Monday, 22 August 2016

What Is Bullying - And What Isn't


Lately, I’ve been seeing a lot of accusations of bullying thrown about in our Facebook groups, or on people’s personal pages, and I find it troubling. And no, I am not going to name names, as they are not my stories to tell. Suffice to say, I’ve noticed that often, the ones crying loudest and longest about being ‘bullied’ are the ones actually doing it, while their supposed ‘bullies’ can do little but grit their teeth and suffer in silence.

It also seems to me that many of us, lacking in social skills and intuition as we are, have difficulty defining exactly what is happening when someone has a negative reaction to something they’ve said, so tend to call any behaviour they don’t like ‘bullying’. So I thought I’d get it clear just what is bullying, and what isn’t.

The following are not pleasant, certainly, but they are NOT bullying.

Arguing with you. We are a quarrelsome lot, with many different outlooks on life. So people will disagree with your opinion, often forcefully. Which is okay, as long as it’s done respectfully. If you really don’t want to argue, you can always simply say “let’s agree to disagree.”

Challenging your perceived racism/sexism/homophobia/etc. Being told that you’re displaying one of the ‘isms’ is never nice. But sometimes it’s necessary, at least in the other person’s eyes. Even if you don’t feel that you are prejudiced, your being willing to at least look at what you’ve said is usually all that they want.

Challenging your thinking processes. We often pride ourselves on being logical, and hate seeing others thinking illogically. So you’ll occasionally get challenged on this. In itself, it doesn’t mean they hate you or anything, or are putting you down. Once again, respect is the key.

The other person losing their temper. None of us are saints. A lot of us are emotionally volatile. And yes, sometimes somebody will lose their cool and end up saying things they know they shouldn’t. And yes, it can be hurtful. But if this isn’t their usual behaviour, then maybe it’s time to step back and let things cool down.



Teasing and joking. This can actually be done affectionately. Unfortunately, not every autie will recognise when it’s being done. But as long as it’s not done maliciously, then it’s still not bullying.



So what IS bullying?



We’re all familiar with the physical “schoolyard bully”, but online is a different matter. There are many different ways bullying can be perpetuated via social media, but I’ve focussed here on the ones I’ve personally seen happening.



Harassment. People can be harassed online much as they are in real life, through repeated insults, scorn, putdowns, contempt, or even ‘gaslighting’. Harassers can also slavishly follow someone around from group to group, so that their victim never feels safe.



Slander. Some seem to take delight in spreading malicious rumours and false allegations about others they dislike, in order to damage their reputations. Even if the person being slandered is blocked, they usually hear about the rumours anyway.

“Hate so-and-so” groups. These are an outgrowth of the slander method, where a bunch of people who have decided they dislike someone, start a group designed solely to attack that person, rounding up others to join them in their viciousness. By this time, no matter how little truth there is in the allegations, they’ve taken on a life of their own. Unfortunately, many who don’t know the person concerned just accept what they’re told, and fail to do their own research.

Dumping/blocking. Another method of the haters. They actively campaign to have the hated one discredited in and/or dumped from as many groups as possible, even ones they’re admins of. Often accompanied by blocking, this leaves their victim without any means of responding, or counteracting the vileness being spread about them.

Trolling. A troll is traditionally someone who comes into a group or chat room, etc, and baits the members with inflammatory statements. But by repeatedly doing so, trolls can also bully those groups and their members, to the point where they no longer feel safe there.

Videos. Youtube is a great thing. You can make a video about anything you want. Trouble is, no veracity, no double-checking of your story, is required. The result can be a very spiteful and hurtful smear of others, with little chance for them to set the record straight, or counteract the harmful impressions given.

Intimidation. If none of the other techniques satisfy them, the bully might step up their efforts, including threatening to get their victim ejected from offline organisations, or even of tracking them down in real life (“I can trace your URL”).

There are lots of websites on how to cope and deal with bullies, so I’m not going to discuss that here. What I’m concerned with is two things – firstly, that often if the victim tries to respond in kind, they can end up being seen as the ‘bully’, as the original bully or bullies’ campaigns have been largely in the shadows, or misinterpreted by others.

My second and even bigger concern is how so many of us don’t recognise these people as bullies, or allow them too much latitude, simply because they’re autistic (“They just made a few mistakes, they didn’t really mean it”, etc). We can be extremely na├»ve in this regard, and tend to take others’ words at face value, not recognising what’s happening, or the awful toll it takes on their victims.

