Continuation of the series:
As a person with developmental disabilities, I get a lot of autism stereotypes and a lot of intellectual disability stereotypes thrown my way. That means some people expect me to be a heartless mind and other people expect me to be a mindless heart.
And they actually believe those expectations to be honoring my strengths.
But that’s not necessarily how it works. There are autistic people with huge strengths or interests in social areas. There are people with intellectual disabilities whose main strengths or interests are intellectual. We don’t have to have a stereotypical set of strengths. […]
And people will either doubt your disability or doubt whether you really have the strengths and interests you do.
They’re always trying to prove that autistic people’s empathy isn’t real, that the intellectual achievements of people with intellectual disabilities isn’t real, that autistic people can’t be compassionate and people with intellectual disabilities can’t be geeky or nerdy or have cognitive talents.
And they’re always trying to say that different disabled people are allowed to have certain things and not others.
Each type of disabled person is supposed to be missing one thing and have something else: Body, mind, heart, whatever.
So we have bodiless minds, mindless bodies, heartless minds, mindless hearts, and whatnot, and that’s supposed to be a good way of looking at us!
The truth is that however you divide it up, every person really has a mind, a heart, a body, a soul, whatever you want to call these things. I don’t personally divide people up that way, but if you’re gonna, those things are universal. Disability doesn’t mean one of them is missing.
The idea of some shared humanity is just that: an idea. One that is too often used to exclude and dehumanize people. But I do think that it can be a useful idea if it’s deployed just so. When it comes down to it, we are all just animals fumbling around on a rock. That is what it means to be human. We do not always make each other feel at home here on Earth, but none of us is truly an outsider, either. We all belong here. None of us are strange visitors who can only hope to be tolerated and accommodated.
Abnormal is often shorthand for extreme. Ah! they say, you simply fail to understand the spectrum! Yes we all experience a little of this and of that, but until you’ve seen mania full blown, an acute psychotic episode, someone so debilitated by anxiety they cannot leave their house, you simply can’t appreciate what real mental illness looks like. This definition seems to work until you look at other examples of ‘extreme behaviours’, at social activists who put their lives at risk for a cause they are passionate about, at kids moving across the country to have a chance to train in the artform they eat and breathe, all the hope and joy and optimism of a couple in love and about to get married. Extreme can be dangerous, can be horrifying and destructive. But it’s also the place of hope for so many, their centre, their joy.
I don’t know who invented the idea of a carefree childhood, but such a myth has never been the case for the majority of children in the world.
I never felt cheated out of a childhood, despite experiencing some of the things that a lot of people seem to whine on and on about in that respect. […]
Just as some parents believe they’re entitled to a perfect child (where perfect is defined by some pretty biased standards of perfection, at that), some people believe they’re entitled to perfect (again, pretty biased standards of perfection) relatives in general.
I have to believe that this sense of what the stages of life are supposed to be like, and what people are supposed to be around for others to relate to, that somehow excludes the experiences of probably the vast majority of people on the planet, is relatively recent, and entirely mythical.
‘Normal’ people still get sad.
‘Normal’ people still have self-esteem issues.
‘Normal’ people still wish they were someone else.
There’s this misconception among some people that ‘normal’ is this beautiful land of milk and honey and double rainbows, where nobody has any problems or is ever made to feel inadequate.
[We’re not only autism, but] an intricate amalgam of our innate character traits, our strengths and weaknesses, our personal histories, our thoughts and desires and fears and embodied experiences of the world.
[Like everyone else, autistics have] many of the common experiences and challenges of growing up that most adolescents and young adults experience. […]
People learn and grow and are affected by their histories as they age. People become competent at dealing with the circumstances of their own lives. […]
Just because we’re new to many non-autistic people’s conception of the world, doesn’t mean we’re actually new to the world.
[…] I have this niggling suspicion, though, that there are an awful lot of people in the world who have been told that they don’t count, don’t get to be in the stories, things were never quite bad enough, or maybe they were too bad to be real. I have this feeling that there are an awful lot of us, and that if we just stopped keeping ourselves a secret, we might blow that lie out of the water.
In recent years, I’ve noticed that we tend to divide the world up into ‘trauma survivors’ and everybody else. But I’m not sure this distinction is entirely real; I think what we’re actually dealing with is people who know they’ve been traumatized and people who have forgotten. Or maybe the division is between people who are visibly shaken by their trauma and those who look solid; after all, we live in a society that places an extraordinarily high value on appearances, where people get a lot of credit for acting as if everything is fine, and a lot of criticism (or pity) for letting their pain show. […]
Isolation from support and reassurance is the essential part of the trauma. I was surprised when I first learned that people who are put thru traumatizing experience, if they immediately get support, comfort, reassurance and love, both during the trauma and afterwards, they mostly don’t develop post traumatic stress disorder, they’re able to process and incorporate it. Basically, a human’s ability to accept and survive trauma largely depends on how supported they are, on having a strong community and knowing things will once again, be okay. […]