Thursday, 17 December 2015

Autism: Denials and 'Gaslighting'

One of the most painful experiences that most autistic people endure is not being believed.  A good number of people do not want to listen to what we say. Or, it may benefit some of them to get a group to distrust our witness to things.  Some say, "Oh, they're always making things up". "They must be imagining it", or similar.   

Others go further, and start telling us that we don't feel how we feel, and we haven't experienced what we have experienced.  This is known as 'gaslighting', a word taken from the old play, "Gas light".  In this, a husband would dim the lights in the house, and tell his wife that in fact there was nothing wrong with the lighting levels.  Done regularly with all sorts of things in the household, she came to believe that she was quite mad.

Autism is not a strange sort of mental health condition.  We do not just imagine things.  In fact, imagining things in any way that influences others is often one of our greatest difficulties.

If you spend decades telling an autistic person that they have no idea what their needs are...that they aren't really communicating...that their behaviour doesn't mean what they think it means...that the things that they need are not needed.... that they are mistaken about what's happened to them..... then we do end up thinking we've totally 'lost the plot'.  People so often remove our entire reality and replace it with their own version of it.  Ours becomes lost.  Our voices become irrelevant.  Our experiences discounted.

We need to stop doing this stuff to autistic folk.

If only autistic folk were exaggerating about what we endure.  As we know 70% of autistic women endure sexual assault.  30% endure rape.  80% endure extensive bullying.  Most autistic people are regularly defrauded and stolen-from by people we thought of as our friends.  We are two and a half times more likely to die young than other people, because of the terrible difficulties we have accessing good healthcare.   And because of the relentless loneliness and stress that we are made to endure.   We don't need to make this stuff up. We live with it as a reality that most others will never have to face.  Most autistic folk I know underexaggerate hugely about the dreadful things they endure.

Talking since with national and international autistic colleagues, so many of us have experienced this kind of stuff.  The notion that we are nothing but 'attention seekers' or 'people who invent things'.   The total rewriting of our personal reality to fit the needs of  some non-autistic people.   

I shall generalise. Autistic people are supremely honest.  Lying is the thing we mostly find the hardest of all.   And attention on us is a very scary thing.  Most of us would rather hide under a table than get the attention of a group, because a group's attention causes literal brain overheating and pain.

Trying to reach out online is such a hard thing to do.  Trying to befriend people can go so very wrong, so very fast.  It takes courage to blog, and to tweet.  I'd rather not do it.  But then, how do we get to hear autistic voices, if all our voices are silenced or disbelieved?

When I go to a place that says it offers love and acceptance, and find cold indifference, or 'gaslighting' there, instead of friendship and caring, I weep.  Not so much for me.  But for our autistic children.  Because I want this world to be a safe one for them.  Now and always.  This Christmas and all the Christmases and other wonderful faith festivals to come.

Learn about autism.  It's a sensory and social processing difference, caused by genuinely different brain wiring. 

Be allies of your autistic friends and colleagues.  Help us be heard.