I hate to admit it, but not every aspie/autie is a beautiful person. We have our ‘bad eggs’ like any other group. Make no mistake, these people are extraordinarily manipulative and dangerous creatures. Please, if you notice anything like this happening, do not give the bullies any of your support.

Friday, 29 July 2016

Computer Games and Life - Revisited


A while back, I wrote a post about how the computer game Solitaire is a lot like my life. More recently, I’ve been playing a lot of FreeCell, and you know what? I’ve realised it’s pretty much the same.

Sometimes, for instance, I seem to be doing okay, but then I suddenly reach a dead-end, there’s nowhere to go, nothing more I can do. Or I have this troubling feeling that I’ve gone wrong somewhere, only I’m not sure where…  So I go through it all again, move by move, but I’m rarely able to figure out where I went wrong. I’m always left with this feeling like there is One Key Thing that I’ve somehow missed.

If I can’t be bothered with that, I restart the game, or abandon it and start a new one. And yes, that means the ‘this counts as a loss in your statistics… (you loser!)’ message popping up. Again, and again, and again. Like I need reminding

Repeated failures usually only mean that I become reckless, and lose all the faster, and more decisively. Sometimes, I feel like I can’t win at all. Sometimes, I even become cynical, and feel like the games are rigged, or that they’re somehow getting harder and harder.

Part of my problem, I’ve realised, is that I tend to become too obsessed with ‘tidying up this part here’, or ‘what’s happening in this corner’, and neglecting the bigger picture. And I don’t learn from my mistakes either, because every game feels different. It’s like walking into different rooms, with different people, indulging in different antics and power plays, and you have to figure it all out anew.

So often, I wish I could just once go straight through a game, without hesitation, backtracking, second-guessing, and blind trial-and-error. And when I do finally win through, the feeling is “Duh, but of course, it’s done that way, how else could it be done?!!” And feeling like Everybody Else would know this, and wonder why I couldn’t see it.

Small wonder then, that I’ve always seen myself as stupid.

In fact I never really ‘get it’, and I never will, I see that now. And I’ve realised that with this game too, there are ones I shouldn’t even start. Trouble is, it’s hard to spot them. A game can seem welcoming, promising, but then a while into it, suddenly, you’re in the swamp up to your neck, and with no idea how you got there or how to get out of it, other than just walking away.  

And what does it mean, to walk away? Do you forswear all games, or just start an entirely new type, hoping that this time it will work out okay? Not likely, when you’re just as ignorant, just as hopeless outclassed, as you were the first time you played.

Of course, technically I could stop playing games altogether, and find something else to do. But life itself is a series of games, and you have to play one or another, in the end.

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Autistics Who Don't Fit The Stereotypes


We autistics are usually all too well aware of how the public image of autism is grossly inaccurate. The stereotypical autistic is usually seen as either –

a)     The non-verbal or barely verbal young boy, presumed to be intellectually disabled, non-toilet-trained, faecal smearing, constantly stimming, refusing to be touched or cuddled, with frequent meltdowns, and running away any chance he gets;
OR
b)     The Asperger's-type geeky adolescent male, neck-deep in computers, who can code better than he can talk, with minimal social skills, emotionally cold, uninterested in making friends, and probably with questionable personal hygiene.

The professionals, meanwhile, describe us as being ‘deficient’ in things like theory of mind or empathy, and tell us we can’t imagine what others are feeling, or understand ourselves properly for that matter, or grasp abstract concepts, philosophical ideas, and so on.

We know that these stereotypes are not true, but even amongst ourselves, we can fall into the mistake of over-generalising. We’re much preoccupied with building community right now, searching amongst ourselves for similarities. We’re doing a lot of “Do you feel this, experience this?” or “Does anyone know what I mean by…?”; type stuff in our groups. We share, we support, we revel in our alikeness, after so many years of being always the ‘different one’, the outcast, outsider, weirdo, or reject.

And this is an excellent and much-needed thing. However, there is one drawback to it. And that is in our eagerness to find and share our similarities, we may gloss over our very real differences. Yes, we all have our autism in common, that ‘different brain’, but that can manifest in so many different ways.

Because for every behaviour or response or trait that even we think of as being ‘typically’ autistic, we can find someone on the spectrum who doesn’t have it, or do it.

