[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.