The term Autism derives from the Greek word 'autos' meaning 'self'. I don't think that's an accurate description for the condition. We're not selfish, self-absorbed, or self-serving. We're disconnected. Imagine being able to talk but not connect or not being able to talk or connect. My mind is like a black hole; once I get sucked into it, I become disconnected from the rest of the world. The ability to zone out is what makes aspies such deep thinkers. My thoughts are a constellation of theories, philosophies, and observations. Professionals call aspie females 'Little Philosophers'. We overthink, over-analyze, and over-explain. Everything is complex. Everything has meaning. Ironically, it's the need to concentrate on the self that contributes to the 'us' in life. I think, therefore we are.
I think. We are. Why do I think we are?
"We are animals that don't follow the natural order of the environment because we co-exist....What is it exactly that sets us apart from our non-human counterparts?"
- from my 'Minds Without Borders' post
The answer to the age-old question 'What is the meaning of life?' is obvious to me. Uncommon sense states that it's exactly what separates us from animals that is the meaning of life: co-existence. It seems like such a simple answer to a very complex question. A simple answer that isn't simple to live up to. Ubuntu is an African philosophy on interconnectedness, a universal bond of sharing that connects all humanity. Several native communities worldwide share similar beliefs that seek reparation over retribution, and understanding over vengeance. Some cultures considered 'primitive' even revere the disabled. Western and European society isn't designed with ubuntu in mind by perpetuating the every-man-for-himself-mentality. I think, therefore I am.
For someone with a supposed self-interested mind, I've been pretty good at pointing out how society itself is disconnected. It's a paradox that the more I tried to be like the world, the more I felt removed from it. My 'autos' mind was designed to think alone but created nonetheless to live with others. Having a communication deficit shouldn't mean social death. No matter our conditions and personality traits, no human being is meant to live in isolation. Mimicking people's behaviour will help to blend in but not connect. Superficial social skills can fool a group but will never be sufficient to build deep, lasting relationships. I had to get creative with my methods. By being open about who I am I was finally able to feel like I'm a part of something bigger than myself. Co-existing with myself was the first step in co-existing with others. If I live an inauthentic life I'm taking away something from the world that could otherwise be used for the greater good. I think for myself, but live for others. I think, therefore we are.
Human behaviour doesn't fit in a textbook: it's irrational and unpredictable. Socializing is a difficult skill to learn because the second you learn the rules, they change. For autistics, recognizing unidentified social hierarchies can be like trying to decipher hieroglyphs. This can be a good or bad thing. Not seeing seeing the social ladder is what creates leaders from nothing, entrepreneurs, and artists. It's a double advantage if you learn the rules from the sidelines and still have a disregard for conventionality.
"Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist."
- Pablo Picasso
The downside is that if you're stuck in a structured environment, there's little room for eccentricity. When you don't know the unwritten rules, it's safest to just ride the wave. Maslow had the right idea with his hierarchy of needs, but there's no pyramid within the belongingness and love level to explain friendship, cliques, and group mentality. I was always confused as a child because in class we were taught about acceptance and respect but the playground was free-for-all. The real world works the same way. The intention of rules is to do what is right but there are always loopholes that can be used for wrong. Even though the system is meant to function a certain way, it isn't entirely reliable.
To survive, finding out who to trust with what is the trickiest part, but worth it. If you're trustworthy and truthful yourself, people will be more receptive to you. Stay humble no matter where you find yourself. The last thing you want to do is barge into a situation and try to run the show. Unless you have the abilities of Dr. House, no amount of intelligence will take away from the fact that you're stepping over people's heads. Depending on your social support, you may need to seek different associations with various types of people to have a solid grasp of how everything works: friendships, acquaintances, work relationships, faith/spiritual/or motivational guidance, successful individuals in all sorts of fields, and academics.
If/when you figure out how everything works, that's when you can decide if you want to continue going along with it or move in the other direction to create change. Autistics are innovative thinkers; the movers and shakers of the world. You don't need a hierarchal 'squad' to make things happen.
"You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose."
- Dr. Seuss
Up, down, sideways. The places you'll go inside or outside the pyramid is up to you!
