So today is World Autism Awareness Day. Every year social media lights up with discussion about different colours and whether awareness is what we are really looking for. One of the questions this leads to is what are we making people aware of? The fact that we exist? Or is it more subtle than that. Are we really making people aware of things they already subconsciously know? Their inherent prejudices that lead them to reject us on the basis that we don't fit into someone's expectation of how social competence translates into the quality of a person. Are we making people aware of how we don't dovetail neatly into society, or about the little things society does without thinking that make a big difference to whether or not we can participate and connect?
Awareness is not the same thing as understanding. I think people sense that I have a disability but they don't often recognize it unless it’s pointed out. I think people think I'm capable but not approachable or warm or easy to be around. Despite how it may appear, it's not standoffishness - it's a clumsy ability to connect and be understood coupled with a desire to be liked and known and not to ever unwittingly hurt or offend anyone.
The risk with awareness is that being aware of how someone is different from you can increase knowledge but it can also increase distance.
Are we making them aware of what it is to try and be "normal" but never actually belong? Like all you're ever going to be is a "fake" of "veneer" that people will sense is suspect a mile away. How some of us might seem that way because we don't really know who we are. That critical parts of identity formation and confidence are a luxury that comes through a kind of friendship and acceptance we haven't necessarily really experienced.
Are people aware that sharing your story sometimes makes people more accepting but at least just as often just makes you feel exposed and like no one who isn't scarred in a similar way or biologically related to you will ever want to be around you in any real way?
Being considered "deficient" from the start means that people's expectations are that you'll give 100% of what you have 100% of the time to be more acceptable to everyone else. The lies stem firstly from the fact that people will always think you aren't there yet and couple be doing more, then secondly the idea that it's always you as the person who is different who has to change and give to make yourself less unacceptable. The definition of different is two things that aren't the same not one thing that is always right and one that is always wrong. Thirdly it wrongly assumes that 100% is reasonable and static. This isn't true for anyone, but one of the features of autism and difficulties with a little thing called executive functioning (which affects how you perceive, react and cope with pretty well everything but breathing) means that this theoretical sum of what you can cope with is pretty much infinitely variable at any moment in time.
If we consider the energy that you have to cope with life as like a daily income, even if it is supposedly constant to start with its we actually get paid in a foreign country which needs to be exchanged to the currency where we are at whatever the going exchange rate is at the time. This rate depends on a whole lot of market factors in at least two different countries, and sometimes also other countries which trade heavily with the two we're exchanging currency between. For most people this exchange exists but the variability is like that between two countries with a lot of similarities such as Australia and New Zealand whereas there are a lot more differences to take into account that may or may not be obvious with autistic people like me.
Sure we can try our best (not that it’s reasonable for someone to always perform at their absolute maximum) but everything that we have to try with changes and sometimes we have to prioritise certain needs above others to try and stay afloat.
Today is about awareness but the struggle and the journey we face on a daily basis is trying to discover and embrace who we are as well as to try and put ourselves out there and find acceptance and understanding.