Sunday, November 27, 2011

Autistic "stereotypes" 101

       OK I'm not a member of the "stereotype police" and avoid blind political correctness. I realize that sometimes we need to make generalizations about things to identify patterns and understand them (this includes Autism). I'm not one to make a knee-jerk reaction or get smug anytime someone makes a generalization about Autism. I have also learned to be patient with people's ignorance. I for example never met anyone with muscular dystrophy, I'd try not to make assumptions, but there's a lot about it that I don't know. I never met a person from the country of Uzbekistan so I am relatively ignorant of their culture. Now being into geography I can easily find it on the map and know a few things about it thanks to the magic of Google but I'm still no expert on their culture. We can't possibly know everything about everything. I think it's important to know a generalization and a stereotype. And an important rule of thumb is not to judge the individual by the general and don't judge the general or group by the individual. That's pretty simple logic. I guess being a social sciences major my reaction to hearing a "myth" or so-called "stereotype" is to politely educate without being "holier-than-thou". I'll even acknowledge any elements of truth to it and try to put it into proper perspective. When we get a cold not everyone experiences a sore throat, many do however so I cannot fault a medical journal for listing it as a cold symptom. Although I'm reasonably progressive on social and cultural issues and want very much for people to get along. I also want people to understand each other as much as possible. (Not that people necessarily have to understand each other to get along but it sure helps...) Blind political correctness however doesn't really solve problems it tends more to sweep them under the rug. Now here's my take on some of these misunderstandings:

"Rainman": The late 1980's movie was about a man with Savant Syndrome, not Aspergers. Those with Autism may have a few Savant skills but it's not the same thing and rarely as extreme as the movie. On the other hand, "flu-like" symptome don't always mean you have the flu. I actually had all my state capitals memorized in kindergarden and was good at remembering birthdays as well as telling people what day of the week they are born on in 1966...In early grade school a well meaning teacher used to take me around the school quizzing me in front of other teachers. Of course it seemed cute and people were fascinated. By later on in grade school I began hiding this "talent". Sure I was the life of the party on the surface and it looked like all positive attention that it was bringing me.  My gut feeling told me to stop, esp. as I was getting older and the "cuteness" factor was waning. I was in 5th or 6th grade when Rainman came out and was already being compared to him by other kids. I felt that I was stereoptying myself by doing that (although I didn't know I has Autism until my early twenties).

"The 40 Year Old Virgin": Now this movie had nothing to do with Autism or Aspergers and I never really heard anyone else associate the movie with it. I'll even admit I had a good laugh at certain parts of the movie until the end where it got a little bit much. I do feel that the main character of this movie looks like the clichee image of how people picture those with Aspergers. Many people realize we can be logically intelligent but also see us as severely naive and therefore it is still OK to belittle us. It is true that many of us can appear "geeky" and socially awkward. Our slow processing can make us appear naive. Many times we can compensate and through either logic or intuition, can understand more than people think.

Star Trek: There does seem to be a high prevalence of Aspergers among sci-fi fans. I take strong exception to this. I've known a couple Star Trek and Star Wars fans over the years, none of them Autistic. I myself can barely get through one episode. I find watching paint dry far more relaxing.

That were all literal: Many of us do tend toward linear/logical thinking, but sometimes the opposite can be true. People think Autistic people are totally incapable of getting sarcasm, irony or even appreciate the arts. I mean you do have to watch some expressions, especially Autistic children such as "I'm going to kill you" but in general we can learn these expressions. I think slow processing is behind a lot of this. Take sarcasm for example, I can be sarcastic/cynical myself (but not in a mean-spirited way). It's not that I don't pick up on it either, but sometimes a few seconds too late. I may get a sarcastic compliment and politely accept the compliment and then realize 5 seconds later that the person was telling me off. I them look like an idiot. I also love the arts, although when it comes to movies I prefer the straight facts of a documentary than some made up love story. I do love comedy though, including irony. I also think many people get too literal in trying to understand Autism through reading official literature without using any intuition. People sometimes take me to literally thinking im Autistic so I must be literal. I many times hear Aspergers described as mind-blindness. I'm not denying that there is truth to this but people think of it in absolut terms. If someone is visually impared or hearing impared, even if they are legally blind or deaf it doesn't necessarily mean that they can't see or hear at all.

     That we have no desire for friends and want to be left alone.: I've actually seen this written by Autistic people themselves and while this may be true for them, it is not true for everyone with ASD. Everyone needs their space from time to time and those on the spectrum maybe even more. There are many Autistic people that love having friends but just have a harder time making them or find people who share their interests at the same intensity level. I love sharing my life with family, friends, and acquaintences, even strangers. My only thing is I was never much for group dynamics or cliques. Also there Autistic adults who marry and sucessfully raise families.

     That leads me to another misunderstanding, that all Autistic people are children. Adults and even older adults with Autism tend to be forgotten in the Autism Awareness dialogue. Autism Awareness has become almost a fad of sorts which can be a mixed blessing. I'll get more to that another time.

     I'm off to bed since I have to work tomorrow but I'll have more on here as I think of it. I'll remind anyone that this blog is a work in progress and I had to overcome a lot of writers block to even start this. To add to this I'll fix up my posts to look better only to pull my blog up on another computer and see something off such as my paragraphs jumbled up into one. Luckily I'm not being graded on this by an English Composition 101 professor. For now I'll just try to keep things simple.

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