There are a couple of traits that the majority of humanity—at least among the folks I have known in the course of time—seem to have somewhat in common. They are, a desire to find similarities, and a tendency towards “one-upmanship.”
These two tendencies, frankly, make it that much harder to explain Autism to folks who don’t know what you’re talking about.
When a person displays the first of these (the desire to find similarities), they will downplay or “shift” the things about which one speaks when one talks about characteristics found in Autistic folks. I know these actions are not intentional by and large, but they still have far less than desirable results.
For example, imagine that you tell somebody that, “My child went through a period when they made google eyes at people; followed by one when everyone they didn’t know was basically furniture; and are now in a place where some unknown folks are almost an obsession to be around, and others are entirely uninteresting to the point of wanting to harm them when they encroach on that child’s space.” You would think folks would say, “Wow! That’s not what I would expect out of most kids, without a doubt.”
Instead, many if not most folks tend to respond, “Oh yeah, I (or my child, or my cousin, or my friend, etc.) was like that too!” This means one of two things:
- Either the person didn’t understand or
- The person about whom they say this is probably Autistic.
I’m going to go out on a limb here, and say that most of the people in question are not Autistic.
That means—more likely than not—the individual didn’t understand. In general, I like to think this is because my child (or another Autistic person) didn’t “fit neatly into” the experiences of the person in question. As a result, they tried to “fit” the Autistic individual into a place into which they don’t go.
The other tendency, is to “shift things.”
Imagine relating the following to somebody. “My child had to have his jacket and gloves on when it was ninety-three degrees out.” Only to have them respond by saying something like, “Oh yeah! My kid did that too.” What that person fails to realize is, it isn’t something my kid just did, it was literally something they felt the need to do to the degree that they were willing to argue over doing it for an hour or more, or have a major meltdown over not being able to do it that didn’t abate until they were allowed to proceed or they were a blubbering mess, melted on the floor.
The individual here was not trying to do anything problematic. Nonetheless, they managed to do just that.
Then there are the “one-uppers.” These are the people who think that what they have done or experienced is somehow “more than” what you’re talking about
Imagine that you’re talking to someone and you say, “My son would stand at a given door for hours. He would open that door, go through it, close it, open it again and go through it literally for all that time.” Only to have them say something like, “Well I spent two days in line waiting for a Harry Potter book to come out.” Well, that seems to be more “extreme.” The problem though, is that the person in question could have walked away at any time, but made the choice not to do so.
With my son though, again, removing him from that situation would have resulted in a meltdown or a couple of hours of argument, in which he shrieked about why he had to get back to the door.
What I’m trying to “get at” here, is that the responses folks give when hearing about Autistic folks, makes it crystal clear, they “don’t get” what I’m trying to say.
Here’s the problem, in writing, I can take a thousand words to say what I have in my mind. When discussing things face to face, I don’t have that luxury.
This certainly points to the idea that I need to “up my spoken game.” That is to say, I need to get better at verbal communication, such that people have a harder time misunderstanding or misconstruing what I’m saying.
That being said, I’m going to make a little wager. I’m going to bet that I am far from the only person who has problems expressing things to folks unfamiliar. In fact, I would be surprised to hear that most folks dealing with Autistic people on any serious level don’t have the same problem.
That would be why I’m putting this together right now.
When people talk to you about “special needs” folks (in my case, Autism for the most part), they’re not looking to hear your “similar experiences.” They’re trying to express to you the difficulties they experience most likely on an ongoing basis, so that you may come to have some understanding of what they have to deal with that you don’t.
When you try to “relate to” them, what you’re actually likely doing is anything but what they desire out of you. Rather, what they want you to do, is to realize how you (and people you know not dealing with a special needs person) don’t have similar experiences by and large.
If they’re like me, they’re not doing that to make you feel sorry for either themself or the special needs person. Rather, their interest is in giving you a “window into their world.” A big part of the reason I want to do this, is to get you to understand how better to relate to the special needs individual—and potentially, to others like them.
Being honest, I would far rather people hearing what I have to say did one thing above all others, ask questions. “So you’re saying it was virtually impossible to get your child away from a door for two hours without a full-on meltdown?” Would be a wonderful example (by the way, the answer is resoundingly “Yes! That is what I’m saying!”).
Am I saying it’s not possible you can one up me? Am I saying you don’t have a “relatable experience?” I am saying neither thing. All I’m saying is, “What’s important to me, is to pass along information that will make it easier for you or your children to understand my special needs “charge.”
Okay, here we are again at the end of time and space for another blog entry. As usual, I hope your time is good and that you have enjoyed reading.