Normal is a bitch

A couple of days ago, I got an email notification about a new comment on one of the blogs I follow, Feminist Aspie. Feminist Aspie has written an excellent rant about neurotypical privilege and the constant misconceptions and prejudice about autism that she has to do battle with. Being made to feel like she has to apologise just for being herself is not ever an OK thing.

Someone had found her rant by searching for the word neurotypical, and decided after reading to leave a comment outlining their thoughts.

There’s a lot in there that’s extremely problematic, which is why I’ve decided to re-post it in its entirety. Trigger warning for victim blaming, ableism, and minimisation. And probably some other shit too. I’m not very good at the terminology, I just know wrong when I see it.

Ah dear.. I googled neurotypical and found this blog. I love to complain about my lot, but am only a tiny bit on the spectrum if at all. Also used to scream after loud bangs, managed to get out of it. Then there is the elevated amount of effort required to have (fake) normal conversation and body language. Someone wrote somewhere about how if you’re tired and forget to maintain correct body language there’s nasty consequences.. There is a certain extra effort in things, have never had arm flapping quite but a few other strange body language maneuvers I have had to un-learn. For me it’s not that there’s nasty consequences, just that I will not make new friends/girlfriends or win respect if I’m not conscious and careful with my body language and conversation. With language in particular, I tend not to naturally adopt cool, trendy language. Naturally more formal, but have to consciously and deliberately use certain cooler words eg “wanna go somewhere?”.

Why are all you guys wanting “a diagnosis” ?

It’s a pain.. I think I have been living in the “normal” sphere for ages and not ever acknowledged that it takes me a generally higher effort to do so than those who are actually born normal rather than having to learn it.. Ah well it has its advantages and perks too 😉 faster learning of technical shit and foreign languages so shouldn’t complain too much.. Have to take the good with the bad.

A have a suspicion that these autistic conditions are partially curable, since at 19 you would say I was definitely on the spectrum, but at 35 I have become so normal, it only rarely crosses my mind.

Oh yes.. This anger at “neurotypical privilege”. I do get rather angry when I feel that one tiny body language slip-up and a girl can lose attraction for me, or an interview can go to shit. Thing is, you can turn it around in a sociopathic way and say “if I fake it up well, they fall for it..”. Some people worry about the “judging..” of neurotypicals, but trust me you can outsmart them some of the time 😉 I wish I could do it more often and even the score!

~ Felix – August 30, 2013 at 7:45 am

It’s taken me a couple of days to line up my thoughts about this. My first priority was to write a comment on Feminist Aspie’s blog because my sense of social justice won’t let me get away with ignoring things that have the potential to be extremely hurtful and harmful for so many people. So I wanted to take the responsibility to publicly point out the flaws in their comment and not wait around for someone else to hopefully do that job better than I could.

And I tried to be polite about it, because who knows. They might mean well and simply not realise how much they’ve internalised all the ableism in society, the pressure to fit in and conform. So I tried my hand at validating because validation is important and it’s something I often forget and that makes people angry and less inclined to listen.

If you want to take a minute to read the polite version, go ahead. I’ll wait.

Or you can stay here and read the rude version.

“Ah dear”. SERIOUSLY? You start off by being condescending? OK, you might not be from an English speaking country and not aware of the overtones of the word “dear”. But I’m not from an English speaking country either. And this sounds very condescending to me. People who start any conversation with “Oh dear…” or “Listen, my dear…” are usually about to engage in a heavy bout of ‘explaining of things that should be obvious even to someone who is brain dead’. I should know. I do that a LOT myself.

“Only a tiny bit on the spectrum if at all”. That doesn’t really sound like a professional diagnosis, although I could be wrong because some professionals don’t like using the word autistic and try to explain symptoms away just as much as lay people do. But even if it’s your own opinion and not a professional diagnosis, that’s OK. If you don’t feel autistic, then far be it from me to criticise that. Even though you are criticising the hell out of everyone with a diagnosis all throughout your comment.

