A common, albeit extremely ancient, myth is that autism is caused by mothers, known as “refrigerator mothers,” being cold and unaffectionate. Well, that’s not how my mother worked.
I remember as a child specifically being held and hugged by my mother many times. Often, she would tell me I needed a hug, and would often give me one. I enjoyed them, even though I may have been stiff about them in the past. (Did she know how to explain the proper hug response?) Well, this is one of the many examples of the warm and inviting personality my mother has.
Other examples include the parties my mother would throw for my siblings and I. They were awesome! For example, I would get a summer sleepover for my birthday. We would get candy and cake and movies…and all the gossip we could handle, though I was often the subject of the gossip. I tried, but could not quite get into the inner circle.
The thing is, I had no one explain to me the various tenets of social interaction. For example, no one told me that people do not sort the candy by color. So, how do you expect a girl who does not learn by osmosis, the way neurotypical people do, to interact well with people who learn by osmosis? Poorly, of course. It’s like a five-year-old trying to drive a car. They’re going to crash it.
So that’s the thing that autistic people need. Explanation and education. Maybe if there were social interaction classes, like the old “finishing school” stuff back in the 1950s, without the gender stereotypes and controlling women aspect, I would have had a chance. But even my best friend would bully me and stab me in the back, and I think my autism was to blame, because people hate different. I’m only an autistic human; be gentle.
CONTENT WARNING: Talk of offensive humor
I remember, some years ago, I was at a Christmas party at a former therapist’s house. She had dioramas of little taxidermized Titmice (small birds) decorating the house. Being the somewhat humorous person I thought I was, I looked at them, and as somebody passed by, remarked, “Nice tits.” She got the joke of course, but if you said that to any woman, or with any bird nowadays, especially in the age of #MeToo, it would not go over well. So, there’s a question I am asking now:
Was it even funny back then?
So now, I’m wondering what’s funny now?
I mean, blonde jokes, those holdouts from the 1990s, are no longer funny. People joking about trans urges are no longer funny. Here’s how that played out: “Family Guy” had characters remark that Bruce Jenner was an “elegant and classy woman.” But now, what is Caitlyn Jenner but an elegant and classy, albeit majorly tone-deaf, woman? Also, there were so many jokes about Donald Trump being president, but guess who is president? Donald Trump. No matter where you are on that issue, we can all agree that offensive humor is broken. Besides, using “retard” or “autistic” ought to garner a swift throat punch from any person who falls under the hate, am I right?
Maybe you have to earn being the butt of a joke now, and that’s perfectly fine by me.
Wracking my brain, I have become more and more convinced that there might be a metaphor for the life a woman faces, that a man can relate to. I think that metaphor is this: Womanhood is life in a lions’ den. Think about it: Lions are bigger than you, stronger than you, and can overpower you and kill and eat you, and there’s little to nothing you can do about it. Now imagine those lions are trying to constantly have sex with you, whether you like it or not. That, my friends, is womanhood in a nutshell. Think about it: trigger a lion and he could kill you. Trigger a man and he could kill you. Some lions view humans as meat. Some men view women, as, well, meat.
I could go on and on. Now do you understand why women would be terrified in a room of men? It’s a lions’ den!
Now, for some Godforsaken reason, when I come out as autistic to some people, they suddenly see this:
And they will NOT STOP COMPARING.
Since I have to spell it out, point by point, I am going to. All questions will be rendered to Captain Obvious, standing over there.
- “You’re in my spot” – Sure, I have a “spot.” But I’m not entirely going to yell at people for sitting in it.
- Extreme Arrogance and Self-Superiority – “The Big Bang Theory” seems to equate autism with arrogance. I’m not arrogant. As a matter of fact, I have to be told on a regular basis that my voice and life matter.
- Reacting in the Worst Way – One of the hallmarks of Sheldon Cooper, and sitcom characters in general, is that they react to criticism in the most dramatic way possible.
- Empathy – Sheldon Cooper, in this aspect, is a false stereotype. Autistic people have empathy, and the fact that I have to tell you this well into the 21st Century vexes me to no end. In many online tests, and by people in the know, I have been told I am an empath. I may not express my empathy in “reading between the lines,” but I literally take on emotions of others. There is almost no boundary. I often hold back tears when someone else is crying. Anyway, I have also taught myself on such important things as facial expression and sarcasm – while Mr. Cooper sees no need to do the same, even when he really needs to.
- Sex/Gender – Sheldon Cooper is male. I am female. I and my fellow female autistics have been told by many professionals that we don’t exist. News flash, autism researchers: autistic women and girls exist! Autistic people of color exist, too!
