As an aspie there are times when I do not understand the message someone else is trying to convey. As a child and teenager I was blissfully unaware of this. Some readers may find that sentence jarring, perhaps even bizarre. But At the moment I am being reminded of the pain that children and young people on the spectrum go through when being bullied in school. A friend’s child is suffering and the school refuse to be helpful in an aspie/autie accessible way. I did not realise the things people said and did were meant to be cruel until many years later, for which I am ever grateful.
Sadly the flip side to both knowing and not knowing the cruelty of others is that when we do know we find it hard to work out when people are NOT being cruel.
Last year a colleague offers a cruel put down that I realised at the time was meant to bully me, but I did not know how to respond. I have moved on but when I asked others to interpret the comments, they were horrified, whereas I had just accepted them, responded ambivalently and then perseverated for six months (in true aspie style). On the other hand a text or email from a close and normally positive friend or colleague can cause me to think I am being put down or told off, when this may not be the case.
This difficulty with social language can be successfully mediated by good friends/family who can give honest and clear feedback. When there is a gap in this feedback, as happens for many people on the spectrum in school or employment or in the supermarket alone, there can be a fractured moment.
In these fractured moments calm can be shattered and shredded, cast apart like an exploding fractal. There is a disconnect felt in every pore and every fibre of aspie or autistic being which is like being suspended in outer space when space consists of nothing but desolation. I often talk to adults about their need to think before they speak to those of us on the spectrum, to try and help them understand that a throwaway comment from a teacher can stay with an aspie/autie for life and do untold damage. I have seen this too often and am both saddened and angered that spectrum children are still being hurt because of their differences.
When I know the kindness that can exist in people, I have heard friends ask if it is ok if they accidentally put things in the wrong place or is it better to leave it for me, understanding that these things are important to me. If people can be this kind and considerate, how can people throw comments at others about their hair or clothes, or social awkwardness or flapping hand or stimming body? How can it be ok to laugh at the expense of someone else’s dignity?
If you meet someone on the spectrum who has gaps in their social interpretations, please be kind. Be caring, but be honest. If we have misinterpreted please tell us, but if we are right – whether that is about positive or hateful interactions, please don’t just tell us but help us to see the ways that you would respond if this happened to you. It is not ok to let kids in school be viewed as less than, no matter who those kids are. Being different is the human condition, every identical twins will have minuscule differences in their hair length or toenails! Autism in all its forms may make us different in a bigger way, and as a group, but we are different within that group too.
This blog is about living positively on the spectrum, achieving our potential, having people around who want to facilitate that achievement. I rarely write in a negative way, but I think if we do not actively work to have a good community, wherever that community is and however it is composed then we are as much the bully as the bully in the community. We may be standing up for community whilst others are actively negating it, but that means we need to stand firm and reach across any desolate disconnects that appear, to let others in their fractured moments know that they are not alone, and that they are valued people too.
My friend has received a lot of support, advice and ideas to keep supporting their child. If you are a parent or educator, please make 2015 the year that you get active in your school to find out not only what that anti bullying policies are but HOW and indeed IF they are implemented, and just as importantly if the kids think they work or not. Also reach out to other parents or educators who you can see are portrayed as or treated as less than others, they too need a connection to stop the fracture spreading and enveloping them in despair.
I have worked with some amazing educators who ensured that disconnects were minimised and fractured moments healed before they could cause any more damage. I have also worked with people who say they are teachers but call their students feral, in the vicinity of those autistic spectrum students. I did not do enough to stop that, though I waved my arms around in rage in my head and said good things instead. It can be hard to stand up to bullies and people who just do not care enough. This year I will do more.