Some of us, of course, are female, or non-white (a group waaay under-diagnosed), or not even in Western countries. We come from both genders and the inter-gender, all races and nationalities and religions and sexualities, all classes and sub-sections of humanity, and all ages too (you don’t stop being autistic the day you turn eighteen!).

But that’s only the tip of the iceberg. There are autistics, for instance, who are fine with eye contact, extroverted autistics who enjoy other people’s company, and who can do, and sometimes prefer, small talk, and autistics who find routines tiring rather than helpful, or who are comfortable with change and variety, or even crave it, hating being ‘stuck in a rut’.

There are autistics who have never had a meltdown, who are hypo-sensitive to sensory input, especially pain, whose stims are non-existent or kept very quiet and private or non-obvious, who have no particular ‘special interests’, or who are hopeless with maths and/or technology, preferring the social sciences or the arts or just about anything but computers.

There are whimsical autistics, and those who are totally serious. Many of us have a good sense of humour, although there are a few who must have been behind the door when they were handed out. There are autistics who can handle and even do sarcasm and metaphor, and those who can understand and use abstract or figurative language and/or philosophical concepts just fine.

And while many autistics struggle with friendships and/or relationships, choose not to try for them, or truly don’t want them, many others are able to build long-lasting connections with others, even marrying and/or having children. There are also many autistics who have no problem with physical or verbal affection, including to their children, though they vary a lot as to who with, and how and when, they express it to adults.

There are even autistics who can read facial expressions, though usually after many years of deliberately studying other people, while others are still on the beginnings of this process, or find themselves incapable of even beginning it. Some of us have learnt social skills to the point where we’re actually quite socially savvy, and some are just naturally ‘social beings’, and can work well in team or group situations, including workplaces.

There are also autistics who don’t have autism as their main identity, not because they view it negatively or reject it, but because other factors dominate their lives far more. These factors can include mental health problems, physical health problems, a racial, ethnic, cultural or religious identity, or indeed just about anything that they feel has shaped their lives far more than autism has.

There are even autistics who do (seem to) fit the popular stereotypes, though I personally feel that this is more superficial than real – there’s probably a good intelligence behind at least some of those non-verbal/barely verbal fronts, for instance, if the examples of autistics like Amy Sequenzia, Carly Fleischmann, Ido Kedar or Tito Mukhopadhyay are anything to go by.

This list could probably be even longer, but you get the picture. My point here, is that every time we say “autistics have/do…”, rather than “many/some autistics have/do…” we risk isolating those who differ from our type of autism, leaving them feeling left out and more alone than ever. Sometimes an autistic is rejected or attacked by others as ‘not properly autistic’, on precisely these grounds. And yes, that can and has happened, and it’s often very distressing to the individual concerned.

We need to be conscious that although we all have the different neurology that is the core of our autism, everyone expresses that neurology differently, and will have many other defining characteristics as well. We need to remember that our autism is only our autism, not everyone else’s.

And we all have the right to be whatever type of autistic we are, even if that doesn’t fit the majority view of ‘what autism is’, even in our own communities.

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

A Restless Spirit


This is going to be a more personal blog post than I usually do, and I’m uncertain how many others on the spectrum, if anyone, would identify with some of this.

Anyway, what’s been happening for me lately is the return of a perennial problem – a kind of deep-down restlessness. It’s afflicted me many times in the past, from childhood on, but I’ve never figured what it is I really want. I’ve tried assuaging it with this and that, speculated on what it might be from – winter blues, needing to be more creative, meditate more and better, go for a trip somewhere? - but with never any real answers.

I do know, or at least think, that it arises out of a kind of split or duality in my nature, two forces pulling me in totally different directions – and that have also been there my whole life.

On the one hand, is the side of me that likes order, tidiness, regularity, routine, everything fixed in its place, my life lined up like centimetres on a ruler. This side of me, as you might guess, is intrinsically linked to my autism. It’s the force that sees me religiously keep to my daily rituals, tidy my drawers so neatly that my mother once joked “are you sure you’re my daughter?”, and clean so hard it’s a wonder I don’t rub the pattern off things.

It’s also the part that gets flustered if things don’t go according to plan, or if something is out of place, the part that gets upset, or even panicky and close to meltdown, if there are serious disruptions to my routines and order. In recent decades, it’s the force that has driven me towards a semi-reclusive lifestyle, shying away from the world and curling in on my order like a wounded creature crawling into shelter. And in a sense, I was, and am. The world is messy, chaotic and unpredictable, and not nice to autistics. I’ve been damaged, as many autistics have been.