This next one is REALLY problematic, though. “Managed to get out of it.” “At 35 I have become so normal.” And the worst one, “A [sic] have a suspicion that these autistic conditions are partially curable”.

Here’s the thing. Brain flash: we are adults. We are not children anymore. Of course we are going to be better at certain things than we were at the age of 4. EVERYONE is better at certain things as an adult than they were at the age of 4. Like holding a f**king spoon. Autism is a developmental delay, not a complete inability to learn. Sometimes the things we experience the most “delays” in are the things that don’t really interest us and so we’re not really motivated to learn. Whoa, another brain flash: being slow to learn something you’re not interested in is true for EVERYONE as well. If you’re not motivated in some way to learn how to fix your own car, you are never going to learn how to fix your car, and you’re certainly never going to be GOOD at it. Autistic or not autistic.

Yeah, I am yelling. That’s because people who think autism can be cured make me want to stab things.

Again, just because we’ve learned how to do things that other people like parents and teachers thought were important for us to learn, doesn’t mean we’re less autistic than the day we were born. It just means we’ve learned to do something despite not being intrinsically motivated, usually because we got punished for getting it wrong. Like forgetting to keep our hands still. Or not looking someone in the eye. Or forgetting to put on deodorant (I still don’t think body odour, mine or other people’s, smells anywhere near as bad as using too much aftershave or perfume. But I’ve learned that other people think it’s important).

Don’t think for one second that punishment always takes the form of corporal punishment or getting yelled at. Sometimes it’s as simple as getting told that an intelligent child like you should be getting it right. Over and over. Until you start believing you’re stupid. You must be. Because otherwise it would be easy, right? Everyone says so.

So yeah. I learned how to do things other people thought were important for me to learn. Most of the time it took me a lot longer. I never got as good at some of those things as the other kids. But I learned. Does that mean I got less autistic? No. I just got better at hiding “problematic” behaviours and better at coping with the demands of the world around me. I realise that a lot of parents will consider that a success for their autistic child, but please, I beg you: always be mindful of how much extra effort it takes us to appear “normal”. And maybe consider putting in at least some of that effort into things that actually help us become happier, less insecure adults.

OK, back to the comment. “I will not make new friends/girlfriends or win respect if I’m not conscious and careful with my body language and conversation.” And later on, “One tiny body language slip-up and a girl can lose attraction for me, or an interview can go to shit.” And you call that no nasty consequences? Are you f**king kidding me? You’re saying you’re not worth getting hired, being in a relationship with, or even getting RESPECT unless you constantly monitor your verbal and non-verbal communication. I’d call those pretty nasty consequences. Not getting a job? Pretty nasty. Not getting respect? Not being treated like a human being? I’d say that is pretty much the CORE of nasty. Everyone is worthy of respect whether they’re the queen of Denmark or a person in an irreversible coma. Maybe you didn’t mean it like that but it’s what you said and probably what you believe on some level. That if you don’t behave “normally”, people will be justified in treating you like crap.

Christ. I’m actually starting to feel sorry for you.

“Why are all you guys wanting ‘a diagnosis’?” OK, not feeling as sorry now, because back to the condescending tone. (What on earth is up with the quotes around diagnosis? Still haven’t figured that one out). From your story I can’t really tell if you’ve ever gotten diagnosed yourself. You are 35 and would have been an adult or nearly so by the time the DSM started including symptoms for Asperger’s Syndrome. You are obviously committed to learning enough social skills to live in the “normal sphere” so I’m assuming you have enough verbal skills and motor skills to not worry about those two areas, unlike some with “classic” autism. So that makes it highly unlikely that you were ever diagnosed as a child. “At 19 you would say I was definitely on the spectrum” would suggest that you did get diagnosed at 19, though. So I’m not sure.