Dyspraxia is a form of developmental coordination disorder which usually goes hand in hand with an autism diagnosis that affects someone's ability to perform movements in a smooth, coordinated manner. The condition exists in varying degrees and may impact speech, perception, and thinking patterns (piecing words and ideas together). This is what I believe prevented me from articulating properly as a child. My sentences used to be very cut-and-dried; I've come a long way since then. Now I'm an excellent public speaker and I can have spontaneous conversations with banter and all.
Communication is 90% nonverbal: tone of voice, body, language, and facial expressions. Matching facial expressions with emotions, displaying proper reactions to various situations, and maintaining a natural gait/ posture are all elements autistics struggle with. These are more reasons why autistics are often labeled as lacking empathy. I've smiled and even laughed after receiving bad news before. I think I do it out of anxiety and a part of me wants to cheer the other person up.
Friend: Why are you smiling? It's sad.
Me: I don't know. Why are you smiling?
Friend: Because you're smiling.
Responding "normally" to situations isn't something that comes naturally to those on the spectrum. This can give others the wrong impression which can go beyond social awkwardness and make us seem like insensitive sociopaths. As a kid, I used to spend hours upon hours in front of a mirror practicing different facial expressions and hand gestures. I became an expert in appearing neurotypical. Like most aspie females, I was hiding in plain sight. When a friend found out I was autistic he equated it to finding out I was a spy. A very blunt spy.
Him: I just thought you were a bada**.
Well, I'd still like to think of myself as a bada**, but not as bad. Autistic people can struggle to wear a natural smile that may come off as "creepy", odd, or even rude. I always opted for the soft smile as it was a safer bet than attempting a big teethe grin. Now I'm very comfortable expressing the entire spectrum of emotion: the good and bad ones.
I'm very familiar with angry emotions. >:|
Kiddinggg... I'm made entirely of rainbows and butterflies! :)
Dark butterflies. >:)
No wait, a social butterfly. :D
My social learning curve has had a butterfly effect on my interpersonal motivation and interactions. Mimicking other people's behaviour helped me wing it for most of my life. I'm happy I broke free from my insecure cucoon. Now that I've morphed into an expressive person, I'm hoping I can still maintain a poker face when I get butterflies in my stomach.
"Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee."
- Muhammad Ali
I want to maintain a delicate exterior and a strong interior.
Strong independent lady. That's what someone called me yesterday. When I observe myself from the outside, I realize that I've become exactly type of woman I didn't like. She intimidated me. She challenged me. She was everything I thought I could never be. A strong independent lady. Some days I feel like that, some days I don't. I'll admit that it's scary paving a path along other aspie women in unknown territory. It feels like I've jumped out of an airplane without a parachute. Then again, my entire life has felt like a constant free fall so what's an extra jump?
Sometimes I enjoy the fall, sometimes it makes me panic. I deleted few blog posts this week out of anxiety; the pieces that got the best responses. I put them in my blog's draft folder but will probably repost them later on after a few edits, or save them for when I compile my writings for a book. A fellow advocate and page admin told me that his most controversial work has always been his most successful ones. When I write, I try to think: "is this helping my audience?"..."is this how I want the world to see me?". I do think my writing gives a unique insight into my world. I'm not trying to paint myself as anything other than who I am, but I do want to be a positive role model.
Like I stated on my main page, I'm "untamed", but I'm still I'm trying to be on my best behaviour. People too easily develop opinions and often misinformed ones that can take years to change. An online post can be misread so easily. I'm developing an image and I've had the self cringe over posting something too personal, but that's what people know me for. Raw honesty. When people read my blog, they're reading me. I've seen personal adversity and have found my version of success. I've doubted myself my whole life as autistic women often play an act rather than being themselves. I used to be a compilation of different people's personalities. It's hard to be confident when you don't know who you are. I'm finally learning who I am, independent from exterior influences. No matter what you put out in the world, some will like it, some will dislike it, and some won't care. I want the people who like me like the real me.
"I'd rather be hated for who I am, than loved for who I am not."
- Kurt Cobain
I'd rather be independently thinking than dependently acting.
