All autistics are traumatised.
This is the conclusion I’ve come to, after over ten years of being in the autistic community, listening to people’s stories, doing research, reading what parents of autistic kids have to say (and how they’re so often misinterpreting our behaviour), commiserating with our problems and woes, and thoroughly absorbing the general state of autistic lives and psyches.
We’re constantly being overloaded, stressed out, misunderstood, rejected, ridiculed, having our voices or our non-verbal attempts at communication ignored, having our intelligence denied or used as a putdown or an excuse not to give us services we desperately need, hearing ourselves described as ‘defective’ or ‘diseased’ or ‘damaged’, being excluded from schools, social gatherings or jobs, being bullied/beaten up/abused by family members or partners or schoolmates or so-called ‘friends’, with many of us ending up unemployed, poor, homeless, in mental health care or jail. We’re pushed to our limits and then over them. Constantly. Repeatedly. And then we’re told that “we’re not trying hard enough”, or that “we’ve brought it on ourselves”, and so on. The list is endless, you all know what we’ve had to endure, both individually and collectively.
There are undoubtedly some very young and/or lucky autistic kids with lovely, accepting parents out there, that haven’t yet been traumatised, but sooner or later, they will meet up with the circumstances that cause that trauma. They’ll be yelled at in a supermarket, encounter an unsympathetic teacher, get bullied in the playground or street, get overwhelmed in a mall and have their reaction misunderstood, (over)hear someone call them horrible things on TV or during ‘mom chats’ over coffee… and it will start.
I believe such traumas are inevitable, given the current public attitudes to autism and autistics. The only things that differ are to what *degree* we’re traumatised, and what our individual reaction to it is, at any given point in our lives.
But – and here’s the ghastly bind we’re in - too many people look at our traumatised state: the meltdowns, the fleeing, the banging our heads on walls, our extremes of emotion, our physical and sometime verbal lashing out, our problems in school or social situations or public places, or our co-occurring conditions or mental health problems, etc, etc, etc, and think/assume ‘Oh, that’s because they’re autistic, it’s an intrinsic part of their being autistic, therefore there’s nothing that can be done about it, look at them, they’re a huge problem for society, wouldn’t it be better if we could get rid of them/their autism/ensure more autistics aren’t born?’ And/or they see us only as ‘problems to be managed’ – something that tends to increase our trauma, not diminish it. With this attitude, about the best that can be expected is that they’re ‘nice’ to us, ie use us as inspiration porn.
This is so endemic, it even affects how we’re diagnosed. The indicators of our trauma are so engrained in the public and professional minds, they’ve become ‘diagnostic criteria’, so that kids or adults who don’t display such behaviours can either lose their diagnosis, or never get one in the first place. Even if our not displaying it is due to the pressures of ‘normalisation’, where we’ve been taught (or taught ourselves, in some cases) to hide our autistic traits and suppress those ‘symptoms’, at the expense of our long-term mental health. (Ie hiding the results of our trauma actually causes more trauma in the long run, which should be a no-brainer, but hey, you know, we’re not supposed to be human…)
But what if we were NOT constantly traumatised?
What if our autism was accepted from the beginning of our lives, and our families, childcare workers, teachers, etc, were educated about autism by autistics, and we were properly supported and accommodated through school, higher education, and into work? What if doctors, other professionals and autism organisations were truly educated about autism, and gave parents a positive view of autism, and referrals to autistic organisations, instead of all the doom-and-gloom stuff?
What if we were not assumed to be lacking in intelligence because we can’t use oral speech, or whatever speech we do have is limited, or ‘babyish’ sounding? What if we were taught to use sign language, cards and/or AAC systems right from when it first becomes obvious that we’re struggling with oral speech? What if we’re standardly given OT and various aids as soon as it’s seen we have trouble with movements? What if we were not laughed at because we’re adults who can’t tie our shoelaces or button our shirts? What if it was considered okay for adults to always wear polo- or t-shirts or slip-on shoes, and need help to cook/shower/whatever?
What if NT kids were taught social skills for interacting with us, while we were taught ‘this is how non-autistics think and feel and act, it’s up to you how much you want to do it’, rather than being effectively told that our way of being is ‘wrong’ or ‘defective, and forced into unnatural styles of interaction, simply to hopefully (and usually unsuccessfully) avert bullying and social rejection? What if NT adults were given awareness training too, in workplaces where autistic people work, or because they’re likely to come into contact with us in a professional situation, eg, cops, nurses, teachers, paramedics? What if it were simply a regular part of their training?
And what if supermarkets and malls and other shops had ‘quiet hours’ all the time? What if public ad campaigns about autism, similar to those about mental health, written by autistics and/or their allies, were regularly broadcast on TV? What if we had mentors to help us negotiate both social scenes and acquire practical skills, from getting our first job to getting a mortgage? For that matter, what if it became accepted practise for us to be considered for a job on our CV, references and a job trial, rather than be put through the torture of interviews, which we tend to fail?
I could go on, but you get the idea I’m sure. What if we weren’t being constantly traumatised? What if the whole public image of autism and autistics was turned around, and people actually accepted us as we are, and not only stopped abusing us, but gave us the support we really need? What kind of autistic would emerge? Who and what would we be?
I think we could be amazing. Actually, I think we already are, we just need the world to stop constantly dumping a tonne of excrement on us. Because if they did… we’d be even more amazing.