I’d be willing to bet many autistics, by this point, are nodding their heads and going “uh-huh, yep, I so know what you mean!”

But there’s another side to me.

It’s the side that craves stimulation, excitement, variety and yes, even change. That, every now and again, longs to break out of the box I’ve created for myself, this half-life that isn’t really a life at all, grab a few essentials, jump in my car and drive somewhere I’ve never been before, visit towns or even countries I’ve never been to, see sights I’ve always longed to see (Eiffel Tower, anyone? Stonehenge? No?), and do things the orderly side of me would look at in horror.

It’s the side of me that even remotely contemplates a relationship, even if it’s at some distant time in the future – something my other side shies away from like a nervous horse. It’s certainly the side of me that wants to see more of my aspie friends, be more ‘sociable’, have more of a life, in short.

It’s also the force that compels me to write, the side of me that, more and more, wants to grab the world by the throat, yell “listen to me!”, and tell them what it’s really like, being autistic. That wants to shout from the rooftops the truth of my life, and that of others on the spectrum. That wants to go back out into the world as a strong, independent and authentic aspie, and tell the world to Deal With It. Whereas my other side would prefer to stay cowering in my little cocoon of safety, hoping no-one will even notice I’m here.

The tension between these two forces within me is powerful. My orderly side would be quite happy living a near-monastic existence on some remote hilltop or plateau. My excitement-seeking side, however, would prefer the beating heart of a city. Tugged this way and that, by this need and that, I lurch from isolation to interaction and back again. I go away for a few days, enjoy myself, but then gratefully flee back home into my orderly little shelter. (Or should I say shell?) I go to an event, and then come home and crawl into bed for a couple of days. And so on.

At different times in my life, one side or the other has ruled. In my younger years, for example, my more adventurous side pushed me into social movements like feminism and anti-racism, fighting for the principles I believed in. I waved placards, chanted slogans, marched and demonstrated to stop the Springbok tour, defeat sexism, deny nuclear ships a welcome on our shores, return Maori land, and generally demand a better, fairer world. I was an ‘angry young woman’.

But then I started getting sick, and disillusioned, and heartbroken. So the ‘order’ side of me began to assert itself in a slow withdrawal from the world. And since exiting a very toxic relationship nearly twenty years ago, it’s been winning hands down. But now I feel like I’m stagnating… so the other side of me is breaking into flower again.

Overall, it’s definitely time for a weather change in my life. My autism and my CFS do pose limitations, it’s true, as does my sheer lack of funds. (Guess Stonehenge will have to wait a while.) But I do want, somehow, to have more of a life, live more authentically and more vibrantly. Somehow, I have to find a way to do this.

Watch this space.

Thursday, 23 June 2016

Autistics and Their Allies Getting Together


We on the spectrum are unfortunately all too familiar with the autism-negative parents and their groups. You know who I mean I’m sure - the ‘curebie’ crowd, the ‘hate autism’ ones, the ‘autism stole my child’ and ‘autism is an epidemic/brain damage/worse than cancer/I’m going to rid my kid of autism come hell or high water’ types. We all know and dread these people.

But a Facebook post not long ago, by the mother of an autistic child, who’d been ejected from an autism parents online group for taking a more positive approach to autism, and the response from some similar-minded parents, made me aware of something that’s been growing in me for a while. Namely, the feeling that there are far more ‘autism-positive’ parents out there than most of us are aware of. Some of these parents are on the spectrum too, but not all by any means.

I have encountered such parents now and again, over the last several years, but they always say things like “well, I’m a rare breed”, or “I’m in a tiny minority”. And given that most of the noise about autism is being made by those negative types above, or a misinformed and/or seemingly tame media, it’s understandable why they think that.

But I no longer believe they are. I think they exist in far greater numbers than either they, or we, suspect. They don’t usually seek the limelight, or go on ‘crusades’ about (against) autism, so it’s easy to overlook them. They accept their kids as they are, and don’t make a huge drama of their autism, to them, it simply is.

They may use various techniques, therapies or supports to help their kids grow and develop, but they don’t bombard them with the kind of harsh therapies we all deplore, or even too many of the not-so-harsh ones. They are simply quietly bringing them up in an autism-positive environment. And they are really, really refreshing to meet.

They’re open-minded and willing to listen to adult autistics, in fact it’s often their doing that which has helped them to become what they are, and to have the courage to shun the mainstream mindset on autism. Others seem to have come to it by themselves, with the words of autistic adults just confirming their ‘gut feeling’.

