I hated being hugged by adults, including my own mother. This was autism, of course, but at that time, in the 60s and 70s, it was just considered bad behaviour, and I was often told I was an uncooperative child with a bad personality and poor attitude.

One of my primary school teachers actually wrote about me, “Rude and stubborn in her ways.” She was a typical unimaginative neurotypical who insisted on children doing exactly as we were told, regardless of logic or reason or practicality. She forced me to read the childish, boring books in the class library during reading time, and didn’t allow me to read my own books – usually junior science magazines, or classics for older readers. I remember being put in the corner for being silently disobedient (I took out my own book when she wasn’t looking) or arguing with her (I was only trying to reason with her – but took me many many years more from that time to learn that you just do not try to reason with her type of neurotypicals who have no logic in their minds at all, or who just refuse to see a different perspective from their own).

Autistic children, teenager and adults alike all need to maintain our equilibrium, the sense of balance that Cesar Millan talks about in dogs. We too, like dogs, are acutely aware of our sensory environment, our sensory composure and our need to keep the personal space. Sadly, the neurotypical world seems not to care much, though this too is changing for the better, or so I hope. So, please, “No touch, no talk, no eye contact,” until we get to know you better, and trust you a little more!

Is it any wonder that so many autistic individuals of all ages are naturally more drawn to animals than to neurotypical humans? And yes, the animals seem to know us better too.

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