Kristina Kolley is a dear friend who speaks several languages and reads Braille. She asked a compelling question on an article I posted that I wanted to share with you guys. Feel free to weigh in:
"In terms of stories, TV shows, articles, etc. providing hope to some people on the spectrum, the question I would like to ask (as someone not on the spectrum, but who does fall into the disability category), in a reflective sense, is this:
What is the source of someone not feeling hopeful in the first place? I ask this somewhat rhetorically, knowing full well that there is a shortage of funding and programs, a general public who is not yet adequately informed about autism, the prevalence of stereotypes, and the list goes on.
I suppose what I am trying to articulate is that I have found, as a blind person, that there is a societal assumption that one who is, say, blind, is going to need positive bolstering by default. It is almost as though it is assumed that as soon as you are old enough to think, you are going to regard your life as somehow hopeless or negative. I am not attempting to paint my life into something idyllic, but I personally never let others convince me that I should feel X way about myself, my condition or quality of life.
What I have observed, though, is that some blind people, who were surrounded with messages to the effect that blindness was hard, began to absorb the assumptions of the people around them.
I recall (and it still happens) people telling me that I have a positive attitude. I am only mentioning this because it is something common blind people hear, and not as any form of bragging or even a semblance of the truth all the time. My point is that that it was assumed, by default, that my attitude would be negative. Do certain things suck? Absolutely, but many of those things are just waiting for progressive solutions.
So, all this rambling to say ... I am just wondering whether people on the spectrum who feel negative or hopeless about their "identity" (hope that word is appropriate and not offensive), aside from the need for better social programs and the eradication of stereotypes, might feel more positive if, say, the media portrayed autism more favourably, thereby encouraging a nudge of social attitudes in a different direction.
Wow, that may have been my longest sentence ever! Hope I'm at least making some sense. :)"
Margo: I do think the media has a lot of influence on people's self-esteem. If something is normalized on television, people of diverse backgrounds will be able to identify with role models as opposed to feeling defective. Social media, more specifically Instagram, creates unhealthy comparisons between followers. The world is a show driven by social status and image. Hopelessness stems from wanting a different role.
I knew you were going to open it. You little rebel, you. I like you. Autistics are rebels by nature, hence the blog Raising Rebel Souls (site currently unavailable). Being real is an act of rebellion in a world that profits from being fake. To also elaborate on a previous mention of the enlarged justice gland in autistics, this is a trait that when channelled properly, can be make tremendous strides in society. Many of us have found a good fit in the justice system, activism, and the arts.
Rebelling is okay so long is it's for the greater good, doesn't harm anyone, or break the law. Whistleblowers may not agree with that last one but it's a grey area I would never step into. I'm an advocate, not a social justice martyr. It's also wise not to attack or throw anyone under the bus. No matter how wrong someone is, it's human nature to bark back when attacked. Nonviolent resistance is my philosophy. People are so used to quarrels that they don't know how to respond to those who kill them with kindness. There's a reason Martin Luther King Jr was more effective than Malcolm X. I'm not comparing their significance, only their methods. As much as we're hurting, retaliating will never solve anything.
A new "fad label" for rebellion is ODD, Oppositional Defiant Disorder. Like personality disorders and autism, I believe it's also a spectrum. Children who defy authority are labeled as such. My issue with this is that it assumes that the authority is correct. A lifetime of being mistreated by authority figures yet being obedient towards them doesn't make me any less defiant, it's a way of thinking. Some autistics are different and will act out against injustices done towards them. It's easier to label a child with having a disorder rather than understanding the reason behind a child's behaviour. Children branded as 'bad' could be dealing with internal struggles you can't even imagine. For the record, I've never been diagnosed with ODD but I recognize a lot of the frustrations in the traits. I do have a defiant perspective but doesn't make me deviant. Not all non-conforming behaviour needs a label. Doctors in the past have diagnosed slaves who didn't commit to their tasks well enough as having ‘dysaesthesia aethiopis’. Have we already forgotten that homosexuality used to be in the DSM5? The message that sends out is: if you don't think or do as you're told, there's something wrong with you.
"It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society."
- Jiddu Krishnamurti
The greatest minds of the world went against the grain. No major breakthroughs have happened by people who follow the herd. When it comes to following orders, the world is a jungle and no matter how many rules exist to tame its creatures, many are still captives of nature. The only real difference between people are the varying degrees of emancipation from their lower nature. Life is a constant struggle between survival and virtue. There's a million ways to get ahead, but not everyone is equipped with the tools to do so in a kosher way. Remembering this helps me have compassion for even the most ruthless or abased of us. I have faith in humanity. Whether we're the walking-dead, the walking-sleeping, or the walking-woke, we're all walking in the same direction. Our pace is just different levels of consciousness.
