I’m giving serious thought to closing down this blog. As has happened so many times, I find that it’s difficult to keep more than one blog going with any regularity. It’s partly a matter of available time and energy. More critical is the difficulty of sticking with a specific topic, and staying within the bounds of what that topic is concerned with. Maverick Writer, my writing blog, has been running for almost seven years because the central topic allows for so many side paths.
The third reason why this blog may not continue is its lack of relevance to most people on the autistic spectrum. The title of this post: On the Outside of the Outside, has two meanings. One is that my personal experience of autism/Asperger’s is so “mild,” so “high-functioning,” that it barely relates to the experience of other outsiders, as that’s expressed in their own blogs. I am so far out on the fringes of the spectrum that I can’t relate to most of what they write about their lives and experiences. By the same token, it seems that my perspective is one that very few on the spectrum will relate to.
Blog posts by people on the spectrum tend to break down into two categories. There is the very personal post, which concentrates on the blogger’s experiences and feelings. Then there is what I call the “catch-all” post, which approaches autism/Asperger’s as a collective in which everyone is considered to be part of a community of similar experiences and feelings. “Me” or “we.”
Even if I believed my personal experience had wider relevance, as an introvert with a strong need for privacy, I have no interest in writing “me” posts. But I also have no interest in writing “we” posts, for the simple reason that much of what is considered the autistic community is a construct, created out of elements that, as often as not, have no basis in what we know as the autistic spectrum, but in the infinite variability of human nature and the human mind. I’ll go further and say that autism itself is a construct and the so-called spectrum is an attempt to unite all its elements under one umbrella. The impossibility of doing this is the root of all the arguments and dissension about who is or isn’t autistic, what autism means, how it should be regarded, how autistics should be treated and how they should think about themselves.
Because I see patterns of thinking and behavior in a much larger context than autism, I can identify the many ways in which thinking about autism is similar to or identical to thinking about other issues. In other words, much of what autistics think is special about the spectrum, isn’t. I would hesitate to say that autistics see themselves as special snowflakes, but that’s one perspective.
Here are a few of the patterns I see that are present in any group of humans but which autistics see as exclusively theirs. Creating “community” out of perceived commonalities (that may or may not exist), based on disabilities. Defining disabilities out of existence, disregarding the very real negative impacts they have on some people, and labeling those impacts as talents or special abilities. Further converting disabilities to a kind of superior status, negating the negative implications of disabilities and allowing for a personal sense of superiority. Insisting that the public at large should recognize their existence and problems, and alter their attitudes and behavior.
We see these attitudes among the blind, among the deaf, and probably in any disability group you can name. Any group of people who are in some way ignored, or mistreated by the general population will, if they can find each other, form groups that are not only supportive, but intent on changing public perceptions to the point where failure will justify withdrawing from the larger human community, and establishing their own culture and traditions.
All of this presupposes that you define your identity as a part of a group. But who were you before you knew of the group? Who would you be if you were no longer part of it? These questions are identical to those asked by people who have lost their religion, and the community that revolves around the religion. Not that constructed communities are without value. Without them, many people would be entirely on their own, without any type of support.
What I question is the tendency to identify with a group so strongly that it determines how you think and act, that it can become who you are. Everything in the rest of the world is either legitimized by it or rejected as valueless. More critically, it can become the sole measure of how you view and value yourself.
Discovering that I’m on the spectrum was useful because it explained a lot of my differences from the norm. But I have no more interest in defining myself as a person with autism (or as an autistic/aspie) than I have in defining myself as a _____ patient now that I’ve been diagnosed with a major health problem. In both cases, I deal with the problems individually, as necessary. Both may be decisive, in many ways, in determining how I’ve functioned in the world, but they do not change the core of who I am.
And that brings me to a question I’ve pondered often: why is it that so many people have no sense of self, or such a fragile sense of self that it’s dependent on external factors. That dependence is the basis for so many fights in defense against perceived slights or criticism of communities. If a community, or a belief system, is absolutely necessary to your self-image, then an attack on the community or belief system is an attack on you.
Is this post an attack on the autistic community? It isn’t intended to be, but can easily be perceived as such. How any reader views it will depend on the extent to which they have allowed autism to determine who they are.