Autism and Society’s Role of Judge, Jury and Executioner

Autism is not a crime. There. I said it. For the sane, the educated, the compassionate, hell, they already understand this. However, in society, where bullying is rampant and unchecked most of the time, people with Autism are constantly judged, berated and otherwise chastised for their actions, thoughts and behaviors at any given time.

I’ve never been able to truly understand bullying, because I’m not one, but at its core, I think I do understand it on some rudimentary level. I posted a while back about being contacted by my childhood bully. As a child/teen, she was horrifically cruel to me, even resorting to damaging my mother’s gardens and throwing paint on their car. Thankfully, as time wore on, she moved away from this behavior and eventually left the area. Years later, she contacted me on Facebook and asked if she could take me out to lunch, that she wanted to make amends. I agreed, as it felt right. The meeting was productive, and we were able to get past those horrible things so long ago. She moved on after that, as it was something she felt she needed to do.

What she explained to me, that her rampant jealousy over the things I had (both parents who were not divorced and remarried, nice clothes that they couldn’t afford, a pool in my yard, a ‘nicer’ house than hers etc) made her lash out at me. She never disliked me as a person, she just projected her jealousy that way. Funny how all this time, she never knew that all I had WERE those material things; I never had love. After losing her only child after his murder, she went about seeking healing through many interactions, the one with me included. I wished her well and she went on her way. So, it was through her explanation that I tried to somehow understand the concept of bullying at its core. It’s been difficult for me to connect bullying and Autism, but I’ve begun to somehow piece the connection together, albeit on a primitive level.

Is the bullying a result of being raised in a household where people who are different are judged openly? Are the parental figures racist, homophobic, emotional/physical abuse; victims themselves of generational parenting that was lacking in many ways? None of these scenarios justify the behavior, but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t look for at least a place where these actions and words come from.

Now that my two children are older, I clearly see how society judges them, instantly categorizing them as unfit or broken if they can’t immediately conform to things around them. To be honest, unless you actually spend time with both of my children, you wouldn’t truly recognize their presence on the spectrum unless you were looking for it. Some have commented that my son seems “off” in some way (how kind) and that my daughter is “neurotic” and “unstable”. Hell, that could describe me on any given day to be honest. Coming to terms with my own neurodivergence has taught me that nothing should ever be assumed or diagnosed without intense introspection and thoughtful consideration.

This quote is absolutely critical for me when it comes to understanding Autism. “[So-called] Mild autism doesn’t mean one experiences autism mildly…It means YOU experience their autism mildly. You may not know how hard they’ve had to work to get to the level they are.” What a powerful quote to say the least. My son, now almost in his mid-20s (when did THAT happen? jeez) has such a gentle soul. As a frontline worker in a food store, he is constantly berated at work by nasty customers and there are times when I have to talk him down from panic attacks and other breakdowns he experiences due to their cruelty. His employer has his back and works to de-escalate these things, but people will be the way they are, autism or no autism. A few weeks ago, it was, “Why don’t you take your mask off, you a$$hole!”. He very gently tried to explain that his employer has a mask mandate for employees, while the public doesn’t need them. The person went on a political rampage, holding up the line and causing unnecessary disruption. My son was shaking and had a rough night, during which I had to talk him down from tears and frustration. I hope that person can somehow come to terms with their cruelty one day.

There has been an attempt by countless Autism advocacy groups to encourage awareness to promote inclusion for everyone on the spectrum, to help others understand the nuances of individuals living with Autism and much more. Like any other challenge, society has always leaned towards exclusion for anyone who isn’t “normal” (whatever normal is) or who doesn’t conform to societal expectations. We need to do better. Chastising and berating people for being unique shouldn’t be a crime. However, treating people as less because of who they are should be.

Stepping off my soapbox for the day!

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