I, like every Aspie I have met (admittedly less than 100) have a strong sense of social justice. Unfortunately, I like most of these other Aspies have found that this trait is not appreciated by a large number of other people. Sadly, many spectrum kids with this trait experience a lot of negative feedback for having this strong commitment to social justice.
I was thinking about this today, whilst there was a news article on about the torture of a man by police in Fiji. Most societies give the impression of valuing social justice and the existence of organisations like Amnesty International and free law centres suggest a range of support for social justice alongside the existence of social discrimination. I thought about why social justice as a trait is not recognised or overtly valued when it is held by someone autistic, and I realised it is because we express this commitment is socially inappropriate ways and contexts.
For example, at school I was forever getting in trouble for talking when we were supposed to be silent. However, I was unable to stay silent when I could sense distress in another person, instead I would amble over and ask them what was wrong and what could I do to fix it. (Many autistics are very sensitive to the emotions of others, I will look at this in another blog post) for me the rules should not apply because it was more important to ease the suffering of another. I did not understand that in a school context what the teacher says is THE most important rule. Many autistic kids get into trouble for ‘being rule police’ and reporting every infraction of every rule to their teacher, because they do not understand that classroom rules are rarely enforced consistently and continuously. These same kids, then get into trouble for going out to play when the bell for play goes, because the teacher has not dismissed the class. Again, these kids have a sense of fairness that is not often appreciated because their ‘telling on others’ is not socially appropriate.
As adults, our sense of fairness and social justice can cause huge problems in the workplace or even during tertiary education. We genuinely don’t understand favouritism and the ignoring of poor work ethic or professional practise due to friendship or relationship. As far as we are concerned you go to work to do your best and work hard, because that is why you are paid to do. When a colleague observably does far less we tend to mention this overtly and more than once. Additionally if our work puts us in situations where we need to give reports, we tend to be honest as say what we mean, as we believe in the integrity of reports and value honesty. However, many of us have learnt honesty is not always valued by either the client and/or the employer.
I am incredibly lucky to be able to be honest in my current work and have this valued. I have had previous positions where I have been asked not to advocate for the client, even when it was clear the client expected or needed that and had no-one else to do this. For an Aspie with a strong sense of social justice and a need to express that, it was not a pleasant experience and I left fairly quickly. Many other autistics have either left positions or been denied promotions because of their outspokenness. We can be labelled as trouble makers too. Which is sad, because if you were experiencing discrimination at work your biggest advocate would be the person with the biggest sense of social justice AND not be afraid to express that.
Next time you experience a child ‘being the rules police’ or an adult insisting on fairness or social justice, please step back and think about when you might need support like that. And if you are autistic, keep standing up for yourself and others, and just remember the people before, who,through their commitment to social justice changed the world; Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, the suffragettes etc