I haven’t posted here lately, largely due to laziness and distraction, partly due to a weird performance anxiety (which, given my relatively small readership, is entirely unjustified and mildly narcissistic), but partly due to a persistent, nagging doubt about how much standing I have to be “speaking on” at all.
I like to think of my public persona (such as it is) and my winning arguments (such as they are) as purely the products of my superior wit and logic, but I also rely heavily on anecdotal evidence. The most persuasive argument for the possibility of intelligent, successful, happy, independent therapy-free autistic people is any argument at all presented by an intelligent, successful, happy, independent therapy-free autistic person. Such a person doesn’t even need to explicitly cite himself as an example; his ability to participate in the debate in the first place speaks for itself. He is a credit to his people.
When I first became involved in autistic self-advocacy, I was a college-educated, gainfully employed, happily married mother with a clear, if overly pretentious, communication style. I was proud to cite myself as an example for my self-advocacy claims. Of course autistic people can be intelligent. Look at me. Of course autistics can have romantic relationships and families. Look at me. Of course autistic people can be happy and successful. Look at me!
Okay, there was a certain amount of ego-stroking involved—despite clearly understanding the patronizing implications, I was always flattered to be told that I spoke so well, or that I was so smart, or that parents hoped their children would be like me. But my intentions were pure. I genuinely was more interested in advancing the cause than in receiving personal praise, and if persuading parents not to therapize their children had the added benefit of feeding my narcissism, it couldn’t be wrong.
So what happens when a self-advocate falls on hard times? Or worse, suffers the consequences of her own ill-advised choices?
Honestly… I don’t know. I know I’m by no means the first self-advocate to run into this problem. I know that the cause of neurodiversity is strong enough to stand on its own merits… but that doesn’t change my lack of credibility in espousing it.
I can insist that none of the problems I experience are directly caused by my neurological orientation. I believe that this is the truth. But I can’t definitively know it, and even if I could, no one would believe me. The fact that I have certain problems, and that I have certain mental differences, destroys my credibility in claiming that my mental differences do not cause these problems. Truth and logic, even chronology, are irrelevant to this. I have friends, close friends, people I respect, who are convinced beyond all doubt that my sensory behaviors are caused by marital problems. Never mind that I’ve exhibited these behaviors since I was one year old, when I was certainly not experiencing marital problems. Never mind that being married in the first place is commonly considered out of reach for people like me.
It doesn’t matter whether or not I am a bad example, or a hypocrite. It only matters that the allegation that I am is more popularly credible than my denial of it.
Of course, I don’t have to discuss my personal problems here. I have no intention of doing so, actually. But my own awareness that they exist makes me feel like a liar and a hypocrite, even when I’m quite objectively not. I can’t shake the feeling of being like a parenting expert with a child in prison. Maybe the humility is good for me, but it’s not my style. I miss the brash, confident, suffer-no-fools advocacy I used to be able to pull off without inspiring whispers of “poor dear….”
So I don’t particularly feel like issuing disclaimers. Whatever flaws I may have (and I’d readily admit to quite a few) do not reflect on the fundamental human right of neurodivergent people in general, nor of me in particular, to be the best individual judges of our own best interests. In my life, I have never made a decision that I wish I’d been prevented from making. I’ve made many decisions that I’ve regretted, that I wished I hadn’t made, but none that would ever inspire me to relinquish my freedom to choose.
I’m really quite tired of hiding, self-censoring, tiptoeing, and equivocating, for fear of being called out and discredited for my own imperfect life. My people have enough credits.