I’ve been disabled my whole life. I just didn’t know it. As I tell people about my Autism diagnosis, I reassure them that nothing about me is any different.
In some ways that’s true. My brain has always worked the way it does now.
In some ways it’s not. I will now work within my limits, not a neurotypical’s limits.
People who have known me a long time have reacted in different ways.
Some have been curious and wanted to understand me more. They’ve generally been more likely to smile knowingly, with understanding, if I excuse myself from a social occasion for a while to recharge.
Some have empathised with my exhaustion but have told me that there is no way that I am disabled, and I shouldn’t use that word. They’re in denial about their own issues. There’s nothing wrong with being disabled. It’s a descriptive term.
When it comes to social processing, my brain doesn’t work as well as other people’s. It leaves me at a disadvantage on that front. I’m not offended by being disabled. In other ways my processing power is better than the average neurotypical.
It’s only a loaded term if you’re the one loading it.
But it’s not the people I know that I really want to talk about, it’s the people that I don’t.
I have never been more patronised than in the past couple of years. I don’t know what it is about me, perhaps my autistic aloofness, but being patronised was never one of my problems.
If people don’t know about my diagnosis, then they treat me as they always have. But those who do?
It’s not all, but there’s a persistent minority who leap to a lot of conclusions. Some of these happened when I was in a wheelchair last year, some of these have been by people who know I’m autistic.
Those conclusions are:-
- That I’m not intelligent.
- That I haven’t done my research and that I don’t know what is best for me.
- That my topics of conversation are limited to talking about disability. Not just my disability. Disability in general.
- That they have a right to correct me about the language I use to describe myself.
- That calling myself disabled is a shortcut to getting extras for myself. I’m unclear as to what these extras are. So far I haven’t had any kind of extras. I’m sure they’ll turn up any day now.
- That I’m clearly not disabled, particularly not autistic, since I can hold a conversation/make eye contact if needed/understand and use sarcasm/drive a car/ have children/don’t visibly stim and so on and on.
- That calling my husband my “Carer” in front of me, and discussing my needs as though I’m not there, is acceptable. It’s not. My husband is no more my Carer than I am his.
- Infantilising me. I’m a grown woman.
- That if I can behave “normally” then I should just do that all the time. This would kill me. I don’t like hyperbole. I really don’t. But I know that the times I have spent “passing” for any length of time have caused me major issues. If I told you that you had to pretend to be someone else for the rest of your life, you would see it for the ridiculous solution that it is.
The only reason people are making these assumptions is because of my label. They show they have no understanding of that label, or its value to me.
They then confidently tell me that my problem is my label.
Left alone with my label I am happy. I am reassured that I am normal.
The label changes me for the better, but it can change Neurotypicals for the worse. It’s the affect it has on them that is key here.
I’ve been told I’m naive for thinking that people will react positively. This to me is faulty thinking. I already see people who don’t react badly to labels. People who use the labels for their intended purpose; to understand me better. People are more than capable of understanding. It’s not naive to hope that more will follow. It’s hopeful.
And here’s another interesting correlation (based entirely on my limited observations), no one who has accepted me has objected to my label, not one of them. They may point out that I can’t predict how other people may react, but they don’t tell me labels are bad.
The people worried about the label, are worried about their own preconceptions.
Let’s face it, those preconceptions have nothing to do with the reality of me, so I feel quite safe ignoring them. And their “advice”.
But I’m optimistic. Many neurotypicals get it. They know different isn’t worse. They don’t make assumptions. They deal with the person in front of them, not some stereotype they’ve seen on TV.
If there was no Disableism/Ableism, then people’s reactions towards me wouldn’t have changed so visibly. If that effort was put towards productive change, and not judgemental change, then we’d already be halfway to understanding each other.