Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Nothing About Us, Without Us

One of my favorite groups out there is ASAN (Autistic Self Advocacy Network). The title of this blog post is their slogan, and I think it is a vitally important one, and not just for Autistics.

See, when I was a kid, I was quirky, weird, crazy, and in some ways absolutely out of my mind. Maybe not so much as a little kid, but definitely as a teenager. Hey, those are hard years, multiplied greatly any time you are different than the rest of the kids around you, and have no real explanation as to why you're different.

I didn't relate well to other kids. I had friends almost all the time, but a small group, and in hindsight they were not really good friends. Some actually had the nerve to be my friend, and do terribly torturous things to me at times. I didn't really have a choice.

The most important people when I was a kid was my teachers. In true aspie fashion, I related well with adults, and not so well with kids my age. This makes things complicated, fast, unfortunately.

In my opinion, it's actually pretty sad that a kid and an adult can't be friends without there having to be "more to the story" or something. And because most people think that, they are MORE than willing to put their own spin, judgement, assumptions, and opinions on it. Other kids are just as bad, if not worse. And unfortunately, aspies are typically the kind of people who want to believe you at your word. And, since we tend to be naive, we also will believe what you tell us about certain things, much to our detriment.

We are a society who is squeamish about sex, or romantic relations of any kind. We are greatly uncomfortable with a kid who self pleasures, we balk at curious questions that our tweens might ask as they are growing up and hearing or reading things, and we panic at the thought that our teens might actually be doing things at their age, even though for the most part we do little to nothing to actually stop or properly educate kids to avoid doing these things. We leave them to their own devices (literally, smartphones are the quickest and easiest way to material kids shouldnt be seeing) and we don't think we have to do the work of preventing kids from doing things. We make excuses like "They're going to do it no matter what we say...." instead of even trying.

We make a big deal when a girl and a boy are friends at ages where they aren't even close to knowing or caring what it even means. Saying your 2 year old has a "boyfriend" or "girlfriend" is not exactly the healthiest thing to say, and will set them up for the confusion that they can't be friends with someone without it HAVING to be romantic. We are putting adult content on simple friendships at ages where they haven't even realized that they will even do those things when they get older, at ages where little girls and boys still want to grow up and marry dad or mom! 

So the minute that an adult thinks from their adult perspective that something they see is a romantic or sexual attraction, we panic and we put labels and our own opinionated judgements on it.

I know I've heard people who were called fat over and over say that the hard part is that once you hear that over and over, you actually start to believe it.

I wouldn't say that is any different with romantic relationships, or, as my topic is heading, "assumed" romantic relationships.

I know I've written before about my "crush" on a teacher in high school, and unfortunately for that guy it was 6 years of madness. The longer I think about things, and examine them in my mind, flashbacks come to me. Seriously, the brain is amazing. I remember talking about him in such and such a way, how his class was exciting and fun or something, and a friend telling me "Oooh you loooooooove him!!" and a "light bulb" went on, and I believed her.

I'm not making this stuff up. And for 6 years to follow, thanks to her, I was repeatedly told, tortured, teased and laughed at for being "teachers pet" (but not enough to give me that in senior superlatives) and "loving" this poor guy. To me he took it very well, and even in senior year, he was merciful enough to tell me I wasn't the first girl to go crazy, there were others with other teachers and everything. I felt he was protective of me, he must have realized how naive I really was and I actually hope he didn't take me too seriously. A counselor once told me he wished it would all just go away, but that didn't make sense in the light of the fact that I could ignore him (most often because some other adult made me feel guilty about the whole thing) and he would still treat me the same way.

Now that I'm an adult, became diagnosed, started following Tony Attwood, and ran across this all important video that I have posted about before, that literally, and I'm not kidding you, LITERALLY changed and rocked my world, right to the core. Starting at minute 5:40 or so, I'll try to write up the words here because they are so critically important, not just for me to explain to you, but for myself as well.

"..We've had a lot of discussion on the difference between special interest friends and intimate friends and how from the outside an NT, looking at a relationship between an aspergian and an NT that could look like as if it's intimate is actually nothing more than a special friendship. One example would be a professor and a student, where the student to some degree looks like he or she is idolizing a professor, but it's a very platonic thing."

T.A. "It is, but those with aspergers might idolize intellect, not physique. In other words, they're not necessarily having a crush, in terms of wanting a sexual relationship, they're admiring the intellect of that person. Another component is the tendencies to assume that people are sexually orientated. Many people with aspergers are what I call asexual, they're not interested in a sexual relationship with someone. They're interested in an intellectual relationship and may be very enthusiastic and for that, but people will project onto that person, that their motives are sexual. 'NO! It's the brain I'm interested in, it's the ideas that I'm interested in, not physical.'"

"That frames up her question nicely. She's wondering how to protect these people that are involved in this non romantic special interest relationship. So it is in her best interest to say 'This is my sister the student, she is not looking at him as a sexual object, she is admiring his intellect."

T.A. "Oh, absolutely. And in aspergers intellect can be one of the most important, if not THE most important, personality characteristics that you admire in people. So it's the intellect I'm interested in, not that person in terms of a sexual relationship. And in fact, the person with aspergers is then horrified, that people would, 'But no! I'm interested in his ideas, I'm interested in what he says because it's so fascinating.' But the degree of passion for the ideas is assumed to be a sensual/sexual passion. But it's an intellectual passion. Now, I don't know whether you're allowed to do this, but I would say it creates an intellectual orgasm. Whether you can actually put this on youtube, or whether, I don't know. But that intellectual orgasm is so enjoyable it's better than an interpersonal orgasm."