However. Just because you feel adult diagnosis “is a pain” and wouldn’t give YOU any benefits, does that mean that this should be true for everyone? How about some validation that doing some things actually does cost a bit more effort, not because you’re stupid but because you’re autistic? (Those two words are not synonymous, by the way). You’re obviously not expecting any acknowledgment from others that you don’t have it as easy as others, but does that really mean you need to judge other people for wanting a little bit of acknowledgement? Those two things, validation and acknowledgment, are usually at the heart of anyone seeking an adult diagnosis, the feeling of “it’s not my fault”. You obviously think that’s a pain. Well, if your way so far has worked for you, good for you.

Except that it’s turned you into a wannabe sociopath who wishes they could turn the tables on neurotypical people and “outsmart them” more often, so you can “even the score” and get revenge for all the times they’ve judged you.

SERIOUSLY DUDE. THAT IS SO NOT COOL. Treating neurotypical people as the enemy? Talking about outsmarting them and making them fall for your manipulations? Basically treating someone badly just because someone else who you perceive to be from the same “group” has treated you badly in the past? Dude. Not OK. AT ALL.

If that’s the side effect of telling kids to try harder to “be normal” and “fit in” and hide their autistic traits and punishing them for mistakes in body language and other things by insinuating they’re stupid for getting it wrong… Then what are we aiming for when we teach all those things?

A well-adjusted, passing for normal, shiny aspie who dreams of getting even? Or a stimming, smiling, weirdo autistic who is just happy being themselves?

I know what I’d like to be when I grow up.

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21 thoughts on “Normal is a bitch

  1. …Well. Sorry for kinda leaving you to deal with it. This post just alerted me to the fact I’m terrible at responding to comments (although, well, you can see why). I got the e-mail this morning that you’d responded and I thought “YES, RELIEF, SOMEONE ELSE HAS RESPONDED.” I’m so bad at this 😛

    Regarding the comment about being 19, I was thinking that might be a reference to my own age; I was still 18 when I wrote that particular post but I guess they could have poked around on the blog a little bit.

    But YES. THIS. ALL OF IT.

    • Don’t worry about it! I know the feeling too well. “Oh please please let someone else say something because I hate confrontations”. I feel that way all the damn time. And then I go, hang on a second, if everyone feels that way THEN HE’S GOING TO GET AWAY WITH IT and that’s not ok and then maybe someone else will see this and see that everyone is letting him get away with it and maybe think that it’s ok to say those things and THAT’S NOT OK either. So. An Aut’s gotta do what an Aut’s gotta do. 😛

      Not to say that anyone has the duty to respond when they see something bad happening. You have got to pick your own battles. Nobody can tell you what fight to fight. Sometimes you’re better off saving your energy for a bigger fight tomorrow.

      I’ve gotten better at it but I still have these social justice flareups and they usually end up with me yelling at people. So this is good practice for me trying to write things down in a reasonable and elegant manner. And then do the yelling in “private”. So to speak.

      Oh. Also. Forgot to say this: thank you. I’m glad you think I did a good job. 😀

      • YES. THAT. ALL OF THAT. THAT IS LITERALLY THE STORY OF MY BLOGGING/TWEETING LIFE.

        Sometimes on my Twitter timeline I see so much crap about functioning labels and NT “Autism Moms” (and dads!!!!) always knowing more than actually autistic people who “can’t REALLY be autistic” and I bite my tongue for just long enough to log out of Twitter and into Tumblr to rant there about that general issue. Then I feel like I at least made my point SOMEWHERE. 🙂

        • I have to admit that I have problems with the phrase “autism mom”. You don’t see parents of deaf children going around calling themselves “deafness moms”. Especially since they are often the ones saying “my child is so much more than just his label!”. Well, aren’t you actually saying your child’s label is the most important thing about your motherhood by calling yourself an “autism mom” instead of “mother of an autistic child”? It puzzles me. How does your CHILD’s personality define YOU?

          But I also get that it’s a community thing, with the phrase being a part of that group feeling, where these mothers finally feel understood and heard, so I do feel empathy for them. I know what it feels like to finally belong somewhere.

        • Absolutely, and the fact that people can join communities and feel like they belong is one of the best things about the Internet, in my opinion.

