Wanting to be accepted as I am
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?
The fact that it's hard to do doesn't make it impossible, and as you pointed out, it's an important thing to learn for future success.
Excellent post. :)
To socialize with people that do not understand me (which is most people, I don't walk around with "I'm an Aspie" sign on), I have to act out a social skill I have learned. It feels awkward every time, it is never natural, and it exhausts me after a short time. But as the post correctly pointed out, it is part of the human experience. Dealing with some society/cultural norms which many Aspies find absurd and uncomfortable does not have to dominate a person's life. A few hours a week is worth it, then we can go back to our lives.
My daughter wants very much to have friends and she wants to be accepted for who she is. She is content to be a “geek” (her own self-description) and doesn’t care about being in with the “cool kids”. So I let her choose her own clothes and interests, even if she (we) gets strange looks and comments. I teach her to be proud of the unusual person she is. But I also get her social skills counseling to help her learn how to have 2-way conversations and how to resolve conflicts without having a tantrum.
I don’t let her get away with rudeness. We sent a book for kids about Aspergers to her school and they read it aloud to the class. Shortly afterwards, I witnessed my daughter treating another student in a manner that the school doesn’t normally tolerate and that we don’t tolerate at home or church. When I scolded her she said, “I always talk to my classmates that way. They don’t mind, they are used to it.” I spoke to the teacher and the teacher explained that the teachers and students are much more accommodating of my daughter now that they understand Aspergers. I asked the teacher to please stop letting her get away with such behavior. It won’t be tolerated when she is a teenager or adult and I don’t think we are doing her any favors by allowing it now.
When I read that some parents wouldn’t want their child “cured”, I can’t really agree. Of course I would miss my daughter’s obsessions with praying mantises and Star Wars and her adorably articulate and verbose descriptions of whatever she is thinking. But I would give anything for her to be able to function well in the world without so much effort on her part.
You said it all much better than me--just wanted to say that I agree with you completely.
Mom to an amazing Aspie + 2 NT boys
P.S. Loved your book, by the way. :)
I have always told my sons that their Aspergers gives an explanation for why they do things but it is never to be used as an excuse for being plain downright rude!
What do you believe is BS about this post?
For me, autism as a label just gives you a heads up to expect a little more than face value. I'm going to get my girls t-shits with "I know I'm fab there's no need to stare" on them. Visual clues are good.
While I don't expect special treatment, I DO ask for and expect reasonable accommodation much like you would expect for a blind or deaf person. This is an analogy I've often used to help people understand what it's like. I'm socially blind, just let me know somebody moved the chair in front of the door, because the last time I "mapped" the room it was beside the desk, that sort of thing.
I think if we can meet the rest of society half way, we are doing a great job. Everything is possible.
I think hard about all your points, and you certainly influence my thinking, as do many others who write in. Even if I am annoyed at your tone at times I recognize value in the ideas.
She'll scream at one of us and we say, "When you screamed at me just now, it really hurt my feelings. It isn't okay. Can you do it over and express yourself in a more polite way?"
And she does. No one tries harder than her.
The tricky thing is, with Asperger's is it isn't the same two days in a row. If she's used up all her reserves for the day, there are sometimes she just can't do/be what she was capable of the day before.
So no, you can't just be all "you're so perfect the world has to change for you" because it won't. You also can't dig your heels in and think you're going to train a kid with Asperger's like a dog, because sometimes they simply aren't capable, and if you insist you will shoot yourself in the foot. If you squelch a behavior without examining what purpose it is serving the child, it's going to have it's way out in another form, perhaps a more destructive one later down the road.
It is a tightrope we walk as parents, but having such a loving and sweet, creative and bright daughter is so worth it. I wouldn't trade her for the world (most days).
I am not involved in autism politics, or indeed in any politics at all. Nor do I aspire to be.
I do not participate regularly in any online autism groups, though I do read quite a bit. I speak to many people on the spectrum in person, at schools and elsewhere. I also speak to many teachers, clinicians, and others who work with autistic people.
I volunteer to work with local people on the spectrum at all levels, from high functioning Asperger's to non verbal.
I FIRMLY AGREE WITH YOU.
I FIRMLY AGREE WITH YOU.
The Disability community has been hashing out the issue of where do we fit in society, and society's responsibility in accommodating us for decades. It's not a simple issue, and it's certainly not as simple as you make it out to be. Hence my question.
I'll agree that we have to respect the rules and social standards of our society. Society has a lot of rules that are in place for the benefit of everyone.
"Not killing people" is a great example of this.
Unfortunately, you can't simply expect everyone to play nicely. We already have enough problems with people who ignore this rather obvious rule.
Having a rule about being nice to others unfortunately just doesn't work. Some aspies have better control over aspects of their behaviour and personality than others.
I'd seriously suggest to aspies that they try to be nice and friendly but in the end, it really comes down to the individual. Some people are more amicable than others - and it's not only aspies I'm talking about.
How you treat others will generally be a reflection on how others treat you. It's academic to wonder which comes first - each behaviour causes the other. The end result is that friendly people attract other friendly people and the opposite is true for unfriendly people.
