Mindlessness: “A style of mental functioning in which people follow recipes, impose old categories to classify what they see, act with some rigidity, operate on automatic pilot, and mislabel unfamiliar new contexts as familiar old ones. A mindless mental style works to conceal problems that are worsening.” (Weick and Sutcliffe)
I like being me.
I’m starting to think that there’s something awry with the language generally used in the current autism discussion, on all sides.
We’ve all heard the line “we’re all a little bit autistic”. The current discussion has a resounding cry from the actually autistic people that this is nonsense and one must be autistic to have any authoritative point of view or true understanding. Even self-diagnosed autistics have to literally take the oath, certainly on Twitter. But what about the ambiguous world of academia and science? I’ve read many articles and the most recent book of a succesful and established academic and writer on autism, but I still don’t know if he autistic is or not. Closet autism is not something that exists in academia alone and many people in responsible positions may well have good reasons for non-disclosure. Is it important that an autism academic discloses? There should be a good reason for only using objective, scientific language about a truly subjective phenomenon, upon which transparent communication of experience is crucial to the discussion. Does academic context imply there’s not enough of a conclusion to use autism as a definitive term, let alone apply it to oneself? The material I’ve read on my Masters degree so far disproves most theories and places the origins of what we have very recently come to know as autism in a highly questionable light. But by not clearly stating whether one is or isn’t autistic, aren’t we adding to the confusion? Perhaps we really are all ‘a little bit autistic’ and we don’t want to admit it because this is far too simplistic and doctoral students and professors everywhere will suddenly find themselves alienated from a large proportion of friends and followers.
I am autistic. Being autistic is who I am. But let’s take that apart a bit.
Firstly, being diagnosed by the team at SAANS using the DSM5 or whatever in 2014, makes me autistic. It is their official terminology for my type of brain and I accept it. When I say I am autistic, I am using their frame of reference, not necessarily mine. Being labelled autistic by the NHS carries some weight in society of course, otherwise I wouldn’t have sought their knowledge; I wanted an explanation and I was diagnosed by the UK’s predominant medical establishment. I’ll leave my question of whether I am #actuallyautistic or not, and perhaps just such a fantastic actor I fooled them, to another post. The NHS gave me an explanation, I got the biggest national medical organisation to diagnose me on their terms. I wasn’t ‘identified’ as autistic by the NHS, as some people prefer to say (the NHS are not in the business of identities, as far as I am aware); my identity is made up of lots of things including this thing called autism, which interrelate to varying degrees and altogether identify me as who I am.
So I don’t question the definition, instead I accept the different views. The NHS think I’m ‘autistic’. Hurrah! Good for them!
As well as a medical condition, autism is also a social, psychological and psychal phenomena. A religious person told me its spirits in me. All points are valid.
I am not separate from other people. But what do I mean by that?
What I mean is from a sociological, psychological, identification, spiritual and quantum point of view (that’s a lot of views), all of us exist, at the very least, in this space-time continuum and social construct together. In this sense, if someone wants to believe “we are all a little bit autistic” it’s fine by me, because it is not necessarily driven by an undermining of autistic people or some other ignorant, separatist motive. It’s also on the face of it, a bit silly; one could just as easily state ‘we’re all a little bit non-autistic’. Perhaps though, the sentiment behind this statement might be “We are all in this together, I have an understanding, I have compassion, I am intuitive, so hey, let me help.” and perhaps the cliché, “we’re all a little bit autistic” is now just a little bit worn and needs to be examined in a positive way, by using dialogue, eg. by adopting the stance of:
“I accept your different view so let’s talk about that together.”
The field of Autism itself stems from early neuroscientists who observed particular behavioural styles in certain groups of people and so a great body of knowledge develops and continues to do so. One can even study a Masters degree in Autism, of which I am a student. However, many autistic people would deny the right of anyone who is not autistic (by diagnosis or identification) to have a truly valid knowledge on the subject.
Experience cannot be proven as entirely subjective and isolated as quantum field theory shows. So why would the father of an autistic daughter, who has devoted his life to her, since her birth for many years, not have experienced her life to some degree as the same as his and have a view on what it’s like to be autistic? Why would the experiences and views of a mother of two autistic adults, an autistic husband and an autistic father, be less valid than an adolescent boy with a diagnosis or a successful businessman who identifies with Aspergers? By osmosis, is there to be some sharing of autism, behaviourally or otherwise as a phenomenon and can the same be said for all traits in everyone on a societal level? Our individualistic, opinionated and judgemental society can be a dangerous place and autistic people are just as much at risk from the dangers of peer-group pressure and with the additional complications of unusual modelling and masking habits, perhaps even more so.
Life is too short to be so technical and militarily challenge everyone who doesn’t meet our immediate frames of reference; we can always build on our compassionate, openness and flexibility. Compassion begins with acceptance. Gratitude is the key to happiness.
Autistic people should accept being autistic, and with more of an open mind and heart, and learn to accept it as only one of a multiplicity of different viewpoints. By witnessing an example of honesty, others might see themselves more clearly too. By holding mutually exclusive ideas in our minds at the same time, we might understand a lot more about, and be more accepting of, each other’s differences. Acceptance of diversity leads to unity, that’s always been my position.