I believe it’s time for all these autism-positive parents to join together, to form groups both online and in real life, to share their different mindset and support each other, to liaise with adult autistics and advocate whenever they can for a more positive approach to autism and the elimination of such atrocities as bleach enemas.

To present, in other words, an alternative to the usual rubbish we see out there on autism, for the general public, the media, and other parents - who might be new to all this ‘autism stuff’, and really struggling, or who have been in it for a while, and are unhappy with it but don’t know of anything better.

In fact, it’s already started happening. As a result of the post I mentioned above, that mother decided to start her own group on Facebook. It’s called Autistic Allies, and it’s a place where autism-positive links and references to websites etc can be posted. There are also some other groups intended more for support, and parents actively working to see the whole bleach horror, for instance, made illegal. And whether these parents are NT or autistic themselves doesn’t seem to make much, if any, difference to their approach.

Let me be clear here – in promoting these groups, I’m not saying autism-positive parents should be thrown out of the ‘mixed’ groups that already exist on Facebook, where parents and autistics already meet and give each other advice and support. I see them as an adjunct to them, not a substitute.

So what do these groups look like?

They of course have to be careful not to be taken over by the ‘other’ sort of autism parent, so their ground rules have to be ultra-clear from the beginning.

THOSE WHO AREN’T WELCOME IN SUCH GROUPS

- anyone supporting Certain Autism Organisations (you know the ones I mean!). Initial ignorance of their true agenda might be accepted, but if they continue to support them AFTER being informed, out they must go.
- anyone espousing a ‘cure’ for autism, or posting links that lead to pages or organisations promoting it, especially those involving bleach and the like.
- anyone who advocates ABA or similar therapies.
- anyone who is into ‘pity parties’ or the ‘poor me’ thing, for having an autistic child.
- anyone who insists on normalisation or ‘being indistinguishable from their peers’ as the only worthwhile goal for their autistic child/ren.
- anyone who is negative about autism in any way, eg referring to it as a disease.

THE POSSIBLE OBJECTIVES OF SUCH GROUPS

- supporting each other in their autism-positivity.
- working on ways to get the autism-positive message out to the general public.
- working on ways to enable their autistic children to be the best damn autistics they can be, ie the ‘maximisation’ approach.
- whenever possible, reaching out to ‘new-to-autism’ parents who may be confused as to what is the best way to help their autistic child/ren.
And of course, last but certainly not least -
- listening to autistics, both adult and if possible teens and children on the spectrum, with an open mind, and liaising with them wherever possible.

Up till now autistic advocates, even collectively, have felt like a lone wolf crying in the wilderness, while the autism-positive parents have largely kept their heads down, perhaps not wanting to attract negative attention from the ‘other’ type of parents, or just getting on with their lives.

But autism-positive parents and adult autistic advocates are natural allies, and I feel it’s time to more and more actively work together, in order to change the public ‘conversation’ about autism, to change government approaches to autism, to change EVERYTHING about how autism is talked about, thought of, approached, ‘handled’ and dealt with, in every sphere of life.

Do these groups represent a turning of the tide on autism? I believe so. I hope so. I believe we can do this, and we will do this. Together, we can change the world!

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Introversion and Autism


I’ve been reading some interesting books lately, on introverted people. Introverts have long had a ‘bad press’, it seems this goes back to when Freud (himself an extrovert) had an argument with Jung and Adler, two other (introvert) psychiatrists, and from then on depicted introversion as a negative, unhealthy trait, associated with narcissism and/or rejection of the world. Introversion has been seen in pathological terms ever since, especially in Western culture. The outgoing, gregarious, extrovert type is still often seen as the type to aspire to, and parents sometimes pressure their children to fit this model. That extroverts outnumber introverts about three to one doesn’t help either.

But introversion is far better understood than it once was. It’s now known to be not a matter of neurosis, but an inborn temperament, decided by the response to stimuli taking different pathways in the brain. These paths are now being mapped, and the strengths and benefits of introversion are becoming better accepted.

Whether you’re introvert or extrovert isn’t about whether you like other people or not, or how socially skilled you are. Introverts are sensitive to over-stimulation, feel drained by crowds and lots of noise, and need to be somewhere quiet and alone in order to recharge their ‘batteries’. They’ll also go inwards to sort out any problems or stresses they have, and have a rich inner life, though it often won’t show on the surface. They think long and deeply about all manner of things, though this may not be obvious, and they’re often seen as shy or unfriendly, or even unintelligent. Introverts don’t typically dislike people, but they may restrict who with and how they mix, and are usually content with having just one or two good friends.

