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 share with my neurotypical friends and coworkers. I think it is because no matter how well-meaning my friends and coworkers 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 it was freeing to be 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.
Originally published at blog.robertmoran.org on February 9th, 2013.