Saturday, April 15, 2017

Interview with Alex- Autism Acceptance Day 2017

Interview with Alex, age 27, who says:

Yes, I'm Autistic. My most recent partner let me know that their therapist was always super surprised to hear that I am on the autism spectrum, because I have a decent number of friends and try to do so many different things? I have to laugh when I hear implicit assumptions like that. I live life my own way. I've always been an idiosyncratic person, and probably a large part of that is being Autistic. But I also don't like to let other people define me. Maybe that is part of having to fight for so many years to understand social norms and how to interact with people, but I think it's also because my experience not having a more instinctive intuition for how society operates has made me question assiduously how society operates and how people treat each other. I have my own rhythms, my own sense of humor, my own way of communicating, and my own way of thinking about the world. I don't know what it would be like to be any other person besides myself - I will never have that experience. But I would not trade the experiences I have had for anything, even with the challenges I have faced, which perhaps an outside observer would shrug off given that I am able to live on my own and seemed to succeed academically. But I'm no less Autistic because I've fought to be part of neurotypical society. It's a complicated relationship, to be honest, but I have fought to live my life as I see fit...and I'll keep doing that. Screw what other people think.

The most joyful and exciting parts of being Autistic?
It has been rewarding to be able to develop my own sense of humor and perspective on the world which is to some degree rooted in my own Autistic experience. I've maintained many special interests throughout the years, also, and I think the time I have spent in those areas has made me a much more conscientious and whole person. I feel a high degree of sentimentality towards my past experiences and in many ways I feel that I am on a journey in life which is fulfilling those dreams I had when I was younger. I will never forget the sense of isolation and alienation I felt as a much younger person, but I have taken those feelings and I think repurposed them as empathy and compassion in my quest to genuinely connect with the people around me. That's some flowery language and the reality is more roughshod and uneven. I've been fighting this pitched battle against immense self-doubt and often-crippling social anxiety for years, and like hell am I going to stop being proud of where I've gotten in life. Without the struggles I have faced, I wouldn't be the person I am proud to be today. I would not trade that outcome, although I can only speak to my own experience and I do not pretend to speak for any other person.

The most difficult thing about being Autistic?
I would say it's trying to explain features of my experience being Autistic that don't easily translate to neurotypical people...especially since whenever I am going through a rough patch the first thing to go would be my executive functioning or ability to communicate easily in a more nuanced way. It is damn cruel that the times when I most need to communicate well in life have been some of the times when I was least able to. I have been through a lot of trying times with my family and in past relationships in part because of these issues. Also, our society is so bad at teaching people to communicate, understand boundaries, have empathy for other people, be vulnerable about your feelings...when you have to teach yourself, and you don't really know what you're doing...that's even more treacherous. I have climbed a rocky path to try and understand the human condition better than I did before, and more importantly - how to be the person that I am and to be fair to myself and kind to myself, and how to get other people to respect that...and how I can support other people even when I don't know how to support myself. That is something else - a whole other kettle of fish. Sometimes I feel like I don't have any answers and it's tough for me to be there for anyone else if I'm barely hanging in there myself. Life is a weird and strange journey. I feel more acclimated to that journey than I did before, but I'm still working through it. To be fair, though, who isn't?

How has Autism Acceptance Day/Month affected me personally?
When I first started reading more about Autism Acceptance events, it gave me confidence to take time to self-assess and think about how I could more effectively slow down and think about how being Autistic was affecting my life, and how I could more positively cope and take proactive steps for self-care. I have to admit, I spent a lot of years trying to push back mentally that I was Autistic because I didn't want to see myself as limited, but now I am more willing to be honest with myself about being Autistic, and I don't see it as a limitation to who I can be. I need to be the best version of myself that I can be. I always push myself so hard and it's a tough balancing act. I'm always trying to reverse engineer some way to cope with difficult parts of my life but I also don't want to settle for anything less than I want from myself because I'm Autistic.

What does "moving beyond awareness" mean to me?
The concept of "awareness" seems to revolve around something happening in the mind of a neurotypical person, whereas acceptance is a relationship that includes neurotypical and Autistic people in one community, listening to each other? Yes? That is closer to what should be happening. Autistic people need to have a voice and the "awareness" frame doesn't provide for that possibility.

What is one thing about acceptance that would make a difference in the world? 

I would like to see a more humble and gracious world where people don't have to mock and laugh at those who are different from them. I think autism acceptance is in connection with acceptance of many other parts of humanity which have been disrespected. For instance, aggressive policing is extremely bad for both people of color and the Autistic community. So, even though I am actually not a person of color, I see a lot of benefits to a more accepting world both in terms of autism acceptance and through the growing recognition of Black Lives Matter and other movements for social justice.

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