"I have a dream."
I had a dream too. Surviving a nightmare will wake someone up more than dreaming ever will.
About that notorious aspie arrogance, it's not true what they say about it. Autistics imitate neurotypical behaviour and can overshoot completely. These people can be labeled as being arrogant, obnoxious, or eccentric. In reality, we're very gentle natured, compliant, and calm. I may not agree with societal standards but I'm still a law abiding citizen. I can come off as a know-it-all but I'd be a hypocrite if I stood for egality yet thought of myself as better. I see everyone as equals. Self-righteousness can be a prideful downfall.
"Pride comes before the fall."
- Spanish proverb
Here's why there can be an egotistical misunderstanding between neurologies: autistics have a higher than average fluid intelligence. Fluid intelligence is the ability to solve new problems, use logic in new situations, and identify patterns. In contrast, crystallized intelligence is the ability to use learned knowledge and experience. This can be frustrating from both directions. Autistics don't understand why neurotypicals can't think outside of their learned education and neurotypicals can't understand why autistics struggle with regular education.
"Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school."
I'm an out-of-the-box thinker. My gifts are best utilized outside of the public education system. Autistic children are said to struggle with imaginative play but that's not accurate. Not being able to communicate your imagination doesn't mean it's not there. My mind has inestimable connecting links for every idea; this allows me to play with words. Word play, they call it; words are always at play. I give you my word, it's an aspie's play structure inside a ward of our brain. I can play it down if you word to join me. As you can tell, autistics love puns. Autistics are the most imaginative people I know. With the right tools, they can soar to great heights. Knowledge is the train while imagination is the airplane.
"Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere."
- Albert Einstein
I'm doing relatively well for myself in life. I'm starting to make a name for myself in the autism community, and to a lesser extent in the modelling world, but it would be arrogant for me to believe that I did it all on my own. We all need support. God knows I need it more than most. I have an invisible army backing me up: spiritual leaders, friends, family, and perfect strangers. Anytime I'm struggling with something, there's always someone I can reach out to at the touch of a button. Like I've mentioned before, my condition keeps me very humble. We all have insecurities. You have to remember that my blog only includes the parts of me I choose to show you. It's rare to grow up autistic without having your self-esteem damaged. No matter how many people love and support me today, I can't help but think that they would have rejected my 12 year old self. I am perpetually twelve, after all. People can't tell you're insecure if you fake it really well. Eventually, true confidence will follow. What helped me accept me for who I am was seeing others not care what others think, more specifically, the LGBT community. People advocating for their rights have the fiercest characters I've ever encountered. At the end of the day, everyone just wants the same thing: acceptance.
"To be beautiful means to be yourself. You don’t need to be accepted by others. You need to accept yourself."
- Thich Nhat Hanh
How can I boast about my worth when the world doesn't value me? Despite having a strong personality, I know my place. I'm but a mere mortal like you. Autistics aren't better or less, just different. As for Margo, she writes to help free them from the ego-centred constraints of society.
[Link to my blog post "The Girl Who Never Grew Up" that will explain my perpetually twelve reference http://www.lifeaspermargo.com/-my-blog/the-girl-who-never-grew-up]
I haven't had any backlash about my latest posts but I figured after the fact that they may have given my readers an inaccurate impression of me so I'm writing this to clear the air. First off, I wouldn't have gotten to where I am if I had done anything I wasn't supposed to. I'm very analytical and skillfully plan every step, no matter how impulsive I may appear. I struggle with non-literal communication so my poor attempts at sarcasm can be misconstrued. I've never been involved in criminal activities nor have I ever been involved with anyone who was involved with criminal activities.