Should NTs (and other aspies) be forgiving at all times? Should they be "nice" to someone who is not being nice to them? Well... yes... it would certainly help. It would make the world a much better place. I'd even go so far as to say that this is one of the major points of several of our religions.
It doesn't mean anything though. Human nature isn't like that. Frown at someone and they will frown back.
I act inside norms as much as possible. Very so often I might slip, and say something mildly inappropriate (or as I call it "Honest") and it knocks me down a peg or two, but I'm learning to control it.
This post makes me a little bitter, actually. Because for me, it's true. But I can't describe why. I just know it is. I guess I'm just so deeply frustrated by the people in my life who've cast me out and pushed me out. Just because I'm not like them.
I've learned standards of social behavior, and social norms, and try to use them daily. It's funny, every polite conversation or cues that I'm listening makes me feel like I'm having a small win.
I guess the comment within your blog post makes me angry. That so many people are that ignorant about disabilities, disorders, everything. If people like that just gave us, gave me an inch, I'd give a mile.
I think an inch of understanding would go such a long way for so many people.
And I feel so unworthy to post here. I'm always so humbled by the comments. Everyone here struggles so hard for themselves, their kids, their siblings, parents, friends, and I don't deserve to be a part of your circles. Everyone here, and you included, teach me such important things about life, and I thank you all very much for that.
My name is Rosalina and I'm from Brasil.
I read your book and now I'm amazed by the hope you send to the people in your book.
I really like it!
A big hug for you, to Unit Two and Cubby.
You're a winner!
Love your post today. Coincidentally, today's post on my blog addresses the acceptance issue, focusing on a particularly eloquent comment written by an anonymous reader of mine re one of my prior posts. I have been struggling with my older son, Rocky, lately precisely because he wants me to accept him as he is (he is proudly rude and determinedly socially isolated) and to stop trying to "fix" him. Getting him to willingly, as you say, "conform to enough social norms to get by" is probably the most difficult parenting task I've ever faced with Rocky.
Glad to know you're still out here in the blogosphere, keeping all of us thinking and learning.
Also, John, use of blockquote tags or italics to denote a quote from another source and being commented upon is, in my opinion, a common text device used to delimit your voice from that of the source. There seems to have been much confusion about that in this thread.
Aspergers is a communications disorder, we would all do well to remind ourselves to put on a little effort before we malign the motives of anyone. ESPECIALLY when that person is your host, as true on your blog as in your living room.
Good work, I look forward to reading your book. The adult aspie perspective is needed by the youngsters.
Now I'm not saying it's OK to be mean. But if you ask me a question I'm gonna give you the real answer, the honest one. And if I don't feel like wearing a rubber band around my rib cage (they call them bras) I'm not gonna. Get over it. They're called nipples, we all got 'em. Besides I'm flat-chested anyway so it's ridiculous to even think of suffering for some stupid unwritten rule that I don't value anyway.
I'm tired of being ostracized for stupid shit. I don't treat people like that. I don't think I'm mean just b/c I'm not going to spare your pride. Pride is ego BS. I don't want to cater to the ego, mine or yours. Ya know?
Why is it that my eccentricities can't be not only tolerated but celebrated? I celebrate others' unique qualities. The more I read about Asperger's the more I feel that we're being given a bad rap.
Society is sick. I mean just look at what passes for a movie nowadays. Sadistic blood and gore movies, bang bang shoot 'em up, rather blow 'em up movies, and woman as sexual object movies. (yawn) And I'm the the odd ball? To me this world is a photo negative. What's black is white and what's white is black. Or what's wrong is right and what's right is wrong. I have more ethics than anyone I know and yet no one wants to be my friend. ?? They just irritate the hell outa me anyway so... I should be happy. But then, I'm not.
I'm all alone in this world and I don't fit. Is conformity really the only way to get love here? Do we really have to sell our souls just to get a little positive attention? Guess I'll be a hermit then 'cause I love my soul and she's not for sale. :)
...and this is only people with Asperger's?
I don't think so. There are far too many "normal" people out there who do and say whatever they want and don't care who it annoys or hurts. Rudeness, obnoxiousness, selfishness and downright meanness are all too-common and Aspergers has nothing at all to do with it.
I don't like being around people who are not real.
I think it's a matter of weighing the 'hurt' associated with the action. My daughter is 5 and she's on the spectrum and we often have a hard time deciding what's just being rude and what is just being 5 and then what is 'spectrum' behavior. It's hard, but we've found that she's actually quite empathetic sometimes. So when she does something just plain rude, we tell her it hurts ours/her friend's feelings and she knows she shouldn't do it. She's still at the point where she does more apologizing than preventing the rude behavior, but she's starting to get it. Like Jen said, lots of patience and lots of time, but it's clicking.
Now, when she INSISTS on wearing a tiger costume to the store instead of 'normal' clothes, it's strange, but it doesn't hurt anybody so hey, we let her go for it. :-)
Alex has begun his second year in college. He is a vocal music major and has a voice and a range that goes beyond definition.
With his gift of knowledge and his talent he still is stuck...time has no meaning and wanting to be accepted is so very important to him.
However being alone is so much easier, he doesn't have to look anyone int he eye.....I would love for him to meet you John as your story is so inspiring and Alex needs someone besides mom and dad who will believe in him.