In this final installment of my investigation into the causes of our suffering, I examine 'external' causes. Not all of us will suffer from all the internal causes, but it's probable we all do, in one way or another, from the external ones. These can be roughly grouped in the following categories -
i) Other people's attitudes towards us - gross distortions and misunderstandings of what autism actually is, what an autistic child or adult 'looks like', or behaves, or why, or what we're capable of, invariably cause us distress. Hearing all the negative opinions so many have about autism can cause us to feel alienated, self-hating and depressed, especially if it's coming from those closest to us, or from a seemingly ignorant and blinkered media. These distorted beliefs can see us -
- as children, hearing our parents say to others, right in front of us, that they wish we weren't autistic, or that autism is 'dreadful', or that it causes them to suffer, etc, etc.
- having adults refuse to listen when we try to tell them we're being bullied, and/or being told it's our own fault, for 'choosing' to behave in certain ways;
- being criticised for 'attitudes' we don't in fact have, or told we're being something (e.g. rude) we in no way intended, and then not listening when we tell them this;
- being told that we or our child "don't look autistic", or that we're "just jumping on the latest bandwagon", or "making a big deal out of nothing";
- having it assumed we "can't' do" such and such because we're autistic, and then if we show we can, being told that we "can't really be" autistic then;
- having what we say ignored or discounted because we "don't understand" emotions or ourselves or can't do theory of mind, etc, etc;
- having hostile autism parents call us various nasty names, and claim that if we can communicate at all we "can't really be" autistic, and should be ignored;
- having certain autism organisations describe us as 'thieves' of the 'real person' supposedly hidden underneath, or as destroyers of families, or 'brain-damaged', or defective in some other way;
- having people tell us how "weird" we are, or asking "what planet do we come from", and even suggesting we should go back there;
- cringing as yet another autism-negative article appears in the news;
- fearing for our personal safety in the face of some people's hate-filled attitudes.
All of these, and more, are daily examples of how people's attitudes cause us suffering.
ii) Other people's treatment of us - There are many ways we are actively 'managed' that induce suffering. Among just the most obvious are -
- forcing us to make eye contact or talk or move in 'non-autistic' ways;
- stopping us from stimming or following our special interests;
- suppressing any other facet of our being that is obviously autistic;
- inflicting 'therapy' on us that is boring, meaningless, frustrating or even harmful or dangerous;
- incarcerating us in institutions like the Judge Rotenberg Centre or other psychiatric facilities or even jail;
- forcing us into counselling or psychotherapy that ignores our autism and blames us for our problems;
- abusing or bullying us as children or even adults;
- laughing or jeering at us;
- ridiculing or belittling us;
- rejecting or excluding us;
- firing or refusing to hire us or bullying or harassing us in the workplace;
- refusing to give us the support we need to access education.
iii) Other people's social interactions with us - Our difficulties interacting with others are the result of the above two 'external' factors - others not understanding us or behaving well towards us - combining with various 'internal' factors such as lack of ability to read non-verbal clues. The results can only be painful. Bewildered and hurt, we often reel away into semi-reclusiveness. Or we are cold-shouldered and excluded from social interaction - which doesn't help at all, we never understand why, and it just hurts.
So in writing this, I've realised that, though there are far more 'internal' causes than 'external', the external ones are SO big, SO influential, they inevitably interfere with the internal ones. People don't understand us, don't provide support or the knowledge or skills we need, leave us to flounder and fail, or treat us in ways that actively make our lives much, much worse. Hence, whatever the apparent cause of our suffering, the primary cause is the attitudes and practises of others. And if these external causes of suffering could be reduced or eliminated, then so much more energy could flow into providing the practical support and accommodations needed to overcome the internal causes of our pain and suffering. It truly is all about attitude, and the behaviour that follows from that.