Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Mythbuster: Autism is not Selfishness

One of the myths about autism is that we are selfish.

Oddly, that is not a part of the diagnostic assessment, and neither is it true.

Unfortunately, if a person is nasty, selfish or otherwise awful, a good few people decided that such a person 'must be autistic'.  Even worse, a few professionals in the industry didn't understand autism properly, and fell into the trap of diagnosing people based on how awful their personalities were.  Was someone nasty?  Gee, must be autistic.  Well, no.

Autism is nothing to do with nasty or selfish personality.  I cannot stress this enough.
Autistic people are no more likely to be nasty or selfish than anyone else is.  Being nasty or selfish is a personality trait.  Autism is not a personality trait.

I appreciate that there are going to be a few people out there in the world who say, "...but Ann, I know an autistic person and they definitely are selfish!".  

This could be for one of four reasons.
a) No, they are not autistic.  Sometimes people just assume they are, because they are nasty.
b) They may have been misdiagnosed as autistic, but actually have a personality disorder.  It can happen. 
c) The person may indeed be autistic and selfish, but the autism is not causing the selfishness.  They simply are selfish.

d) They are not being selfish.  They have misunderstood what you needed, because you weren't clear about it.  We need clear instructions.  Using 'common sense' is not something we are able to do in the same ways as others.  If you need us to do X, say so.  That's how it works.  That's a genuine difference, because of a genuine brain wiring difference.  Me, I hate causing pain or sadness.  Like most autistic people, I feel the pain of others very intensely, and will do my utmost to help.  But I cannot see if someone is sad.  Literally.  I cannot see faces clearly.  So telling me I'm selfish for not noticing sadness would be like striding up to a Blind friend and accusing them of selfishness for not noticing the sadness on your face.  You wouldn't do that.  Don't do it with autism.

So, those are the available scenarios.

Autism is a sensory processing and social information processing condition.  We see/hear too much information all at once, and it causes a backlog.  Trying to process it means that our brain wiring can overheat, quite literally.  Then we need it to cool down.  None of this causes deliberate nastiness to others.  Because we are managing that brain temperature, routine and rules and structure are hugely important to us.  If we are in too 'overheating' a situation for too long, there is real pain and real brain shutdown for us.  It's not an attitude problem.

I know just short of 300 autistic people as colleagues, friends and family members.  None of them has behaved selfishly towards me.  I've been supported through ill health, cheered, entertained, and generally loved by them.  In turn, I've done my utmost to support, cherish and care for the people around me.  Autistic folk so often go out of our way to talk in the language of other people, not our own.  Go to places that we find painful because we care about the needs of the person we are with.  Do things that cause us harm, because it's important to someone else.  For too long, we have had any failure to cope with the pain and fear described as 'selfishness'.  This is not OK.  We are so often utterly exhausted by our efforts to try to adapt to the strange and myriad demands of non-autistic folk around us.

Do please beware of people who claim they are experts on autistic people, because they were 'married to a selfish man', or similar.  If that is their view of autism, usually what they know about actual autism could fit onto the back of a very small postage stamp.  Learn about it from autistic adults, who can tell you why things happen...and help you to understand the wonderful, honest, loyal and caring autistic folk around you.  All one million of us in the UK.