I'm as straight of an arrow as they come. Almost too straight. I'm learning to accept the ying and yang in life. A trait of young autistic girls is "schoolyard policing" meaning they point out morality issues of their peers and may involve themselves in situations, unsuccessfully. Personally, as a child I always kept to myself on the schoolyard and wrote alone in my little corner. Aspie girls/women also have a trait called an "enlarged justice gland" which can be very useful in society when directed properly. We don't like cruelty, injustice, or dishonesty. Many of us have become lawyers, FBI agents, detectives, and so forth. Despite being a truthseeker, I will never throw anyone under the bus, don't worry. When I mentioned controlling the good or the bad I was referring to character. I see personalities everyday in all types of environments who intimidate and protect in the same breath. Everyone has an energy and it's about learning to channel it properly.
Autistics are the last people who should be numbing themselves with toxins because of our sensitive brain wiring. I don't smoke, do drugs, or drink. I don't even consume caffeine because it elevates my heart rate too much causing me severe anxiety. I've worked in an environment where I was exposed to the effects of substance abuse so I'm very familiar with its symptoms. Comparing autism to intoxication is like comparing when a diabetic attack is confused for intoxication.
When I started my blog a few years back, I was treading carefully not to be "too much". I've always been honest but I'm starting to get real honest. My straightforwardness is a characteristically autistic trait that can be shocking or refreshing, depending how you want to look at it. It's never meant to offend or hurt. I have followers who get me right off the bat but some neurotypicals may need more time to get to know me. My online persona is very different from meeting me in real life. When I write I can come off as harsh, intense, and even rude. If you meet me in person you'll see that I'm soft-spoken, calm, and polite. The only thing that's been throwing me off my game lately is my cptsd symptoms which include flashbacks, exaggerated startle response, nightmares, insomnia, etc. I'm done battling my demons, we're on the same side now. I'll use my trauma to help others through theirs. I'm going to take a break from social media for a bit and focus on my writing because that's what's helping me make sense of this confusing world. I won't be responding to my messages as frequently, if at all.
"An arrow can only be shot by pulling it backward. So when life is dragging you back with difficulties, it means that it’s going to launch you into something great. So just focus, and keep aiming."
Thank you for all your support and look forward to seeing you on the other side (the bright side) of life! The best is just arrow-nd the corner!
[my piece was originally published on www.wrongplanet.net : http://wrongplanet.net/minds-without-borders/
Also published on The Silent Wave Blog https://thesilentwaveblog.wordpress.com/2017/04/22/minds-without-borders-by-margo-comeau-on-wrongplanet/#comment-6471 ]
Autistic behavior is a form of communication. I’m about to take that statement further and show you the significance behind autistic behavior.
For me, autism means that my mind is a vast open space where all my knowledge runs free with my hyper-connected brain. Most people are born with instructions to function on this planet – not me. I can’t think within parameters that I can’t see. It is like being asked to think outside of a box you didn’t know you were inside of. Free-range thinking translates into free-range behavior.
Not seeing borders can manifest itself in difficulties understanding boundaries, and this has been prominent throughout my life beginning at an early age. For instance, I never knew how far to stand from people. To cope, I would stand a little farther away than what I thought was acceptable just to be sure. But not all coping mechanisms and assumed boundaries are perfect – my method failed me once when I was in kindergarten. All of my classmates were sitting in a circle and I happened to be right next to my teacher, who was on a chair reading a book to our class. The top of her foot distracted me; it was flesh-colored, but it appeared to have a textured pattern. I figured she was wearing stockings. I lost my restraint while in some sort of trance and impulsively – but gently – pulled on the top of her foot. It was like my brain had to find out for itself whether my assumption was correct about the stockings. My teacher flinched. She didn’t seem upset, but she was surprised.
My fourth grade teacher was always frustrated that I would never write my assignments within the margins. My print handwriting would spill over the borders of the paper, and my calligraphy was minuscule because I thought it was the only way that I could perfectly align the size and spacing.
My mind’s boundaries followed me outside of school too. One day, I was filing out a form one day and the woman working at the front of the office seemed puzzled. She commented, “You’re the first person ever to start filling out the form at the bottom and working your way up. Why did you do it that way?” I explained that I wanted to get the meatier parts out of the way first so that towards the end of filling out the sheet, my mind can rest as the name/address/date of birth part is a no-brainer.
