As an adult on the autism spectrum, and a champion for understanding and acceptance, I try to strike the right balance between providing people with useful information and boring the pants off them. As neurodiversity (and in particular adults with Asperger’s) is my new ‘special interest’, this can sometimes be a difficult balance to strike. The strategy I tend to use is to speak for a few minutes and then stop, and wait to see if they continue the topic. If they do I repeat my action of speaking for a few minutes and then stopping, with the exit from this loop being them changing the subject. I find this far easier (and less energy-draining) than trying to detect non-verbal signals of interest/boredom, and on the whole it seems to work with all but the most politer-than-polite individuals.
Today I had the opportunity to bend the ear of an educational psychologist whom I met at a work event. As work-related chit chat had dried up I asked a broad question about how ASC and related conditions are picked up in a school context these days (bearing in mind the diagnosis didn’t really exist when I was at school, and I am now the step-mother to some children very likely on the spectrum themselves). Detecting some opinions that were potentially in opposition to my own ‘autism is a culture and I’m a very proud member’ viewpoint, I thought I’d better declare myself as less than impartial.
What ensued was a very interesting conversation that I am very glad to have had. I really enjoy explaining and interpreting the aspie viewpoint and ‘lifestyle’, but what I enjoy even more, is challenging people’s stereotypes of what individuals with autism are like and how they come across. I’m sure this person won’t mind me saying that they thought I presented as very neurotypical. It’s not the first time I’ve been told that, and I was very keen to get across the fact that this is due to huge amounts of effort, years of practice, and a keen desire to blend in, rather than a reflection of an inaccurate diagnosis and/or the perceived ‘fashionable-ness’ of autism (apologies for the invented word). I explained that this presentation comes at the expense of any sort of social life, and is achieved through a combination of paid and unpaid support in work and at home. I explained that after 30-odd years of disconnection, I had found meaning and belonging with people around the world with whom I might only share this one thing, but that that connection has been invaluable and indescribable.
I guess I wanted to give flesh, life and colour to the concept of an adult with autism, who is now grown up and able to reflect on things like childhood, schooling and diagnosis. I wanted to embody the mantra: ‘When you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism’. A professional who interacts only with children and other professionals may not have met a wide enough variety of adults on the spectrum to have a full picture of what and who those children might grow up to become (despite, I suspect, having met a lot of undiagnosed but very aspie parents). I like it when people are surprised, but only when that surprise is accompanied by a willingness to listen and reconsider. Happily this was one of those occasions.
© Catastraspie, 2013.