I have often said I want to be accepted for who I am. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that goal. At some level, I am sure every human shares it. But what does it mean, for people on the spectrum in real life?
Does that statement mean society should accept bizarre or obnoxious behavior in the name of “acceptance?” I say no. It does not matter if you are autistic, nypical, tall or short, or black or white. If you act obnoxious you will be perceived as obnoxious, and society will reject you. If you act really obnoxious you will lose your job and your friends, fail at school, and you might be arrested.
In fact, you may not even get to first base. Obnoxious behavior will prevent making friends or getting a job in the first place. Bad behavior is a fundamental barrier to almost any success in society. It is very hard to achieve anything significant as a total loner, and that’s what you will be if you can’t get along.
Every society sets standards of behavior by “majority vote.” If you act outside those norms, you are going to have a problem. That’s not my opinion; it’s an observed reality.
So how do you reconcile that fact with the desire to be accepted as you are? You adjust your behavior to act in ways that will not result in your exclusion from whatever you want to do.
For most of us on the spectrum, they call that learning social skills. Yesterday someone wrote in to my blog with this comment:
I can't get along with "Aspies" because they refuse to take personal responsibility for themselves and get help. They like to complain about how "society" doesn't accept them and expects "society" to accept their disruptive behavior rather than seeking help from qualified professionals and taking responsibility for their behavior. ND only helps "Aspies" revel in their diagnosis since it is only a "difference" that needs no "cure." And yet they can never figure out why they can't hold down a job...it must be because of society, not because of their refusal to get help for their medical disorder.
I can’t speak for others with Asperger’s, but I do not think the above comment applies to people with attitudes like mine. However, I must admit that I’ve met a fair number of people who do feel they have the right to act any way they think, and the burden is on the wider world to accommodate them.
I’m afraid many of those folks are headed for disaster.
I’ve even seen it start in elementary school, where I have witnessed atrocious behavior only to have a teacher dismiss it with, “Just ignore him. He has autism!”
If we can’t teach kids to behave, they will grow up to a lifetime of rejection, ostracism, and even jail.
That is the fundamental problem with Asperger’s. We look normal. We sound normal. There is no visible component to our disability. Therefore, when we say or do something bizarre, we are guaranteed a bad reception.
A guy in a wheelchair cries out for consideration by his appearance. You can excuse his cranky behavior because he has an obvious disability. Even a guy who stutters and says weird stuff as a result of Tourette’s is more obviously disabled than most of us. We don’t look or sound disabled at all. Therefore society will not excuse our bad behavior.
And going on the attack about the situation won’t help. When we lash out in anger we are assured a poor reception as people close ranks to defend themselves against us. The old adage that you catch more flies with honey than with a hammer is certainly true in my experience.
I’ve written on this before, and there have been times that I’ve made fun of my own rude behavior. For those who challenged me, I’d like to make clear that it’s all a matter of perspective. Sure, I am rude at times. I can’t help it. I can be inconsiderate, too. But those times are overshadowed by the times I am polite and considerate, and that’s what allows me to succeed. Most of the time, I conform to enough social norms to get by.
It can be hard and it can be frustrating, but I do it.
At no time have I ever advocated being rude and obnoxious and expecting the wider world to accept it. That is not what I mean by tolerance. I know the burden is on me to act acceptable, and I do my best to do it.
In fact, that is not even an autism issue. It's a human issue. Everyone has to conform to society's norms, autism or no. It's just that people on the spectrum may be oblivious to their mistakes and they may therefore have a much harder time meeting behavioral expectations.
What do you think of that attitude? Agree? Disagree?