Every now and then an aspie (person with Aspergers) friend and I chat about how rude some people are. You may be interested in the typical themes in these conversations:
“Being on the spectrum is no excuse for being rude. I mean so and so is not a child, he/she should have learnt by now that you can’t just talk over other people and get louder and louder to ensure everyone else stops talking….”
“Honestly, does so and so realise how offensive they are being to people on the spectrum? Why do they think it is ok to say x. y or z…..”
As you can see we are sticklers for politeness, and non-discriminatory in our condemnation of others! Actually, we are generally both quite kind and caring people, we are both female aspies who have learnt literally hundreds of ‘social rules’ that constrain and guide us in our lives. Perhaps we are jealous of those are not similarly constrained (and it is a huge effort sometimes), but I think more we are victims of our desire to be accepted by others. When we see/hear other spectrum adults shouting over others and interrupting loudly and forcefully, our first reactions are to cringe – I suspect we are, and I know I am thinking that everyone else is going to assume that because we are also on the spectrum, that we will behave in the same way. I wonder if this internalised spectrum-phobia?!?!
If I know that person involved really struggles with their communication with others, I am much more patient and accepting. But, if I don’t know the person very well, I need to learn to just be. I don’t know if that person is stressed, angry, upset, excited, overloaded or indeed rude, but actually it is not for me to police the interactions of others. If I am in conversation with the person, I could politely ask them to talk more quietly because I find shouting difficult to follow. The reason I don’t do this, ironically, is that I don’t want to be or appear to be rude!
I can shout out when I am really offended or angry or stressed but I am learning not to do so as I know it upsets others around me if I do so. What I am currently trying to work out is if people who are not on the spectrum realise just how offensive they are to us aspies and auties (people with autism) at times. Recently a person who earns a living working with people on the spectrum was saying that ‘people who are not on the spectrum are much warmer and more caring towards other people.’ I was incensed by this comment, which I felt was ignorant and bigoted. A parent of a child on the spectrum recently commented that she wished she was on the spectrum, ‘so that she could say whatever she wanted’!!!!!! I did not say what I was thinking in response…..but again I was horrified that anyone could think that all aspies and auties run around saying whatever they are thinking, no matter how inappropriate. Where do people find this inaccurate stereotypes?
In fact many of us aspie and autie adults are so constrained by our following of ‘social rules’ that we rarely say exactly what we think, preferring instead to be quiet. In fact I am often told I am a fantastic listener and many people who are not on the spectrum tell me their entire life story within half an hour of meeting me. Very odd indeed! But then, I tend not to gossip, because I don’t understand the point of it and find it generally mean-spirited and unkind, so perhaps people feel their secrets are safe with me (which they are).
As a child, yes I did say whatever I was thinking, until I learnt how much trouble this caused…. for example it is unwise to tell a teacher they are boring, to tell a school principal that no, you do not wish to do what they just asked, to tell your mother that her meal is horrible or your best friend (and yes we do have friends) that they look awful…. However, I think that non-spectrum children also do many of these things, they just tend to do them younger and learn much quicker that other people are offended.
This distinction leads me logically to question whether or not non-spectrum people who make disparaging or negative comments about people on the spectrum realise just how offensive they are being. When you presume I must be single because I am an aspie, it is offensive! I am quite capable of having a life partner (you can ask them if you like!). When you assume I am unemployed or on a disability benefit, I am offended. I work, I also run my own business, I am also a published author. Many, many, many of us on the spectrum are highly intelligent and quite capable of working, especially in our fields of special interest. I recall as a newly qualified teacher being so impressed that I could get paid to play with lego with a bunch of kids! However, I also taught these kids to multiply and divide and understand right angles. My colleagues then told me that I shouldn’t have done that as they were too young to learn these things (which they had already learnt). Those particular kids were 4 years old. But I had no idea they weren’t supposed to be able to do things, I was interested, passionately interested in mathematics and loved using practical and visual examples to teach maths. The kids in turn were excited, engaged and learnt.
Much of the offensive rubbish talked about people on the spectrum is about the limits on the potential of kids on the spectrum. I watch kids who are just like I was go backwards over a school year of they are unlucky enough to get a teacher who assumes they have no potential because they are on the spectrum. These same kids can learn in leaps and bounds with an understanding teacher who accepts the non-linear learning pattern of spectrum kids.
Yes, some on the spectrum struggle more that others, but struggle does not mean incapable, it may mean; needs support, or am still learning, or this skill is emotion/mood/energy level dependent etc On that note, I think I may have been offensive to others on the spectrum by getting trapped in my socially constraining rules. I shall endeavour to just be and try to really hear these people when they communicate and perhaps when I next hear another offensive comment, I might just ask if the person realises how and why that is offensive to those of us on the spectrum!