Socializing through silence

I wish you wouldn’t interpret my silence as silence.

My silence is, in fact, a compliment. It means that I am being my natural self. It means that I am comfortable around you, that I trust you enough to engage my way of knowing, my way of speaking and interacting.

When I dilute my silences with words — your words, the out-of-the-mouth and off-the-cuff kind — I often do so out of fear. Fear that my rhetorical commonplaces — the commonplaces that lie on my hands, sprint in my eyes, or sit nestled in empty sounds — will bring you shame. Fear that my ways of communicating will be branded as pathology, as aberrant, as not being communication at all. Fear that I will lose my job. Fear that I will lose your friendship, guidance, or interest in me. Fear that I’ll be institutionalized. Fear that I will be infantilized. Fear that I’ll be seen as less than human.

This isn’t to say that my use of your language is always a product of fear. There are times when I genuinely want to use it, understand it, and learn about and from it. I understand that speaking is how you prefer to communicate. I understand that speaking is how you best learn and interact. I understand that you take great joy in speaking and listening to others speak. And I do, I really do want to share in that joy.

But the burden can’t always rest on me. I have a language too, one that I take joy in, one that I want to share. And when you deny me that — when you identify my silence as a personality flaw, a detriment, a symptom, a form of selfishness, a matter in need of behavioral therapy or “scripting” lessons — when you do these things, you hurt me. You hurt me deeply. You deny me that which I need in order to find my way through this confusing, oppressive, neurotypical world.

My silence isn’t your silence. My silence is rich and meaningful. My silence is reflection, meditation, and processing. My silence is trust and comfort. My silence is a sensory carnival. My silence is brimming with the things and people around me — and only in that silence can I really know them, appreciate them, “speak” to them, and learn from them.

Speaking is an unnatural process for me. When socializing through speech, I will almost always be awkward, and I am OK with that awkwardness. In fact, I am learning to embrace that awkwardness, learning to reclaim and redefine that awkwardness. I am sorry you’re not OK with that, sorry that you feel I need to practice, or take anti-psychotics, or frequent the university hospital’s psych ward. I’m sorry that you won’t appreciate me for who I am and how I operate in the world. I’m sorry that I can no longer consider you an ally, confidante, or friend.

A photo of Aspie Rhetor holding a sign that reads LISTEN TO ME, I HAVE AUTISM.

I'm not a checkbox in some symptom cluster. I'm a freaking human being.

Protesting Autism Speaks, 10/9 @ Ohio State

Tomorrow (Sunday, October 9) is Autism Speaks’ annual Walk for Autism in Columbus. And tomorrow our local chapter of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network will unite in protest against Autism Speaks and their lack of community support, their high rates of executive pay, their lack of autistic representation, and their unethical advertising practices.

I’m so grateful for the outpouring of support that our ASAN chapter has received from people across, quite literally, the world. But as we approach tomorrow’s protest, I’d like to ask that as many people as possible (wherever you live) could help us inundate our local press affiliates with emails and phone calls.

Here is the contact information for Columbus-area media affiliates:

What you might say if you call or write (feel free to edit):

Hi! My name is _____ . (If you live in Ohio, you might say so. If you’re active in or support ASAN or another disability-related org, you might mention this as well. If you are Autistic or are related to or work with someone on the spectrum, you might mention this as well.)

I’m calling/writing because I have a story you might be interested in. Autistic advocates and their supporters are protesting the Autism Speaks walk in Columbus on the Ohio State campus on Sunday, October 9, from 8:30am until noon. They’re protesting Autism Speaks’ lack of family support. Only 2% of money raised by Autism Speaks goes to families. Given the severe budget cuts facing us today, this is outrageous. Autism Speaks is taking money from Ohio families in desperate need of support and services.

Autism Speaks doesn’t speak for us!

