Friday, April 12, 2013

Want to Tour a Different Planet?

Sometimes I just want to quit the internet.
I get "peopled out", and the negative interactions overshadow the positive interactions, even though numerically, they oughtn't.
But I crawl in my hole a while, and


and then I want to come back.
Not let the ugly keep me from the beautiful.
Not give the ugly the power to keep me from the beautiful.
Especially when what upsets me about the ugly is it's attempt to control me or define me.

So, after my break, I'm back.

With a purpose, for this post at least. My husband, a.k.a. Knight In Shining Armor, a.k.a. Superman, a.k.a. My Hero, a.k.a ... (you get the idea) suggested my sharing this here, thinking that it may help explain some of my "prickliness" to those who have felt it.

I was telling him about a conversation I was in, with a sweet lady whose grandson had been diagnosed with Asperger's. When she told me, she didn't know that I am an Aspie myself, and she said it in a way that communicated the unpleasantness and difficulty of raising such a child. Not in a mean or offensive way, but just how parents commiserate over difficulties. I can imagine that it could be difficult, depending on your goals and expectations.
The conversation reminded me of several times that I've heard people talking about "healing" autistic spectrum disorders, or making them "act right". It grieves me so much to hear parents with that perspective. I was, I suppose, ranting about it to him, and he said it might be helpful for others to hear how it seems "from this side".

So. I'm just going to cut loose, like I did with him, and shut my eyes tight and hope that I don't come across as angry, or attacking, or critical, or like I know it all, or that I think people are stupid, or any of those things. I also hope that maybe, if you see things that could be taken that way, you will instead just understand how upsetting it can be to be on the receiving end of the things that I'm talking about.

In our family, we see things like ADD and Asperger's as personality profiles, not disorders or deficits or dysfunctions or disabilities (alliteration much?). Just like any personality type, there are strengths and weaknesses, which can be exploited and compensated for. We see them as valuable types, not inferior.
For example, did you know that few people are truly colorblind, to the point of seeing only black, white, and grey? These people are very very valuable in certain fields, because they can easily see details that others, distracted and blinded by color, miss. And what about a blind person's extraordinary hearing and sensory perception? That's how we see a lot of things that are often categorized as "disabilities".
So to hear someone bemoaning the woes of Aspergers, and their frustration in how hard it is to make someone - especially a child!!- with Asperger's "act right" is such a punch in the gut. To hear their special, unique gifts and abilities so disregarded in favor of making them "just like me" seems so arrogant!
Yes, I understand, a lot of times it is well intentioned, hoping to smooth the path of life for them so that they won't "stick out", but maybe that is the very thing that is propagating the negativity associated with sticking out!
And I wish, I think at least, that I really wish, that every parent, every teacher, every friend, who is dealing with an Asperger / Autistic child, who is working so hard to teach them to "make eye contact", to "speak to people when spoken to", to "hug Aunty So-and-So", to "sit properly", to "stop waving their hands", to "stop rocking", to "stop obsessing over a narrow subject", to "lighten up" and "enjoy socializing".... et cetera et cetera ad nauseum
I wish that they could really, deeply, truly, and fully imagine:
Being dropped, with no preparation, to a different planet.
Where the language sounded like theirs, but soon proved to have different (often inscrutable) definitions for a lot of the words.
Where making eye contact was highly offensive.
Where handshakes were derogatory.
Where smiling was insulting.
Where small talk was pedantic and arrogant and selfish.
And every time they tried to reach out to someone and make friendly contact in one of these ways that they grew up with and are so natural that anything else just doesn't make sense, they were rebuked and told that they were upsetting others and making people uncomfortable.
And they were told that if they want people to like them, and if they want to make friends, and if they want to fit in (which, on that planet, is the be-all, end-all, ultimate goal for every creature) they must learn the appropriate ways to interact:
The way to greet someone is to lick their face, profusely. And to enjoy it.
And to be happy to have your face licked in return. And you are not to wipe your face afterward- that would be rude!
The way to converse is to repeat a prescribed script of nonsense words, that carry no meaning, and that the script is longer for conversing with some people, and shorter for others, and you must not confuse them. It is very offputting if you mix up the nonsense words.
That if you enjoy someone's company, you show it by becoming very loud, and rubbing your face against theirs every few seconds, and if they happen to move away, you must follow them, so that you can continue to rub faces and shout at them.
You must also be very pleased and appreciative when someone shouts at you and wants to rub their face against yours, and if you show any discomfort or displeasure, you are very insulting and confusing to them, and you have maybe hurt their feelings.
With all this, the culture is a very fast-changing one, with many "in-jokes" and unspoken expectations. The change is so fast, that with all the other rules for interaction, you often lose track of the expectations and jokes, so that things often fall flat when you are around, and people become very uncomfortable, because the jollity that is required is broken up and hard to resume if you've committed yet another faux pas.

