This thing. It has been making its rounds on Facebook. (I haven’t bothered to check Pinterest yet. I don’t think I have the energy to look for it actively.)
I am not deliberately wanting to be contrary about normative social humour (despite my reputation for being so). I ‘get’ the joke and generalised implication. However, the creator of this thing and the 95% of humanity on social media who support the message have not given an iota – not even a split second – of thought to the paradigm of ‘Other’ or even acknowledging the existence of this silent, ‘invisible’ ‘Other’ in this sweeping pronouncement. Who are these ‘Other’ people?
Me. Autistic people. People with neurocultural sensory-cognitive-proprioceptive differences.
Let me explain about why this is painful and offensive to ‘Other’ people like me – using myself as an example, and hoping the wider world of thinking humanity will be able to apply these to different yet pertinent situations across neurological divides. (After all, isn’t the claim of certain neuroscientists that the normative world is BETTER at abstract thinking than someone like me, i.e. inferred from the claim that autistics have rigid and inflexible thinking in comparison with neuro-normatives?)
OK. Here goes. As a child, I was pretty much the typical ‘little professor.’ Too much of a smarty-pants, I have been told. Yet, I was also condemned as ‘lazy,’ ‘uncooperative,’ and a ‘bum.’ Yes. My older siblings, mother and teachers all decided that the extreme imbalances of abilities exhibited were due simply to my wilful lack of compliance. Deliberate. I was purposely and purposefully contrary. I would only do what I ‘wanted’ and ‘liked’ to do, and to hell with anything else. That was their conclusion, and it still is their deeply entrenched view of me. No amount of trying to explain how I could reproduce ‘by ear’ a tune on the piano at age 7 but would have a meltdown when helping to wash the dishes, or how I could bear the smells in my chemistry lab and the animals I kept and observed so avidly, yet I would balk at being tasked to clean the toilet. The list is almost endless. Well, it would take weeks and months to fill a huge volume of examples. So, I shall stop here about myself, apart from adding that to this day, simple daily things like washing the dishes, cleaning the toilet, and hell, just dealing with communicating superficialities with a neurotypical housemate, are all arduous, painful and extremely triggering endeavours.
I also personally know an autistic musician who is brilliant at the organ – his fingers and feet flying in multiple directions – and jazz improvisation, but is unable to drive a car. He rides a bicycle around the city instead – which to me, is hugely more triggering than driving a car, but hey, what gives me the right to make ignorant judgments based on my narrow little worldview?
The ‘whys’ of this executive function cum sensorial-cognitive idiosyncrasy will fill another book – and belongs to a different blog post attempt. Let’s get back to this popular meme-thing for now.
Time and time again, whenever I try to protest or educate people about my ‘contrariness,’ within a normative social setting, I encounter the next rejoinder more often than I really should.
“Oh, stop being so sensitive, it’s just a joke, and this is not about you or people like you!” Then, I would ask, “I try not to question your choice of humour, but where is the inclusion? When is it ever about me or people like me, then? Why is the conversation even excluding me and people like me at all?”
I want to give normative society the benefit of the doubt. I want to think that society is just blissfully ignorant and that they, in their lack of ability or desire to think for themselves, are swept away by the ‘evil’ indoctrination of public media.
I do try valiantly, and sometimes quite violently towards myself and against my innate instinct, to always think the better of normativity. I dislike animosity and I shrink at the ‘Me vs You’ culture that exists in so many contexts. I actively promote the Endeavour of Empathy across all dimensions of Beingness. But it is an exhausting, wearisome and sometimes just simply devastating exercise, especially when there is a paucity of reciprocity from the socially-driven realm (whether normative or neurodivergents who are socially-driven).
Given that ‘scientists’ have asserted that autistics (me) are the ones who are socially impaired and lack understanding of other people’s paradigms, shouldn’t the empathic insight be coming from those who are supposedly not lacking in social empathy then? There is something really wrong with the way ‘science’ is being interpreted – and that is because the channels of ‘looking’ – the rhetorical approaches of current ‘science’ – is entrenched in narrow normative constructs hailed as the One and Only Golden Standard of Right and True.
What has 10 years of “Autism Awareness” (spearheaded by the likes of Autism Speaks – dishing out the bogeyman portraiture of autism, neuronormative ‘scientists’ and ABA proponents ) brought to the autistic community and the wider neuronormative world at large? How much empathy and true insight have we gained? Not much. In fact, a great deal of harmful myth has been propagated instead. And everyone knows how difficult it is to undo a wrong, compared with how easy it is to teach a falsehood.
Is there any wonder that autistics need so much non-verbal, isolated, shut-in ‘down time’ and are labelled ‘socially impaired’ along that normative system of ‘social impairment’ then?
The resolution for neurocosmopolitanism keeps popping up. We do really need “all kinds of minds” to become a more empathic and yes, vibrant, neurocosmopolitan world. We need to work hand in hand. We need to evolve together. However, at present, the task and effort of empathic education seems to belong (ironically) to the autistic realm. The ‘socially impaired’ are the ones pushing for change and showing the way ahead towards empathic social reform. What? Oh, humans!