==

PROTEST DAY & TIME: Sunday, October 9 from 8:30am until noon (Facebook event page)

PROTEST LOCATION: Corner of Fred Taylor and Borror Drive, by the 4H Center, Ohio State campus (campus map)

The Aut Rapture

Something transcendent happens to autistic people when we turn 21: We disappear. Unfortunately for me, however, I’m 27, still autistic, and still living and breathing on this planet. Yes, my friends: I have been left behind.

My parents made the mistake of not aborting me. And ABA, CBT, talk therapy, support groups, anti-depressants — none of these things have exorcised my autism. Sometimes, when I go to conferences, self-important parents like to pretend that I’m not really, truly autistic, that I have, in fact, outgrown my autism in the most spiritual and inspirational of ways. Because, honestly, haven’t I heard? The good and faithful autistics all recognize the depravity that is autism and work hard, so tear-inducingly hard, to make their disordered brains and disordered bodies disappear. That my disordered self could still exist… that I even want my disordered self to exist… such a pity. I’m so autistic that I cannot fathom how soul-sucking autism really is.

If I will not make my autistic self invisible, then they must. And if “evidence-based practices” won’t do the trick, ableism just might. So, I’m here providing a few suggestions for further infantilizing me, for facilitating a neurotypical brand of the Second Coming:

1. Remember that, while I may exist physically, I do not exist semantically. Pairing autistic and adult in the same sentence, for example, is a no-no. Other off-limits words include woman, citizen, activist, colleague, and anything with a –sex affix.

2. Although I might be an adult in the chronological sense of the word, stress that I will never be an adult in the developmental sense of the word. There are many ways to assert neurotypical dominance in this regard. You might, for example, correct my use of the words depression and anxiety and replace them with sad feelings and worried feelings. When I present at conferences and seem a bit too comfortable in my empowered adult status, you might knock me down a few rungs and ask me at what age I was toilet-trained. And, every time I remember to bathe, you might write me a 1,000-word email, CC four or five of my family members and/or former employers, and tell me how proud you are of me.

From: Dr. NT Knowsbest To: Token Autie CC: Your Mom ; Your Boss ; Your Math Professor ; Your Old Babysitter ; Your State Representative Subject: Go you! Hi, Token!!!! I heard the big news. I think we ALL need to congratulate you on your hard work!

Other infantilizing measures might include, if you’re a soprano or alto, using a sing-songy voice and speaking only in rhyming couplets. But, hey, don’t take advice from little ol’ me. You’re the neurotypical — you’re the adult here.

3. Remind me that I am incapable of empathy and perspective-taking. If I disagree with you, tell me how self-centered I am. Emotionally speaking, I’m forever lodged in the terrible twos, and I’ll just never understand how bad you have it.

4. Emphasize that, unlike real adults, I cannot maintain mutually beneficial friendships and will always fail to meet your emotional needs. Condemn my black-and-white thinking and preach to me about shades of gray. If I pick up on your sadness and attempt to console you — make it clear that you’re not sad, you’re lachrymose. You’re not depressed, you’re bummed out. You’re not upset, you’re very upset. There’s a difference, and I damned well need to learn it. To facilitate this process, draw cartoon faces on the back of your business card and instruct me to keep it handy in my wallet.

The back of a business card. There are three handdrawn faces with expressions of distress, and there are only minor differences in the drawing. The first is labeled UPSET; the second VERY UPSET; the third INCREDIBLY UPSET. There are lines radiating from the third face, and a handwritten caption says NOTE: THIS IS NOT A LIGHTBULB. At the bottom of the card a scrawled note reads XOXO I HAVE FAITH IN YOU!

This is important shit.

5. Never give up on the messy, imperfectible project that is me. No matter how many times I tell you how cruel you are, no matter how many times I tell you how patronizing you are, no matter how many times I tell you how proud I am to be autistic — keep working on that disappearing act. Remember how glad you are that you’re not some bitter, twisted, ungrateful, disordered half-person like me. Remind yourself that I’m so lucky to have such a wonderful, personal savior like you in my life.

This post brought to you by a big a move, a new job, and my lack of existence.