Extroverts, on the other hand, are energised by social contact and lots of external stimulation. They like to meet and get to know lots of people, and often have a wide circle of friends. They need sensation and external input to recharge, “like solar panels”1 as one author puts it, and can feel lonely and under-stimulated without it. When they have a problem, they typically prefer to talk it over with someone else, and like to ‘know a little about a lot’, their strength being breadth rather than depth.

It’s said that you can tell the extrovert from the introvert not by how they behave at a party - introverts can get quite skilled at presenting a good front - but by what they say when they leave. An introvert will say “Whew! Time to go home and rest.” An extrovert will say “That was fun! What shall we do next?”

I have known for some time that I am a thorough introvert. On the Briggs-Meyer personality test, for example, I’m an INFJ. Plus I fit the classic description of introverts as described in these books. I’ve experienced a lot of flak for this – I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been underestimated, misunderstood and misjudged. I’ve often been scolded for being ‘anti-social’, ‘shy’, ‘snobbish’, or accused of ‘sulking’ when I withdrew. Or it would be suggested that the answer to my problems (any problem!) was that I ‘should talk to people more’ or ‘stop hiding away’. My need for solitude has been seen as pathological, an unhealthy thing. As a result, I’ve sometimes forced myself to socialise till I’m about ready to drop from exhaustion, and seen myself as ‘lesser than’, because I couldn’t be like other people.

So does being autistic automatically mean being an introvert? It’s true, we often have a need to withdraw from the world, at least temporarily, due to sensory overload or social challenges, and many of us would probably identify as introverted, on the basis of the descriptions I’ve read. And the extrovert description fits many NTs like a glove – the love of talk and chatter, the throwing themselves into partying, the tendency to ‘sample’ conversations, topics and knowledge like a smorgasbord, or the ability to cope with far more stimulation than any autie could ever handle.

But the introvert/extrovert axis cuts through gender, race, age, nationality and just about every other category you can think of, and could possibly cut through the neurotype boundary too. So theoretically, there could be some, perhaps many, extroverted autistics2. (Plus of course there are definitely many NTs who are introverts, or these books would never have been written!)

So what might an extrovert autistic look like?

I’m thinking here of the autie who tends to charge into groups, loves to be around people and get to know them, and who, especially when young, can sometimes come across rather like a super-friendly, bouncy puppy, all eagerness but no finesse! Autistic extroverts may get their social ‘refueling’ from being with people they trust and have something in common with, rather than simply ‘the world at large’ – this could be their family, other auties, their church or other religious group, a group who shares their special interest, or something similar.

It’s possible at least some of these extrovert auties, if knocked back too many times, might end up rather bitter and disappointed and negative about the world (as do many of us), and retreat from it. But their basic personality trait would be unchanged, and so they might suffer from ‘energy withdrawal’, if they can’t find a congenial group of people to be around. So these auties might conceivably be in a worse state than more introverted ones, who are able to recharge through being alone.

It’s worth remembering too, that few people are extremely one or the other, so you might have some introvert traits, and some extrovert ones. One of the books even postulates a category called ‘centroverts’ or ‘ambiverts’, who fall pretty much in the middle. These people are able to understand both introverts and extroverts better than each type will understand the other, and can provide some much-needed balance and even mediation between them.

The big thing is to understand that one type isn’t better or worse than the other, and that the world needs all sorts. Whether NT, autistic, or a halfway ‘cousin’, an introvert, extrovert or centrovert – we all have something to contribute to the world, and the right to be whatever we are, and have that true self be accepted.



1 pg 20, Laney, Marti Olsen; The Introvert Advantage, Workman Publishing, New York, 2002.
2 One word of caution if you decide to read more on this subject – the writings are not really autism-friendly. One book for instance, on introversion in children, discusses how some confuse introversion with symptoms of autism. The author warns against “pathologising” introvert children - the unspoken subtext being “…but it’s okay to pathologise autistic kids, because they’re really weird.” She also reiterates the misunderstanding that autistics “aren’t interested in other people”. So get what you can out of it, and realise that not all of it will apply to you, whether introvert or extrovert.

