Autism as a GIFT?

I will have to be convinced of that!

There is division among autistic folk and much discussion currently about autism’s gifts. Some say autism is a gift! I see this as backlash against stigma and as part of the “think positive thoughts” school of ideas. I understand it is a way to celebrate diversity and to encourage sensitivity and to open minds.

I also view this “you are not disabled, you are gifted” as a form of invalidation and a way of glossing over the struggles that the vast majority of autistic people must deal with. Those of us fortunate enough to be able to argue these concepts amongst ourselves might be losing track of so many of our autistic brothers and sisters struggling in care facilities, institutions, and needing major supports in every day living.

I deeply believe that every life has intrinsic value of its own, regardless of ability or disability.

I believe that it is important to recognize talent and giftedness, all the forms of “otherness” that life offers us as individual human beings, but I believe in being honest, too.
Many of us do not have obvious or “useful to society” gifts.
Are we of less value?

Many of us struggle and struggle deeply, and this also needs to be respected and acknowledged.

I ( or any human) am not my disability, anybody may have deep struggles.
Many have extremely difficult struggles, appalling and daunting struggles in simply surviving another day, any and all of which are not recognized, but swept under that metaphorical rug when I(or any human) am told my struggles are actually a gift.

If I (or any human) am less able to do certain tasks, think certain ways, behave according to certain standards, do I have less value than those who have the gift of having those abilities?

Does an individual who has no special skills or lacks ability to use certain parts of the brain and/or body have less value? I think not.

Autistic inflexibility

Why the rigidity of thinking? I cling to the rules and ideas of which concepts and principles I think I have grasped as a drowning person would cling to a life preserver.

I am afraid to give up those ideas because I have no obvious or evident, or known alternatives and I would be lost without my guidelines in place as a blind person would be lost if dropped into the middle of a forest.

Rules provided guideposts which gave me (I thought) the ability to see how to navigate the complex and scary processes of my world which made little sense without them.

I am coming to realize how my autistic inflexibility has influenced all my life experiences and my perceptions, etc.

I wrote in this blog a while back regarding a phrase in the Temple/ Barron book on Autism.

There was a comment about a child needing explanations about the nature of mistakes, forgiveness, learning, and recognizing that all mistakes are not mortal, that errors are made all the time and adjustments can be performed, that the world will go on with very little harm most of the time being done on a permanent basis. I did not know or understand this until I was in my 30’s!
I want to address this because I made assumptions in growing up which were simply not true, learned the things I thought were the ‘rules’ without realizing that these change with every situation and that our responses to any situation can be varied.
I have always told people that I need explanations for many things which might seem obvious to others. This is something that dawned on me around age 30, although I never suspected I had different neurological processing and blamed it on being stupid about things, which was the answer others had provided for me all my life. Now I know it was / is the autism.

Finding out about Autism has brought new understanding. Things I had to learn by being taught/getting therapy that were probably obvious to others from a much younger age:

1 Mistakes are common and forgivable. You are not bad if you make a mistake.

2 Rules of every day life change in different situations. A rule is not always a rule in every situation.

3 There are many ways to respond to people’s requests of you. You have a choice of many options.

4 You are not responsible for making other people like you. People can dislike you and that is OK, it does not mean that you are less worthy or less human, or of less value than they are.

5 If people are not your friends, they are not necessarily your enemies. They are mostly neutral. That is OK too.

6 You do not have to try to make people like you. You do not have to be socially successful, look a certain way in dress, demeanor, bodily appearance, or have to have a certain job or have a certain way of life to be happy or content.

7 It is OK to say no, you do not have to have the good will of anybody to interact with them.

Some of those points are inter- related, all of them stand alone, all of them were quite difficult for me to grasp because of my rigid autistic brain and the lack of outside guidance to give insights. It was my counselor who began to explain these things to me 37 years ago. I got counseling at age 30 to learn things that “average” or neurotypical children probably have learned by age 10 to 12.
I had no idea of my autism back then, but was able to learn these things with the therapist’s explanations, and it changed my life.

If you suspect you might be autistic, or believe you might need explanations where you struggle in your life, please do not hesitate to find a good counselor to help you with ‘every day’ operations.
My understanding of my world and the ways I could act and interact with others in making healthier choices and choosing healthier ways to live has improved and life has got so much better with practice.

I still have many struggles for understanding, still have struggles to be self assertive instead of appeasing and submissive as a first choice (that was the behavior pattern I had been taught as a child and young adult).

Going to counseling with a good therapist who was able to teach me healthier ways of communication and decision making was the single most important and helpful thing I ever did for myself.
If you struggle with deep and constant emotional pain and or feel rage and loads of frustration, there might be new ways to do things that could help ease that burden. Please reach out and ask somebody to help you. You don’t have to do this alone!

Many of us are stuck in ruts of learned behavior which can be tying us to unhealthy lives.

Learning new ways to respond, learning about choices we didn’t know or understand can be life changing.

For me it was truly the difference between life and death. I would have been dead in a gutter somewhere years ago if I had not got counseling and better understanding of my choices and my ideas of the rules of life in general.

Check it out!