          Totally agree with your comments about the “autism mom” label, plus there’s no real equivalent “autism dad” label (of course fathers use that label but it’s not so ubiquitous, if that makes sense) which irritates me and probably irritates them too. xD

          I think what I was trying to say is that many NT relatives of autistic people, usually NT parents of autistic children, end up silencing and dismissing the views and experiences of people who are actually autistic themselves. I keep seeing one of those e-card memes that read “Arguing an Autism Mom about autism is like arguing with an astronaut about what it’s like to walk on the moon”. No it’s not. It’s like arguing with an astronaut’s mum about what it’s like to walk on the moon.

        • That implies that “autism” = the “burden” of knowing/looking after an autistic person, rather than actually being autistic.

          Yes! This! (Also, I love the name Autistic Kitten!)

          I have a lot of thoughts about the things I see parents of autistic children say, and the responses from autistic adults, and the whole discussion about “you’re too high functioning to know what my child is like”, but that’s still percolating so I’m not going to write about it just yet. Suffice it to say that I have a lot of empathy for the parents as well as the children. I get why both parents and autistic adults feel the need to be heard and why they’re so sensitive to the idea of nobody listening. It comes from a different experience but the need is the same.

          That’s why I try really hard to listen and am working on validating first of all, because I don’t want anyone, not even the guy who posted the comment that started all this, to be ignored the same way I often felt ignored.

  2. You know my first impressions of the offensive comments left by ‘Felix’ is that it reads like spam mail. It’s not coherent enough to have been written by a person with an intent to clearly express a genuine message. The use of language is atrocious and hard to read. But your response is nevertheless justified, and perhaps such concerns needed to be voiced. You did well 🙂

    • You’d be surprised. I’ve seen this kind of comment many times before. There’s a lot of people, both autistic/aspie and non-autistic, who subscribe completely to the idea of fitting in and becoming normal and even getting “cured”. I believe this kind of attitude can be extremely harmful, regardless of the writing skills of the person displaying the attitude. So yeah, I do think my concerns needed to be voiced. Thank you for the compliment!

  3. It sounds like Felix is normalizing all of his experiences: act weirdly, don’t get respect or lose the girlfriend. This consequence isn’t nasty to him, so I wonder what is? O_o But he doesn’t acknowledge that other autistics have been through this before, especially when he suggests “faking it,” like we’ve never thought about it before. It’s very condescending! “Try this, it was easy for me, why can’t it be easy for you?” (Which brings back memories of other people who have said some variation of that to me..shudder.)

    Meanwhile, “partially curable” is an oxymoron! Either you’re cured or you’re not, so which is it? Whether Felix acknowledges this or not, I think that by “faking it” he is actually compensating for his lack of social skills with the NTs. I also blame news reports. They love to say that x is cured, but what it really means is, “appears to be free of symptoms that are representative of x” (keyword: appears) and that there’s a chance symptoms will reoccur. Doesn’t sound anything like a cure when you put it like that!

    Anyway, I don’t think there’s such a thing as normal, just what the majority of people do. After all, as the Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland says, “We’re all mad here. I’m mad, you’re mad.” 😉

    • Yeah, it’s just a neverending story. You’ll never be “normal enough”. Even people who think they’re normal are shunned by others! Because everyone has their own set of “rules” that allow others to be seen as part of the group. And nobody can really verbalise those rules. So it’s pretty much a guarantee that you’ll always be excluded somewhere. Faking it is just not going to work in the long run, I think.

      I nearly included some words about privilege since I’m fairly sure Felix is a guy (he responded to my “nice” comment with the name Fred instead of Felix) and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that a guy would assume a bunch of women just need to be told how it all works. That women aren’t aware of how to fake it successfully. Because women are by definition not successful. [/sarcasm] I think that would also explain the condescending tone. However, I’m not 100% sure he’s a guy (girlfriend could mean lesbian) so I’ve tried to keep that out of my response.

      Interesting point about the news. The oversimplification of scientifically accurate truths causes more harm than most people are aware of.

