I had a conversation today about mentoring in the context of for/by people with disabilities and disability service providers. It make me think about what I mean by peer mentoring, which I and many adults on the spectrum say has been one of the key factors to living well.
Peer mentoring in an autism/Aspie context usually involves an older or more confident/experienced autie/aspie mentoring another autie/aspie. But, and this was where I had a ‘lightbulb’ moment of clarity. Sometimes peer does not mean peer in terms of diagnosis, but it terms of context. So the most recent mentoring moment I was involved in related to an email I received, which caused me great consternation, frustration, upset etc etc. I was on track to full scale distress when I thought, ah…. Maybe, just maybe, I am interpreting this wrong. So I called someone from a similar context to say “I got this email, which said…. And I am feeling undermined, overlooked, slighted etc etc… Am I overreacting? Have I misunderstood.”
The answer was hard for aspie me to hear – you are overreacting, because, this is the way it is, this email is just pointing out the social structure within that context and setting out how to work through it. Without a mentor from a similar context I would have approached my other mentor who is another aspie. She would probably have validated my response, as her construction of the situation would have been from the outside so only looking at the actual words in the email and not the context within which they occurred.
I am still annoyed and frustrated, but I am trying to accept that this is not a personal slight, it just is the way it is. Kind of like accepting that if you want to be a chef you have to learn to cook things you don’t like. If you can’t accept that, change your career plans.
This was going well until a sense of injustice was thrown into the mix. And as those of you who are on the spectrum know, unfairness is guaranteed to really frustrate or anger an aspie/autie. Unfortunately the exposure of double standards or things applying to some people and not others occurred in a very public work arena. Interestingly for me, non-spectrum people don’t seem to have an issue with rules applying only to new or different people or those that are just not in the club….
The sense of bewilderment and the disconnect with people I had assumed understood me and that I got in a moderate way was intense. At this point I wondered what mentoring had told me:
This is the way things are, deal with it.
It sucks, it’s ok to be upset.
And then what it could have or should have told me:
It IS unfair, but life is unfair. You have a choice, accept it and be accepted or …
Unfortunately I don’t actually know what the or would result in and this is one of the problems with being on the spectrum. I’m guessing that non-spectrum people would think: “well, if it bothers me this much I will do x and y will happen or I will do a and b will happen.”
I just think “it’s not right, it’s not fair, how can they say this is the way it is when it clearly isn’t and why would they do this and and and” and of course in true aspie style I will think this for hours, days and possibly weeks although I will attempt not to by using all the usual strategies of mediation, breathing, mindfulness etc. It is the double edged sword of hyper focus and a deep seated belief in social justice.
When I train people who work with or support kids and adults on the spectrum I teach them about the power of their words to support, or to hurt, bewilder and cause untold distress. Please think carefully about how you phrase words whether spoken or written and if things do not apply i to everyone, please explain WHY and to whom things do apply. Without this it is all too easy for those of us on the spectrum to fixate on those words to the detriment of the rest of our life.