My assumption (and I may be wrong) is that almost anyone would find those rules of greeting and interaction very invasive and upsetting, and would likely feel assaulted by what the people on that planet consider "just being nice". I imagine (and maybe this is just my Asperger's talking) that after feeling thus assaulted, keeping up with the in-jokes and unspoken expectations might feel like a bit much. I'm guessing that they would be mighty glad to find someone who would just look them in the eye, smile, shake hands, and say "How are you?"

And so I want to ask those parents, teachers, friends, etc., if they can quit trying to teach a dog to quack, or a duck to bark, or a chicken to moo, and accept that these children are trying to connect with people their own way, even if their way looks like something that is culturally rude or selfish or uninterested. To quit sending the message, with their "help" that "You are put together all wrong. Everything you do, or want to do, or feel, is wrong. Everything you like, is unacceptable. You are only pleasant to be around when you deny yourself every comfort and offer yourself for invasion and sometimes assault, and even then, only if you pretend to enjoy it."

Have I offended you?
Have I made you angry?
I truly hope not. I only want to show you what I see from where I stand.
And, maybe, to explain what was going on in my head if I've been rude to you or pushed you away.

My husband said he thought it could be enlightening to people to see how their advances can be perceived.
I am hesitant to share this though, because I don't want to make people afraid to approach me or avoid trying to become friends.

Not sure what to do now besides click publish.


  1. PS- here is an episode of a children's cartoon that introduces Asperger's. My children really enjoyed watching it and laughed so often saying "That's just like you Mama!"

    Arthur Meets Carl

  2. Mom, I love this. And I wish everyone could see things so clearly like this. I love you <3

  3. Amazing read . . . thank you for sharing!

  4. Yes, thank you! First of all, you have every right to back away from what overwhelms you when it's necessary. This is something that I'm just learning to allow myself :)

    I'm reading a book right now called Life After Art. The premise is that as, say, five-year-olds, we are free and uninhibited to express and be generous with our creativity. Then as school progresses, we lose that free expression. I'm sure he's writing to the masses and it will be a popular book.

    But he's the thing. Some of us were so very unusual, that we lost that expression very early. So early, that we can't remember the things we created before we learned to force ourselves into another mold in order to get by. We are just now walking out of that mold and finding art. It's in front of us, not behind. But it's just as beautiful.

    I do not have your particular label. But I do know that when I look back at 5-year old Anna, all she wanted to do is coloring books. Taking great pains to stay within the lines. Now I paint over old books (shocking defacement!) and take great delight in it. I make my own lines, now. :D

    Don't worry too much about upsetting people! You have been upset for so long. Act in love and gentleness. You are not responsible for people's reactions. Draw your own lines, beautiful!

  5. What an incredibly insightful piece. Thank you for sharing such a personal struggle. There will always be people who cannot understand that being different is OK, and that we aren't created to all be just alike. But there are others who will celebrate and embrace your uniqueness, and those are the ones you surround yourself with.

  6. You guys are awesome. Thank you SO much. <3<3<3