If I can travel back in time to my childhood, I will tell myself to ignore others’ advice to play the NeuroTypical games that I was hopeless at. Instead, I will advise myself to create my own ways to succeed without betraying my own dreams and ethics.
My mother has occasionally nags me to achieve more materialistic success. One of her favorites is a relative who is younger than me. He can buy a car (despite Singapore’s expensive auction-tax on car ownership) , and who works in a high paying, stress free and stable government job. Now and then, an overachiever in the newspaper will catch her eye. She will promptly share with me how some people can survive on 3 hours’ worth of sleep, so why can’t I handle studying part-time while working full-time like “everyone else”? My father occasionally reminds me that everyone else is getting married, so when can he get a chance to carry his grandchildren?
People often judge others based on superficial criteria. Is a person less worthy because he/she does not get married and have children? Is a person less worthy if he/she does not earn a high salary in a prestigious job? Is a person less worthy because he/she does not score well at school or acquire qualifications? This is even more insidious when we are judging people with autism, because people measure the greatness of autistics based on NeuroTypical standards. This is like judging a fish by its ability to climb a tree, not by its ability to swim in water.
The news articles celebrating autistic talents are not helping since they implied autistics can only be valued if they have some special abilities or gifts, especially one that is valued enough by society to make a lucrative career out of. Autistics are made to feel like losers, not necessarily because they can’t succeed, but because they don’t succeed in the way that NeuroTypicals generally define success.
A common area many parents focus on is educational qualifications. For a NeuroTypical, the process of climbing the corporate ladder starts with a degree, which allows the candidate to land a management job. Management jobs are generally out of bounds for me due to office politics, so I find degrees much less useful. Since I don’t wish to commit to the academic qualifications game, don’t have the money to play the business game, and don’t have sufficient social competency to play the office politics corporate ladder game, I have to find an unconventional way to achieve my goals.
Ability = Worth is the definition of ableism. In other words, the idea that if you have no ability, you are worthless. Talking about autistics as differently-abled does not solve the problem of discrimination. If they have no ability at all, does it mean they do not deserve respect and equity too?
Neither does the demonstration by autistics of being able to perform certain tasks as waiting on tables, doing public speaking and playing musical instruments solve the problem of discrimination. These are often used as props by certain people and organizations to obtain more donations or to market their therapy/intervention. Watch out especially for the new social enterprises jumping on the autism bandwagon.
Parents of autistics have very different interests to that of autistic adults: usually parents want their children to get a job and provide for themselves, while autistics just want to be left alone to do whatever they like to do.
The organizations that are founded by parents may stop short of (the politically incorrect goal of) curing autism, but they still want to fix autism and get the autistics to conform to NT society. They measure their success by how many autistics get employment, marriages, material successes etc.
It is a bonus (but not a requirement) if autistics find meaning, happiness and equality in the work that they have arranged. If not, then that is just too bad. “Hey, don’t be so ungrateful. At least you got a job, even if it sucks and your colleagues earn 3 times more than you for doing the same thing.”
Adult autistic advocates, however, are focused on about being accepted and exercising their rights to be who they really are. What the parents impose are an abnormal alien intrusion to their own pursuit of freedom and self-actualization, obtained via the autistic style in an autistic manner. In other words, “my personal intense interest in slavery/trains/dinosaurs/whatever and my personal delight in flapping/spinning/jumping/whatever is none of your f**king business”.
Many NeuroTypicals may not even realize that autistics can be hurt by people denying them of who they are, and that they have their own right to choose their own lives. The hatred against behavioral therapy is a reaction to the oppression of autistics, who are treated like lab rats to be trained by their therapists into whatever their parents think they should become.
There are no easy answers all these issues, but at least we should be aware of what we are talking about and what types of organizations we are throwing our support behind. Every one of the millions of adult autistics in the world also have to find their own path to success, because our society is clueless at developing autistic potential. Parents, please don’t prescribe the popular definitions of success. Instead, help your children find their own path towards success.