In prevailing literature, people on the autism spectrum have all of their traits, their behaviors, and even their very existence pathologized. They are considered to have “mind blindness,” or the opposite of empathy, which means that they are unable to predict the feelings or thoughts of others.
For people on the spectrum, how well someone fares in the general public or on the job often depends on someone’s ability to hide his or her autistic traits and mannerisms. This survival mechanism is known most commonly as masking, though some call it...
Whenever you watch an old movie or sitcom, you likely cringe at what was socially acceptable for the era—racist jokes, misogynistic epithets, blatant xenophobia… and you should cringe. For most people, it’s entirely obvious how offensive and dehumanizing it would be to tell a Black or Brown person, “Good job on talking so white.” You’d never tell a woman, “Stellar work on that court case. You held your own like a real man today.”
They’re out there, in the brushstrokes of the original, museum-quality painting hanging in your favorite hole-in-the-wall pub, or the Louvre, or the kaleidoscopic mural painted on the shuttered, colorless foundry.
For someone on the spectrum, navigating relationships with neurotypical (non-autistic) people is the social equivalent of assembling an Ikea shelf with missing parts and directions that are out of order, mirror-image, and written in a different language.
It was hard to come out as an aspie (a person with Asperger’s syndrome). I started with some people I thought would be the most safe, but I read that situation poorly. It’s a strong suit, really, almost like a superpower. I can misjudge a social situation with remarkable precision. That will likely be the epitaph on my tombstone.
I’m an aspie—an insider term to describe a person with Asperger’s Syndrome. It’s a label which underscores and is inextricably connected to every facet of my identity. The only tragedy related to my neurotype is that I spent the majority of my life in the dark about it.
As a teenager and young adult, any time I read an article from a magazine or an op-ed piece about personality or lifestyle, I would experience consummate confusion. I’m wired to constantly self-evaluate and examine—ad nauseam—every thought and belief I have; so, when I would encounter absolutes about how people are and what people want, I was left wondering what was wrong with me that I just never seemed to fit the category of “people.” I looked like them, I almost sounded like them, but what I ultimately came to believe about people was that I wasn’t one of them.
One of the dominant characterizations of people on the autism spectrum is that they lack empathy or are empathy-disrupted. This is based on the paradigm that autistic people aren’t able to intuit the emotions and needs of others, or that people on the spectrum aren’t willing to respond to the emotional needs of others. The truth, which seems to be entirely missing from the literature of behavioral science, is that the only people being considered in the “others” piece of that definition are neurotypical (non-autistic) people.