It is ironic that autistic people are criticized for having a lack of theory of mind when that is literally what privilege is, and what affects so many millions of people in the various majorities around the world, neurotypical people included. Privilege insulates members of a majority against awareness of the struggles of the minority.
And neurotypical people can also learn. They can learn what the differences are between their own social communication and autistic social communication and do their part to help bridge the gap.
And when that gap is bridged, beautiful partnerships can occur. We can learn so much from each other. We can each bring unique strengths to the table. Autistic people can open their non-autistic partner’s eyes to ways of thinking and being in the world that they would not have considered otherwise, and vice versa.
So many of us in the autistic community are already doing immense amounts of emotional labor for non-autistic people by creating lots and lots and lots of educational content, from our unique perspectives, on what it means to be autistic. We’re already doing the heavy lifting.
All you, a non-autistic person, have to do is watch it, think about it, and maybe change how you interact with autistic people a bit. The weight of this process has been on us, autistic people, to advocate for ourselves. The least the neurotypical society we find ourselves in can do is take the time to listen to what we write and say and take it under advisement.
“Wow, you’re so self-aware,” said the neuropsychologist during the interview portion of my autism assessment.
“I’m really not,” I replied, and went on to clumsily explain that I was only applying my current understandings to previous periods in my life retroactively, much like adults do when describing their own childhoods.
I am wired to discuss things which make others uncomfortable, not because I take any pleasure in making others uncomfortable (I actually hate it) but because I see no point in skirting meaningful exchanges in service of perpetuating an illusory status quo. I see no point to existence if we are not discussing real issues that matter or learning from one another or the world around us.
… But do these things translate into a person who is incapable of experiencing or expressing empathy? Or do these things simply suggest that without explicit, clear communication of another person’s “feelings, thoughts and experiences” that there is sometimes insufficient shared experience between individuals of distinct neurotypes for one to be able to experience empathy for the other? And is this inability to decipher cues from a foreign social language a true one way street, or do the native speakers of each of these social languages have difficulties deciphering and empathizing with the experiences of the other?
The response I most commonly hear when I disclose to someone that I am autistic is, “Wow, you must be really high functioning. I would never have known if you didn’t tell me.”
There’s a lot to unpack here.
Autism still exists even if it is not discussed or described by language. You do not cure someone of being autistic by removing labels from their experience. Other labels come in to fill the vacuum, labels we didn’t choose for ourselves, labels which are based on fundamental misunderstandings, labels that deny us help, accommodations, and acceptance, labels that cause actual harm to us in the form of prejudice, violence and higher instances of suicide.
Hi! My name is Kai.
I created The Autistic Ambassador (TAA) blog to facilitate cultural exchange between neurotypes.
A “neurotype” refers to a group of people who share commonalities in the ways that their brains develop and function. There are two main neurotypes – people with neuro-divergent brain development and function, and people with neuro-typical brain development and function. As their names might suggest, the latter is most common or “typical” neurotype while the former is a smaller population which differs from the majority.
I am personally a member of the neurodivergent community as multiply-neurodivergent person and parent of two neurodivergent children. I also coparent with a neurotypical person. Being part of this inter-abled coparenting relationship has been instrumental in demonstrating for me both the need for this cultural exchange between neurotypes and the rewards of working towards it, and serves as a living model and source support for which I am deeply grateful.
The ultimate goal is to facilitate cultural exchange between neurotypes, and that is not a one-way street. TAA aims to serve as an intermediary between the neurodivergent community and the neurotypical community, and to help each better comprehend where the other is coming from.