For a while now, I’ve been seeing some aspies talk about how we’re somehow ‘better’ than those not on the spectrum, more advanced, the next step in evolution, inherently superior in some way – intelligence, honesty, integrity, focus, empathy, whatever. I would like to make my position clear on this subject.
I don’t believe we are superior to those not on the spectrum. It’s tempting to think this, comforting even, when we are so often criticised or labelled ‘inferior’ in some way. And NTs have so many baffling behaviours - small talk, lack of directness, ‘woolly’ or illogical thinking, etc, etc, plus many of us have experienced the worst kind of NTs – the users and abusers, the bullies and the bitches, the back-stabbers and the exploiters. But there are many lovely NTs out there too, caring, kind, helpful, intelligent even, willing to listen and learn, to support us on our journeys, and to at least try to understand us – not to mention NTs have one big advantage, ie the ability to navigate social networks we can only dimly perceive, let alone weave ourselves into. And not all autistics are ‘wonderful’, or all ‘indigo children’, or beautifully empathic, etc, either. I’ve met or heard of autistics who even other autistics can’t tolerate, who are sex addicts or other unsavoury things, who really do lack any compassion or empathy for others, even those who are violent schizophrenics, psychopaths, narcissistic or borderline personality disordered. Even ‘ordinary’ aspies/auties can have their negative sides, or their bad days. We are definitely not inferior to NTs, we have our strengths, but we are not all sweetness and light either – and I don’t believe we do ourselves any favours, if we try to picture ourselves as this.
I also don’t believe we are the ‘next step in evolution’. I think this belief is based on the apparent (and I stress apparent) rise in our numbers, as well as, perhaps, a hope that there is some purpose to our existence, and our trials in life. But that doesn’t explain why at least some of those trials are NOT the result of others’ treatment of us, or their lack of understanding – for instance, our sensory difficulties, our executive dysfunction, our often severe dyspraxia, our difficulties with communication, our erratic and often uncontrollable (even by us) emotional states, our frequent lack of a sense of danger, especially as children… Evolutionary advances are all about enhancing the ability of the individual and hence the species to survive, and hopefully to flourish. None of the above traits seem to do that, as far as I can see. In fact the last of them can actually be counter-productive to survival – think of the many autistic children who drown every year, through a combination of that lack of awareness of danger, coupled with an attraction to water and ‘escape artist’ tendencies.
Also, my own experience, as well as the anecdotal evidence and others’ analyses of various historical figures, suggest that we have always been around, we just weren’t called autistic. We were at least some of the ‘lunatics’ locked up in asylums, the ‘simpletons’ kept in back rooms or minded by relatives, we died as children or young adults from abuse, assault or lack of care, or, if ‘higher-functioning’ and able to look after ourselves, were labelled ‘eccentric’ or ‘loners’, and/or found jobs and positions where our need for rigidity and order was tolerated or even encouraged, even if we weren’t especially liked. We have always been around, and unless they somehow devise a way to wipe us out, we always will be.
So, if not the next step in evolution, or superior, what do I think we are?
We are first and foremost human beings, with all the glories and the imperfections, the beauties and the blemishes, the mediocrities and the marvels, that being human entails. I don’t want us to be seen as superior or advanced. I want us to be seen as human beings, entitled to all the same rights and responsibilities and privileges and burdens as other human beings, albeit we have to exercise these rights etc in our own particular ways, and often need accommodations or adjustments in order to live life to the full.
Only by finally being seen as completely and fully human, albeit a different type of human (which we are often NOT, right now, hence my need to write that ‘Autistic Bill of Rights’ recently), will we be able to overcome the discrimination, abuse, rejection, misunderstanding, unemployment, alienation, marginalisation, etc, that is currently our usual fare, and take our rightful place in the world. We sell ourselves short, if we aim for anything less than this fully human and equal status.