In grade 11, I did a coop placement at a parliament member’s office: the Hill location and the constituency office. I enjoyed it immensely. I learned so much to the point that I realized I didn’t know anything at all. I had chosen the most progressive and liberal politician I knew. Still, I couldn’t wrap my mind around the thought of restricting myself to one idea. A political party is a way of thinking, yet there are 7 billion ways of thinking. On my last day,I asked the parliament member for one piece of advice which has stuck with me to this day, “Don’t get into politics just to get into politics. Do it because there’s a particular cause you truly believe in and follow it.”
I didn’t know who I was back then. I didn’t know what I was passionate about. I do now, but I still can’t reconcile the thought of belonging to a dividing entity.
But something I learned is that there is always a side: us against them. Rarely is there impartiality. I couldn’t understand that you had to take a side to stand for something.
I did learn what I was passionate about after my time in the co-op: poetry. There is a reflection of nature in all human experience and this is my inspiration for metaphors. I see the synchronicity in everything. Nature is cruel. We are animals that don’t follow the natural order of the environment because we coexist. Autistic children often report other children as being mean. It didn’t occur to me until I grew up that meanness is really just what animals do to one another to survive. My “niceness” was a lack of survival instinct. As we mature, we learn to develop our intellect and compassion. Lions and lambs don’t live peacefully together in the wild. My curiosity for human relationships lead me to my next big passion in life: spirituality. What is it exactly that sets us apart from our non-human counterparts?
Every behavioral manifestation of an autistic trait reveals something deeper about how we perceive the world. The reason autistics need order and routine is because their minds are chaotic and unusual. Lack of awareness for boundaries also means they don’t see borders between people. They don’t see faces, color, or race – only character. I never saw others as “other.” This is why autistics are known to befriend people of all ethnicities, religion, and age. The older I got, the more I realized that people categorized others to determine whether or not to accept or reject them.
In my mind, I developed artificially constructed dividers to classify people, which helps me predict how certain people will act based on past experiences.
This last line made me cry when I wrote it. I’ve literally had to teach myself to divide people in my mind to survive. It feels like I have built a fence in my mind, but my thoughts and feelings rebelled and grew in between each metal wiring hiding any evidence of it. Our future can’t be kept locked up behind archaic traditions, cultural norms, or even widely-accepted beliefs and opinions. With limits, our vision cannot be world-embracing. Without limits, our vision is one of freedom. Minds without borders will help create a world without borders.
[Guest blogger, Thomas Clement's contribution]
Anyone who knows me knows that I’m not the always the easiest person in the world to get along with. The very Aspergian traits of abrasiveness and brutal honesty, which can be difficult for some to tolerate, are very pronounced in me. In my day-to-day interactions, I always try to be friendly but am instinctively averse to feigning politeness. A reluctance on my part to engage in any small-talk is often interpreted as rudeness and this often ends up creating a very negative perception of me as a person in the minds of others. This saddens me deeply because I know that deep-down I am not the mere persona I appear to be within the limited constraints of neurotypical interaction. Underneath this brash exterior is a reservoir of emotion, experience, wonder, awe, ideas and, above all, love, that I wish to share with the world around me. Those few who do persevere with me and scratch beyond the surface know this about me and it saddens them, too, that I have difficulty getting on in the world and forging new connections with others.
Admittedly, I do have a tendency to be one-sided in a conversation and this is something I’m working on even if it doesn’t come naturally to me to think to engage in a topic that I find slightly less interesting for the sake of the person I’m talking to. Many dismiss me as boring, too eccentric and for want of a better word, annoying, which probably explains why I’ve found it hard to get on in polite society and have never truly been accepted into peer groups whether at school or at work. If ever I were invited to a dinner party, say, I imagine I would be an appalling guest. For one thing, I hate dressing up to impress others and would probably turn up in scruffy gear. The idea of being obsequious is something I generally abhor, too, so I would openly criticise the food if it were sub-standard and end up offending the host. And as for small-talk? Forget it. It’s unnecessary, extraneous and, from what I’ve observed in other autistic people, extraneous things are generally discarded in favour of pursuing things that we feel really matter to us.
Although my social life is limited mainly to family members, I prefer to be this way. I’m not bitter about the way other people view me, but I would dearly love it they were able to see beyond the quirks, the eccentricities and the ineptness when it comes to politeness. I can be kind, generous and caring, even if the way I show it is, much like my personality, unorthodox.