"Well, okay, is that something that we try to explain to other NTs?"

T.A. "Yes, because otherwise they'll misinterpret. The person whos the focus of this usually recognizes its not sexual, it's not sensual, because they just sense that it's the mind that's being explored. And other people think 'Oh with that degree of adulation, there must be a hidden agenda, she's doing this so she can appeal to that person to get higher grades, to use a bit of the sort of strategies that could be used to tempt someone', and that's not their intention."

"Why are we as NTs sometimes so disgusting in the conclusions we draw?"

"Because we're looking at ourselves and what we would do in that situation, and realize there can be completely different motives."

That was a lot of work, but so important.

I can see almost every piece of that fits into the situation in which I found myself. I wish someone had had the knowledge in which to explain that to me, to him, back then. I wish someone had had enough of an ability to diagnose me with aspergers! Give me some answers, give me some reasons, give me some explanation for so many things.

But, even though this was above and beyond one of the greatest times of my life, it was, at the same time, one of the most confusing.
He is absolutely brilliant. He knew what he was teaching, he didn't just read it out of some book. And he loved it and made me love it, which is great because now I love Biblical history too! 

I wasn't horrified at the suggestion that it was romantic because I didn't know any better. I believed what I was told, because that's what happens to naive people in school where you honestly sense you aren't as "street smart" as everyone else, so you believe what they are projecting onto you, your friendships/relationships, and your life. And to hear Tony Attwood say "The person who's the focus of this usually recognizes its not sexual, it's not sensual, because they just sense that it's the mind that's being explored." is amazing, because like I said, he never treated me differently, no matter what I was told by other adults, no matter what it seemed like. It's almost like he knew and understood what it was, but didn't really have the words or explanation for it himself, so it must be what everyone is saying... maybe they even projected onto him what it was, because no one had the words, insight, knowledge or sense to see it any other way. Though, parts of me hesitate to assume he thought anything, I'm just thinking of it from my angle both as the student involved and the adult looking back with more wisdom and just plain knowledge than I had back then.

And the only reason I'm bringing this all back up is because it comes up from time to time. I am doing some different things - counseling/life coaching style things - and a phone group discussion I was faced with "other people's projections" as someone who apparently knows me made the comment of how they were "afraid for me" during that time.

Afraid of what, exactly? That's what I would like to know.

And unfortunately, as I think about it and roll it around in my head (because that's what I do with everything in my life), I realize with a sinking feeling in my stomach that every single person who knew, every single person who was around in my life back then, every single person in the school, they all knew, and they all projected onto me their assumptions of what was going on. And further, they talked about me behind my back, whether to him or not, I may never know. And they haven't forgotten, and they still think of me on those terms. They were worried. I don't know if they were worried I'd get hurt, or if they were worried I would embarrass myself, or if they were worried that I would come on to him, or do something inappropriate, I don't know what they were worried about. I was a rule following, card carrying perfectionist, but I would break ranks to come on to a teacher because, in their eyes, I was in love.

And, even if I were in love with him, even when I believed it was true, I followed the rules. I knew what was right and wrong, and I don't think that I would have ever done anything that I would have viewed as crossing the line. I knew and understood there was a line. Others made no mistake to remind me of the line as well, as if they thought they were telling me something I didn't already know.

The problem, maybe, is that what I did do they viewed as crossing some line.

As an aspie, again, I related better with adults. And that made other adults uncomfortable. They just didn't know what they didn't know.

Which brings me to my title: Nothing About Us Without Us. 

It's just good life principle to not make assumptions about other people's intentions, motives, thoughts, words, actions, without first checking with them, and clarifying if necessary ("I hear you saying ______, is that right?)
How much difference would it have made, in both my life back then, and as a whole, if someone had just asked me what my intentions were, what I liked him for? And maybe I wouldn't have had the words to tell them either. But I still feel there would have been a drastic, clear difference between someone who literally wanted to get him into bed with him, and me who just wanted to pick his brain, have deep conversations about things that mattered, and learn from him! It should have been obvious to any logical adult, but I guess they had already made their minds up what it was, and didn't think it was necessary to ask

I think everyone who reads this needs to be aware of this human tendency to make assumptions instead of asking. We need to not talk about people as if they are unable to be a part of the conversation, whether autistic or NT. I don't care if they are nonverbal, we need to stop putting words into the mouths of others, our thoughts into their brains, our motives into their motives. From kids to adults, disability or not, we need to make no judgements on people, and allow everyone the benefit of the doubt. For the most part, I believe that most humans are just trying to do the best they know how. Obviously there are exceptions to that, and that's too bad. But we shouldn't let those exceptions be the rule for all people, especially not people we know, especially not our friends. And even more critical to teach those things to kids, so they don't have to be adults who have to change.

Nothing about ANYONE, without THEM. Let the subject of the rumor have the voice. Don't be afraid to ask people, using discretion to privacy when possible or necessary. Catch yourself when you are starting to make judgements about someone's intentions (yes, I did catch my own judgements above, I don't really have the ability to go back and ask every single one of those people what they think anymore - I'm talking when you do it in your present life, with your current relationships.) And stop others from doing it. Give people the benefit of the doubt. Give people the other side of the coin. Be the one who says "Well, maybe it's not like you say."

You might just change someone's world that way.


  1. But I never worried...I understood what you felt and who you were...

    1. #ThatsAMama #GreatParenting #KnowingYourKid #AmazingLove #Protection #Safety #ShutOutTheWorld