Yes, You Might be an Ass!

Donkey looking over a split-rail type of fece at the camera, with a smaller donkey in the backgorund

Donkey by bagsgrove (flickr) – Licensed CC BY-SA 2.0

Autistics are not like NTs (neurotypicals) in the social arena.  We may not pick up on emotions the same way as others.  We may not be motivated by feelings of belonging in the same way as NTs, and may be more likely to go against the crowd (for good or bad).  Our emotional expressions may be misunderstood by neurotypicals.  We may communicate differently or less frequently about our feelings and thoughts.

Some of these things can lead us to being considered rude, jerks, or, yes, even asses.  For instance:

  • YOU SEE: You are someone who doesn’t care that I’m upset
  • I SEE: I didn’t realize you were upset.  I wish I did.
  • YOU SEE: Why do you have to make a big deal out of this?  Can’t you just get along?
  • I SEE: I’m not supposed to express my opinions and thoughts here?
  • YOU SEE: You’re not upset that this happened to me?
  • I SEE: I am upset!  I’ve been trying to tell you!

There’s a lot of these NT/Autistic misunderstandings in any relationship.  Heck, these same types of misunderstandings can take place among pairs of autistics or pairs of NTs – autistics don’t have a monopoly on being misunderstood or misunderstanding others!

While these types of misunderstandings exist, and they might even be more frequent when NTs and autistics mix, that doesn’t mean that every argument between an NT and an autistic is rooted in the differing neurologies.  Sometimes an autistic person is an asshole.  Sometimes they don’t care about another person.  Sometimes they are mean.  Sometimes they are selfish.  These things aren’t autism, nor are they unique to autistics (how many Fortune 500 CEOs truly care one bit about the janitor?  Maybe a few, but certainly not all).

There is a theory that “autistics are morally superior.”  This sometimes gets brought up (typically around Autistic Pride Day) to show we’re better than NTs or some such nonsense.  But usually this theory is presented in a bit more subtle way: how dare you accuse me of being a bad person, when I’m autistic!  Uh, no.  You might actually be a bad person.  You might not be.  I don’t know.  But I do know all of us are capable of evil deeds (both autistic people and generally “good” people are).

Maybe a person is being perceived as an ass because of his expression of autism – but he isn’t actually an ass.

But it’s also possible that the person perceived as an ass, even if he’s also autistic, really is an ass.  We can have the same sorts of human evil and immorality as everyone else.

So…don’t be a donkey.

You Want to Take Away my Window

This is an old essay I put on my former website.  Ancient by some people’s standards – 2001!    A few words first:

Don’t be offended!

This is written “to” an imaginary person who represents those people who can’t accept me for who I am. I’m not targeting it at anyone in particular, nor non-autistics in general.

A window in a bedroom looking out to a grassy path

You Want to Take Away My Window

I am autistic. I’ve always been autistic, and I always will be autistic. Autism is part of who I am, just as my sense of humor and my emotions are part of me. I like who I am, even my autistic part.

You see, autism isn’t an awful condition. I’m not condemned to an “un-natural life.” Yet, I have lived a life with pain, fear, and confusion. Pain because of your cold heart. Fear because of my past, and because of my future in a your world, which can’t tolerate uniqueness. Confusion because of my ways of interpreting your world and because of the deceit, lies, and apathy in it.

But, I don’t just feel pain. I know great joy and peace. I wish I had words for what it is like inside these walls, where the noise of the outside world can’t destroy my peace. You can’t understand the joy I have in my quiet place, alone and far from the voices that would destroy, nor can I understand your world of noise and crowds. You probably can’t understand that I enjoy watching, not participating, in your world, nor can you understand why I laugh in response to an inner joy. But, that’s all-right with me.

I’m an observer, trying to understand your world. You may not know this, since you don’t even think I see you most of the time. But, I do see you. I might not be “looking” at you, but I’m watching you through the window of my house – through the corner of these eyes. I don’t want you to know, though. So, I peer through the blinds as you walk by.

As I watch you, I get confused. I’ve seen you say you hate someone. But, later, when that person approaches you, you tell him that you love him. Did I see something wrong? Did you change your mind? People tell me that I’m defective and broken for not doing the things you do, but I don’t understand how you can say things that you don’t believe deep inside. Have you forgotten where you store your thoughts? What drives you, since you don’t follow your inner beliefs? What gives you your purpose?

As I watch you, I wonder what life must be like for you. How can you tolerate a world without right or wrong, but only shades of gray? How do you know when your actions are wrong, if all actions are at least a little bit wrong and a little bit right? Is it painful for you to live in a world full of subtlety and without boundaries? My walls give me peace and comfort, as I know where my world ends and yours begins. But, you don’t have any walls around you. What keeps you grounded? I’ve been told that my thinking, because of my clear boundaries and rules, is both limited and deficient. Yet, these boundaries and rules are my walls. They hold my soul together. What keeps your soul in one piece?

I don’t see your skin color, beauty, or age. I always thought that everyone deserved to be treated kindly, justly, and lovingly. Yet, when I gaze outside my walls, through my window, I see your world which condemns some to a life of pain because of their race, appearance, or age. You told me as a child that I shouldn’t get near to anyone who was different than me – that I should stay with my people, and they should stay with theirs. Didn’t you realize that I am different from you, too? Can’t you see the inner beauty in someone that’s different on the outside?

Your world tells me that I’m wrong to enjoy my times alone, inside this house, with only my thoughts to speak to me. You tell me that I should surround myself with strange voices, to spare me of the “pain” that comes with thinking and quiet contemplation – that I should listen to some sort of noise to block out these pesky thoughts – perhaps the radio, TV, or maybe other voices – that I should tear down the walls of my house and let these thoughts and my thoughts mix. But, I ask, wouldn’t it destroy my value if I became one with these other voices?

When I gaze out my window, I wonder why you want to take away my joy. You claim that you want me to come out and play with you, to leave the “confines” of my house and enjoy your world. But, you want to destroy my house when I’m not looking. You want to take away my window. You see my quietness as a disease that needs to be cured; my joyful activities a pain to be eliminated; my innocent eyes a blindness to be treated.

Of course, you can’t know why my house is important. But don’t you know that I’d show you what my house is like, if only you would knock on the door?