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You’re too humanist to be autistic.”

“You care too much about people to be autistic.

Both these statements have been made to me in the last month. Given that I am ‘externally’ diagnosed, and comfortable with the correctness of that diagnosis, I find these kinds of statements difficult to respond to. And humanistic is too close to human, and the way I’ve been feeling recently that touches a nerve.

I know that all these statements reveal is the speaker’s lack of knowledge about autism. Given that one is a doctor and the other a psychologist, it’s a little concerning. We now run at 1-2% of the population – there’s a high probability we’ll land up in the office of one or other group, and yet they seem to feel little need to understand what autism is before making sweeping statements about it. Given that both are ‘treating’ me I find it even more surprising that neither seems to feel the need to extend their knowledge. I don’t want to be a self-narrating zoo exhibit, and I’d really like not to feel like I’m the one who has to constantly do the educating.

I also get the feeling that people would be a lot more comfortable with a label like ‘personality disorder’, or ‘attention seeking’. If you’re white and female, no one ever questions the correctness of these labels. In fact, people bend over backwards to make your every difficulty fit under the diagnosis. A strange situation, where they like your diagnosis because it relieves them from the necessity of seeing you as a person with valid feelings and experiences, and also allows them to blame your difficulties entirely on your ‘maladaptive behaviours’.*

Autism, of course, doesn’t allow them that comfort. It is a disability that eludes personal blame and raises the possibility that many of your difficulties are entirely valid and require adjustment on the part of the other person. Once your behaviours and responses have strong biological underpinnings you find yourself out in the cold. You cannot be blamed, you cannot be fixed, and necessary accommodations require ongoing adjustment from everyone else – what the hell are normal people supposed to do with you?

I begin to suspect that people don’t want me, the autist, to care, that my caring opens up reciprocal obligations that would be fine if I were normal, but are distinctly uncomfortable when invited by someone who is incomprehensible/unpredictable/broken. There is, fundamentally, nowhere that I fit in, and even the parts of me that are ‘human’ are not good enough unless I become complicit in denying the truth of who I am.

 

*please note, this is not my opinion of people with these diagnoses.

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