June 5th, 2020, Lisa Macafee
I am autistic and I am most often alone, even in a crowd.
I might deeply respect your work and politics, and you may feel the same about me, but chances are if we go to lunch to start a friendship, we will both feel disconnected and like the conversation was a lot of effort to maintain (if you are neurotypical).
The closest and most rewarding friendships I have made as an adult are with others among the neurodiverse population. I have felt a deep connection to, and understanding of these folk. I don’t immediately feel connected to every other autistic person, I mean, we’re still people after all, but I do much more readily than with the neurotypical folk I have tried to befriend.
I understand why so many of us die tragically young from our own hands. If I had been through the traditional ABA methods, they teach children to try to be typical. ABA tries to help autistic children fit into a neurotypical world so they could befriend those folk that I have tried to and failed. But what ABA is missing is that those forced friendships made while masking a typical neurology are costly to the autistic. It takes so much work to create appropriate facial expressions and responses that it becomes a full-time job and is not a rewarding relationship on my part. If I cannot be myself with you, then you are not my friend.
The closest I came to suicide was 9th grade. I started high school and sat with my “friends” from middle school, who I had nothing in common with and felt no connection to. I did all the things that were expected to maintain friendships and was “successful” at it. But I never in my life felt so invisible. Felt so dead inside and out. I felt like a ghost in my own life. No one knew me, not even myself, so why did I exist? The only reason I did not end myself was because I knew how much it would have made my mother sad. I would have loved to have been diagnosed autistic at this time because it would have explained why I was different. I thought there was something wrong with me. I thought I was broken. If I had know that I was different, and how, it would have allowed me to start problem-solving.
At some point in 9th grade, I just got up from the lunch group of “friends” and wandered the school grounds alone because if I sat there any longer I wouldn’t survive. I wandered around and looked for other loners. This is how I started to find my first real friends, among the outcasts. The lot of us had terrible self-esteem and the majority of us turned to drugs and alcohol to escape our inability to be “okay”.
People talk about the rising rates of autism with dread, but what they don’t understand is that there is nothing wrong with us, we just get along better with folk like us. You get along better with folk like you. There’s nothing wrong with that, but the difference is that I would never take your children and try to force them to act more autistic so that your children could more easily befriend my children. I would never take a child and try to force them to become something they are not. It seems the very definition of abuse. It harmed me to try to “fit in” because I was slowly drowning while I succeeded. The price of acting neurotypical is the suffocation of my self-esteem and sense of worth. I mean, if I was worth anything, I could be myself, right? If I have to repress myself to fit in, them my self must be disgusting to people.
While others despair at the rising autism diagnosis, I rejoice. These are my people. Neurodiversity is hard, because everything different is hard, but that does not make it bad. I hope that my children will understand that their differences is what make them special and wonderful and they should never feel the need to repress the truth of their selves. I want to offer them supports as to how to engage in social interactions effectively when they choose and want to, but I will never force them to try to make friends with typical kids. I will teach them how to not irritate other people while they stim, but I will never discourage them from stimming to reduce their stress. I will teach them how to create facial expressions that people expect so they can implement them as a skill, but not force them to constantly uphold those expressions. I hope that my children will be more prepared for life than I was.
Hello friends! I would like to publish writings from myself and other people with autism as snapshots of how autism has affected them, since there are so many misconceptions and confusions about adults with autism.
Some background: I completed a 12 unit certificate program to be able to serve autistic students and am angry at how the program focused only on little boys as autistic and completely left out adults, the trans autistic population, and girls/ femmes/ women autistics. I am currently pursuing a PsyD to do more research on autism and gender.
Please contact me if you would like to add a story! If so, please send me your piece, publish name, title, and an image (can be a picture related to your content, your picture, an autism meme, etc).
I am interested in publishing this collection, because people don't know enough about us (but sure do assume a lot). Also on Facebook!
Lisa Macafee, autistic counselor with a hankering for social justice.