Thursday, 11 February 2016

Autism. Friendships. Seeing us as the problem.

An ABA/Positive Behaviour Support based charity has put up the most awful 'newsletter'  about autism, a couple of days ago.

In it, the charity have tried to interpret our social behaviour.  As they don't know why we do it, their interpretations are wrong.  For example, a young adult who gets someone else to unlock a door for them, rather than just doing it themselves.  "Aha, this is because they think other people are just tools, not just people!", the ABA-style charity have said [paraphrased].  No, it's probably because the ice cold metal of a key and door handle hurt so much that it's indescribable, for many of us.  Thank goodness someone else can help.  As others don't have that sensory experience, how easy it is to just say something dehumanising about us. Something that makes out we treat others in inhuman ways.  Goodness me.

Then, we have the myths about how we can't interact 'properly'.  Well, funnily enough, non-autistic people can't interact 'properly' with me.  For a start, they make eye contact and insist on it whilst speaking.  That's a no.  And they make faces do strange contortions.  That's another no.  And they talk about totally irrelevant things.  No.   And they tell baffling mini lies all the time, like "I'll be back in five minutes", when they mean, "Some time later today".   And they insist on talking to us in busy, noisy places where we can't possibly hear them or see them properly.  No.  All totally wrong for autism.

They insist on calling our stimming (repetitive movements) a 'problem behaviour', and reward themselves for making us stop.  "Oh look, we can reduce 'problem behaviour' by 60%!  How good are we!"  Maybe we get a jelly sweet if we comply.  Er, thanks.  Well, actually, it's a way of communicating, for us.  And a way of calming.  And a way of balancing our internal body-senses.  And a way of detecting the environment around us.   So taking that away is silencing us and making our lives worse, not better.  [No, I'm not saying people should be allowed to self-harm in dangerous ways.  I haven't even mentioned it, and that's not what this post is about.  I'm talking about rocking, flapping, etc, the everyday stimming done by the million autistic people in the UK].

So, the ABA based charity tells us that we are awkward hopeless friends,.... who see people just as objects and have no clue how to interact with them.   And they completely miss everything we are...and the rich, deep complex wonderful friendships we have with autistic people.  People who 'speak our language'.  

 You see, once they have silenced our natural way of communicating....well.... what they have done is stopped us interacting with other autistic people in our natural ways.   That's not a step forwards, any more than conquering the USA and 'teaching the natives how to behave' was an appropriate thing to do.  We are not 'savages who need taming'.   We are people who deserve to be able to be ourselves. And live a life free of pain, exhaustion, restriction and 'othering'.  Yes, it's great to learn why other people do weird things that we don't.  And of course we all need to co-exist in good ways.  And be safe.  All of that is OK.  But making us do 100% of the work to change how we socialise, and describing us as the broken ones - well, that's not OK.

Learn about autism, from actual autistic people, or from other professionals who are respectful of us and our ways of making friendships.

Me, I am so blessed with my autistic friends and family, colleagues and professional contacts.  Every one of them caring, thoughtful, kind, wonderful people.  Deeply misunderstood. 

A different, and better future for us all.  Let's work for that.