Monday, 11 April 2016

Privilege and disability


I’ve been thinking lately about privilege. Most people think of privilege as something they have or had – “ancient rights and privileges”, “I had the privilege of meeting so-and-so last year…” etc.

But privilege, in the political sense, also has another meaning. It’s about what you don’t have to deal with, what doesn’t happen to you, because of your race, gender, religion, sexuality, neurology, or whatever. It’s what you take for granted as so normal that you don’t give it a second thought – unless for some reason you suddenly get deprived of it, or become aware of what those without it suffer. Though even if an individual is made aware of their privilege, they usually want to deny it even exists. As one person in a Facebook conversation about this said – “The thing with privilege is that those with it …are unaware of it. And many do not want to see it because it rocks the foundation of who they feel they are.”

I first became aware of privilege in this sense when I was in the feminist and anti-racism movements, back in the 80s. I of course don’t have male privilege, or heterosexual, or even able-bodied, now. But I do have the privilege that goes with my white skin and European ancestry.

So I know that as a white person, I can, say, walk down a street in a high-income area without having people think I’m there either to clean a house or to rob it. I’ve never had anyone assume that I got a job because of my skin colour, not my abilities. I’ve never been sneered at or hassled by shop staff because of my race, nor feared being arrested because of it. And if I read a history book, people of my race are almost certain to feature prominently, and usually positively, in it.

Similarly, no man walking into a boardroom for the first time is likely to have people assume he’s there either to make the tea or take notes. (Yes, even now that still happens.) They never have to think about glass ceilings or equal pay. They can fearlessly walk alone late at night, and sleep around without fear someone will think them a slut. Date rape is not a worry for them. And so on. (And this is just in Western countries. Imagine the male privilege in non-Western ones.)

And then there’s heterosexual privilege – your average straight person never has to worry about being denied a marriage license, or being allowed to adopt or foster children, or even to retain custody of their own children. Yet until fairly recently, all these have been routinely denied gays and lesbians, and still are in many countries. In fact in some countries, gays and lesbians still live in fear for their lives. And they aren’t all Third World countries either. Russia has a particularly bad track record of this, and it’s getting worse.

So what does privilege mean for the non-disabled, and/or non-autistic?

For the non-disabled, it means things like never having to worry whether you can physically enter a building, or easily get to where you need to be if you do get in.

It means you don’t have to think about whether you can find housing you can access, or whether you’ll be allowed on to a bus or train or plane, or denied a safe place to put yourself when you do get on.

You don’t have to worry that you will be talked to as if you’re stupid, or have others ignore your wishes and make decisions about your life against your will, based solely on your physical abilities and needs.

You’re never expected to be the ‘token’ person of your ability levels, or be constantly told how ‘inspirational’ you are, just for doing normal, everyday things.

If you’re not autistic, if you get bullied, it’s unlikely anyone will tell you your neurology is to blame, and that if you only you acted more like others, it would stop.

You don’t have to plan your day around the fear of inducing sensory overload, and you can change plans if need be without risking panic and meltdowns.

You needn’t fear that people will ignore what you’re saying because of your neurology, or consider you a ‘burden’ because of it, or decide that any and all problems you have, even medical ones, are due to it.

You’ll never have to fear being attacked because of your neurology, or that police officers will take your normal body movements the wrong way, and arrest or even shoot you because of it.

Perhaps most chillingly of all, if you are murdered by your parents or caregivers, no-one will say that “you’re better off dead”, and offer sympathy to your killer/s, based on your neurological style or physical ability levels. Yes, this does happen, and all too frequently, alas.

This is just the tip of the iceberg of the privileges of all the above groups. For more information about privileges, check out the following websites :


And yes, many of the above privileges, or lack of them, intersect. You can have, or not have, more than one sort of privilege. Imagine how they begin to stack up, and you see why some people’s lives are much easier, while some others almost don’t stand a chance.

And here’s the thing about privilege – there’s no point in either denial or guilt. Back in the 80s, I was in the New Zealand anti-racism and feminist movements. I realised then that guilt is a useless emotion, as it changes nothing. You’re not a bad person for being born white, male, straight, able-bodied, or whatever, anymore than others of us are bad for not being any or all of these things. What’s needed is to acknowledge your privilege as a simple fact – and then, hopefully, do whatever you can to ensure that those without it also gain it. I’m not saying that’s easy, or that all of us have to be hotshot activists, but we can always find some little thing to do to change things.

But start with simple acknowledgement. Just facing the truth can go a long way.