Today I went to my first meetup for autistic people. It was both eye opening and interesting, I honestly had never spent much time with other autistic people. In fact I have never met any other autistic people in real life before. All of my friends and coworkers are neurotypical. So it was like meeting me for the first time. The last time I had ever spent any time with an autistic person was when I met Temple Grandin at an autism conference at UCLA 20 years-ago. Yes that Temple Grandin and yes 20 YEARS AGO.
The group was fairly diverse in ethnicity and age. As I looked around the room I saw myself being reflected back at me. That was not something I could ever experience with my neurotypical friends and coworkers. I sometimes felt that they did not understand me. That was probably because they are not like me at all and could not identify with me. Humans tend to socialize in groups with people that are like them. We call those similarities culture, religion and so on so forth. I guess there is some sort of autistic culture with its own body language and behaviors and the manner in which we perceive the world. I never noticed that until tonight. When I walked into the room I knew that I was in a room full of autistic people just like when I know when I am in a room full of neurotypical people. There was no criticism just acceptance and the freedom to be who we were without the need to conform to neurotypical norms. It was perfectly appropriate for one attendee to wear headphones to protect himself from noises. Some autistics are sensitive to noise. There was no pressure to act normal we could just be ourselves.
When I am with neurotypicals there is this pressure to conform to societal standards and to peer pressure which was the topic of discussion for tonight. When asked if anyone had an experience as to whether or not a neurotypical person had all pressured us into doing something we didn’t want to do, or try and take advantage of us or bully us, we all had a story to tell. It reminded that we all have had to struggle as a result of our autism. That commonality binds all autistics together in a way that I can’t with my neurotypical friends and coworkers. I think it is because no matter how well-meaning they are they don’t realize that they are part of the problem. They don’t understand us and we know and they don’t always know that we know it.
I believe that neurotypical people should take classes in how to behave like an autistic person and then act like one of us for a day and see what people say to them or how they are treated.
Either way being able to spend time with a group of people with whom I could identify with in manner. With this group it was perfectly acceptable to be socially awkard and miss social cues and not make eye contact with each other if we didn’t feel comfortable doing so. In fact, it seems we were expected to be that way, It was both freeing and fulfilling. It was a type of freedom that neurotypical people could not comprehend. I was free. I was just me.
10 thoughts on “Meeting Myself for the First Time”
The only other autistics I’ve ever met were men whose main interest seemed to be that our shared diagnosis might make a sexual relationship more likely (it didn’t) and who consequently ignored my clearly verbally stated boundaries. I’ve come to realise that this has made me very wary of meeting other autistics, as it’s likely that the majority of them will be male. I would love to have autistic friends IRL without that pressure. At least with NT men I can scare them off by doing something really autistic and watch them run!
I’d be interested to know what the gender split was in your group and whether that affected the dynamic. I’m quite talkative in work situations, but when I feel exposed I tend to shut down and not participate. I also would probably struggle if there was a NT facilitator or group leader as seems to be the case in any group I have considered joining. Maybe I’m just unreasonable…
The moderator of this particular is actually not NT. The majority in attendance were men but the moderator does have two other groups. One for men off all ages over the age of 18 and another for women over the age of 18. This particular group that I attended is co-ed. There were two or three girls in the group and one very seemed uncomfortable and didn’t interact much with everyone while the other didn’t seem to care and talked to everyone and actively participated in the group.
Sounds interesting. I live in a rural area, so its unlikely there would be the numbers here to form several groups.
Did you discuss how the group would handle things if someone became distressed? My first thought when I read that you discussed bullying was that if I spoke about that to other autistics, I would end up either being bizarrely flippant or having a meltdown. It’s a strange thing, the idea of meeting people who understand you, having lived your whole life with no one understanding you. I’m used to not being understood. It’s what I understand!
No that topic was not discussed. The majority in the group were Aspies like me but there were a few who weren’t. Their parents were waiting outside…I assume in case anything happened.
I’m just letting you know I shared this post today at another blog.
Thanks. I read your post and enjoyed it.
Enjoyed your post and as a mom to a 12 year old boy, can only thank you for sharing your thoughts. Since my boy is non-verbal, I have to go by a mom’s instinct and hope that I do not fail his trust ever.
Every parent has that fear even if that child is not autistic. So keep doing what you think is best for him and keep advocating for him. He may be non-verbal but he has a voice: you. You are his voice.
Thanks Robert … will do my best 🙂
I really do believe NTs are fully capable of treating us better when given proper education about our lives. There will always be some misunderstandings here and there, but the forgiveness level could be greatly increased with better acceptance of autistic people as part of the community.
We could only truly be in peace when both neurotypicals and autistics have the freedom to be themselves without judgment. I know it can happen with the hard work from autistics and their allies. We are already in a better place that I remember back in the ’90s and ’00s. There is still a long road to follow, BUT…
If I did not have faith that neurotypicals would ever accept us, I would be spending my entire life in my room eating marshmallow fluff and ice cream while playing addictive games on the internet. I would throw all my artwork in the trash. I would not even have bothered going to college. I am glad I did the opposite.