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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Shame

This article has been reprinted with permission on We Are Like Your Child.

I want to test a theory. The theory of shame going away when it’s out in the open.

I seem to have this thing. Which could or might possibly be related to decreased pain sensitivity. Or maybe executive function.

I don’t feel my bladder getting full. Usually the first signal that really gets me to pay attention is “bladder completely full cannot hold it need to find toilet within next 30 seconds!” Mad scramble for toilet ensues.

That or peeing myself.

© Bartlomiej Zyczynski – Fotolia.com

I’m 36 years old. I’m a pretty successful career woman (I can still bluff my way around the gaps in my resume). I have bought a house on my own (mortgaged of course, but still). I have a small but close circle of friends. I’m close with my family. I’m highly verbal. If I wanted, I could easily be seen as a shiny Aspie.

And the last time I peed myself in public was 6 weeks ago. And I don’t mean a few dribbles. I don’t mean “bit of incontinence, here’s some Depends”. I mean not being able to stop until my bladder is empty. Thank god this time the train platform was fairly dark and I was wearing a skirt so only my shoes got soaked. Made a nice squishy sound when I walked away from the puddle in the hopes that nobody would see.

Have I forgiven myself for not being able to feel my bladder until it’s bursting? Oh, years and years ago. It’s just a thing that happens. I can’t do anything about it except frequent toilet breaks even when I don’t feel like I have to go, and sometimes I simply forget to do that. It’s part of being me.

Do I still feel absolutely mortified when I pee myself in public? Does telling this story make me cringe? Did anyone here reading that story feel embarrassment on my behalf? Or even disgust?… Yeah, thought so.

But I’m glad you listened.

Edited to add some background:
When I wrote this, I was incredibly angry. Angry at the idea that shame was just some silly notion that would disappear as soon as it got examined. So I wanted to prove that there were some things that would not be less shameful when brought out in the open, because it wasn’t irrational to feel ashamed of them. That it was actually
normal to feel ashamed for wetting myself as an adult.

But now I feel pride. Pride that I had the courage to come out and admit that there are some things that will always be a problem for me. Pride that I was asked to publish my story on We Are Like Your Child, which is a blog full of articles by bloggers I very much admire. And pride that maybe, just maybe, someone else out there will read this and find some consolation and courage in here too. Bless you all. Wetters and non-wetters alike.

Guess that means I'm doomed ;-)

Guess that means I’m doomed *giggles*