  4. After an initial “Is this guy for real?!” reaction I started thinking “troll” but after re-reading it a couple times I’m moving to thoughts along the lines of dangerously deluded. There appear to be some serious issues in the way Felix has adopted a “me v them” attitude: autism is seen as an affliction to be “cured” or otherwise overcome.

    I find the idea of deliberately “faking it” repulsive: it’s a form of lying, and dishonesty of any kind is something I have strong feelings about. It strikes me as devious and manipulative, on a par with confidence tricksters who worm their way into people’s affections only to take advantage of their trust and abuse them. I think that if I was not honest with the people I know then I’d fear being caught in a lie which would destroy the relationship. Anyone who lies to me had better deal with getting treated like crap.

    So I’m open about being on the Spectrum with people I mix with socially as well as at work, and although a very few have shown skepticism or prejudice born of ignorance the majority have been understanding and supportive. I have found that being honest about myself and not suppressing my natural behavior brings two benefits. Firstly it is a whole lot less stressful which allows me to cope better with social situations. Secondly people have become used to the way I am so that when I stim, drift off into my own thoughts or bug out to prevent an overload it doesn’t even attract much in the way of comment. In fact I get people offering support: it’s been an almost entirely positive experience.

    I’m weird and proud of it! (And I’ve got no plans to grow up just yet: I’m having way too much fun.)

    • It’s unfortunately a more common attitude than you think, although rare on most of the blogs I follow. But I have encountered similar sentiments before which is why I wanted to deliver a public smackdown as well as a more compassionate reply for the person themselves. The smackdown is not directed at the person as much as it is directed at the attitude.

      I love your attitude though! It’s mostly how I’ve been living my entire life and except in some small but significant areas, it’s always worked really well for me. I’m hoping that with a diagnosis, I can move on to tackle those last remaining problem areas as well, since I don’t have the resources to figure it out on my own.

      • You’re welcome 🙂

        Oh, and your polite reply is a model of patience: non-confrontational, well-reasoned and the voice of reason throughout. Although one line near the end, “And with that little bit of acknowledgment, you don’t even need to become a sociopath.” felt as if it slipped through the sarcasm filter and made me smile. All credit to you for putting together such a calm response — I doubt I’d have the patience for it — and I reckon following it up with this must have been a major stress-reliever.

        • *giggles* Thanks! Yeah, I do have a tendency to be a little bit snide sometimes. At least I made you smile! And the (rather rambling) reply I got from the original commenter makes me think that at least he’s taking my words seriously, despite the sarcasm slip-up. 😉

  5. This is so brilliant. The whole thing. Including your polite reply. The “why can’t women just pee standing up” example is just perfect in so many ways. I might have to steal it.

    And I don’t think you were trying to be funny with your “rude” reply (which I think would be better titled the “appropriate” reply, just in my opinion), but I have to say I was laughing a bit. But not in a mean way! Like, I know you were angry, and I wasn’t laughing at you or your anger. I was laughing because 1) I laugh like a maniac when I’m uncomfortable and 2) I think hearing people express themselves so honestly and openly and articulately makes me really happy, especially if I have reason to believe that person doesn’t always have the opportunity or ability to do so 100% of the time.

    • Thanks! I was pretty effing proud of the peeing metaphor as well. Go forth and steal. 😀

      I know I tend to make people laugh when I’m being very direct and honest, and I don’t think that’s bad at all. It usually means they agree with me and like the fact that I have the courage to say it in a socially unacceptable way. Laughing isn’t always meant to be mean. 😉 But thank you for telling me! I really like knowing how you reacted to it!

  6. Well, women CAN pee standing up, you just don’t want to be anywhere in the vicinity when it happens…

    That is a great metaphor, can I steal it? As the NT mom of an Autistic 1st grader, I am working to plant my feet firmly in “maximization over normalization”. Your blog, and several others are such a great help to me in getting beyond my NT perspective. Thanks so much!

    • Please, please do! I’m so glad to hear that you find my words and explanations useful! It’s amazing. I feel such gratitude that parents like you can use my words, even in a small way, to make the world a better place for their children. 🙂

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