Understanding behaviors that support functioning of autistic people

Autism typical behaviors are often described as limited and restrictive. This enlightens quite well, how autism can appear to the outside completely different from what it feels inside. So far, I haven’t meet a single autistic person who would describe their autistic behaviors, beloved routines or order that brings them joy, this negatively. Clearly, what we have here is another clear mainstream prejudice that comes with a quiet background conviction stating, that autistic people feel the better the more we resemble main population.

To autists, however, it is obvious, that this is not the case. Life in the mainstream does not look like one filled with freedom and opportunity. To me, it looks like overwhelming and chaotic -the kind of life that has exactly zero appeal. What most people easily see as ”restrictedness” means for us good tradeoffs and behaviors that support our ability to function. If I don’t do X, I can do a lot more Y, which I like better and/or is more important. Exhausting myself with X would only waste resources I could spend better. A decent analogy here is the ableist term ”wheelchair bound” referring to wheelchair uses. It paints wheelchair as a total opposite of what it actually is for those who use it -a mobility aid that enables people independence and participation, in other words, the very opposite of restriction.

I’ve been told I have a pretty good imagination, yet it fails me completely when I try to picture a life where excessive (in mainstream terms “normal”) socializing would be some sort of source of joy and wellness. Instead, I have a couple of prickly remarks about people who appear to find their own company insuffereable and abhor silence that would allow them to hear their own thoughts. Of course, those opinions are only half serious. I understand well that my views are highly subjective, and that people may experience same things in very different but equally valid ways. My social stamina is clearly smaller than average. But in its place there is not just sad emptiness. Instead, quiet in my life is filled with experiences of genuine and at times intense joy, pleasure and gratefulness.

So behaviors that support functioning mean ways of acting and lifestyle choices that are untypical for main population but support our stress management and ability to function. Problematizing them is simply nentism and unwarranted glamorizing of neurotypicality. Why is it totally normal to eat same kind of breakfast every day, but an autist who favors safe foods is seen as “limited”? Why is a squeaky clean home an ideal, but an autist who meticulously organizes their stuff is somehow “too much”? Why using online services signals forward-thinking mindset, unless you are an autist who favors it in order to cut unnecessary talking?

Pathologizing and problematizing of completely harmless difference are part of biased medicalized autism paradigm where all observed deviations from normative neurotypicality are called disordered and problematic, and nobody cares to ask us, how we see our traits and what is our idea of a good life.

Whether or not people bother to ask us, we still have our views, and those views are just as (non)sensible as those that back up neurotypical choices. One who suffers a great deal from other people being different from them -for example, if one suffers from people unable to appreciate surströmming and Sumerian poetry- is not “compassionate” but suffers from vice of self-conceit. If they try to impose their preferences unto others, they are not ”helping” but being seriously irritating like a colonialist missionary who believes they are exporting civilization to savages without ability to appreciate or even understand cultural treasures they might trample in the process. What goes for surströmming and Sumerian poetry also goes for majority-identifying people who try to “rehabilitate” autistic people to be more like them and make us see their cultural superiority.

One can not understand autistic behavior correctly by comparing it to neurotypical ideals. It must be seen in its proper context, which is context of *autistic* life and the version of reality inhabited by autists. In that context many things that would be worrying in case the person in question were neurotypical, are completely normal and helathy. That is the basic idea of neurotype difference. One of central problems of medicalized autism paradigm is, that it artificially separates a person and what they look like from an outsider’s perspective from their actual context and blinds observers to the fact that the result of doing so is not observing anything “neutrally” or “objectively” but miscontextualizing into a strange reality and such preconditions of action that do not even exist for autists.

If you wish to understand autism from a perspective that is actually autistic, supported by autists, and diversity-affirming, welcome to Kaiao!