- Savanthood – Apparently, Sheldon is a savant in physics. I have been told I am one in spelling and grammar. Not everyone is a savant, though. And not everyone is a physics savant.
- Physics Snob – Now, Sheldon is a physics snob. He looks down on other forms of science. I do not.
- Executive Function: Cooking – Can you imagine the high amount of money the group in general spend on takeout? I can cook, and pretty well, too. Sure, I have the occasional takeout, but I can fix quite a few meals, too. Even from scratch.
- Changes – I can deal with changes in relationships, hairstyles and even food, among other things. Sheldon cannot.
- Bathroom Schedule – I go when I need to. Sheldon needs a schedule.
- Diagnosis – I am officially diagnosed autistic (on paper). Sheldon is not diagnosed. At all.
This is by no means an exhaustive list. So stop comparing me to him.
I’m watching TV and a commercial for Nike comes on with Shaquem Griffin. Yes, I’m talking about the one-handed linebacker for the Seattle Seahawks. And it seems to be an “inspirational” one. That kind of troubles me, because this is the truth:
Shaquem Griffin is not here for your inspiration.
Unless you’re a Seahawks fan. But I digress.
But he’s not here to inspire you. He’s here for the Seahawks. He’s here to help get the Seahawks to the Super Bowl again. What part of that is supposed to include your self-esteem? You want a talk about self-esteem and inspiration? So, you think Mr. Griffin and others like us are here to make YOU feel better and do something? Get over yourself. Look and see that the disabled have their own lives to live, their own goals to meet.
“But he’s missing a hand!” No, he’s got one hand. I know most people have two, but his one hand is working and getting himself a nice career in football. And what are you, assuming you have two hands, doing? Reading a blog! Okay, I’ll give you that one. So maybe you’re not as athletically inclined as Shaquem Griffin. But punishing and objectifying him for the one little body part he is “missing” just to make yourself feel better about your two? That’s quite a selfish thing. As I said before and I’ll say again, Shaquem Griffin is not here for your inspiration. Unless you’re a Seahawks fan.
CONTENT WARNING: Religion, Stigma, “Vaccine Blame” talk
Many autistic people long for connection with things bigger than themselves. Worship tends to help those who believe in entities such as God.
I’m going to present Christian examples, simply because that is what I know. Feel free to add your own tips and religious experiences.
As always, correct me if I’m wrong.
- Openness to Acceptance: Now, this is a hard one to start with, but there must be an acceptance of different kinds of people in the church. In Christianity’s core, Jesus’ mission (and Christians’ by choice of religion) is to “seek and save the lost.” By default, that means you ought to go looking to bring as many people, and as many different people, as you (and God with you) can. That includes the autistic.
- Education: Sometimes, a church and its parishioners can be turned toward acceptance by education. I know it’s hard, but educating people about the range and spectrum of autism may be necessary in the course of worship.
- Vaccine Acceptance, Not Blame: Vaccines do not cause autism. End of story. And if they do not accept vaccines for any reason, then walk away. You will be exposing you and yours to debilitating, often deadly and preventable illnesses.
- No Stigma/Shame: A common belief, especially in more legalistic places of worship, is that autism and mental illness are symptoms of moral failing, and that they must be corrected. In Christianity, this is a common theme among religious leaders, that God must be punishing a person with illness and disability. They are often wrong, since there are usually genetic components to these conditions.
- Acceptance/Encouragement of Healthy Practices: I once got encouragement from a fellow parishioner to take my required medicines to keep me healthy at church. This is actually good and proper. Medicines are often part of God’s plan to help with illnesses, disabilities and conditions, physical and mental. But, I digress. The point is, stay at a church that encourages good health practices in love.
This is by no means an exhaustive list. Feel free to add more.
(As I have said previously, I lost someone close to me recently, so this might color my writing.)
I know you are out there. I know you are considering it. We are worried about you. We love you. Even if you seem happy-go-lucky and joyful. Even if you are as boisterous as Guy Fieri or something. Please, tell somebody. We need to know. Don’t let us find out the hard way.
I’ve already written about my own experience walking to the edge of the cliff. Please, don’t let go yet.
I’m going to tell you some truths that may be unbelievable now, but they are true:
You are not a burden.
You are not letting anyone down.
We love you. Your family, friends, other people, even strangers – we love you.
You are a pillar. Your presence means something to somebody.
There is still something for you to do on this planet.
When a person dies, by any means, they leave a hole in the fabric of humanity. They don’t mean to, but they do.
If you’re going to die, you will lose any chance of helping other people in your life.
It may seem like I’m talking out of my backside, but rest assured, everything I say in this vein has truth backing it up.