Monday 13 July 2020

"Getting it wrong"

In this very interesting interview on @WorldAutistic's podcast, Luke Beardon makes the following statement:

"My view is: if you are autistic and you don't know it, then you judge yourself against the wrong set of criteria and you end up with very low self-esteem and all sorts of problems with society, because you blame yourself for not understanding situations or maybe "getting it wrong", when actually you're not getting it wrong at all - you're just filtering information in an autistic way without realising it."

This resonated so strongly with me and describes my entire life. It probably explains why I was unable to form a lasting relationship until I was in my late thirties. It still applies, even though I understand what is going on. I just cannot get past this autistic filtering of information. It is the way I am.

In the past, it would cause me distress as I tried to figure out what I had done wrong. My history is strewn with miscommunications and misfires, usually in supposedly 'normal' and 'relaxed' social situations. Something was always wrong, but I could never understand what it was and ended up blaming myself. Structured interactions, such as professional situations in universities, tended to be more satisfactory, because I (mostly) understood the social conventions.

Post-identification, this still goes on. I continue to blame myself for what I believe to be my mistakes, because I do not understand the social rules. Fortunately, my wife can put me straight most of the time, but it causes me anxiety just the same. However, the self-knowledge that has come from the diagnosis has led me to be more accepting of this state of affairs. 

Which leads on to the wider question: whether what I have done was ever in fact "wrong" at all. This is implied in Luke's statement. The argument goes that it is society's problem that it cannot accept that I am the way that I am. I have certainly judged myself against the wrong set of criteria in that case, and this is something I am seeking to change. What makes it so hard is the accumulation of thousands of mental scars over a lifetime of errors, both small and large, all of which I remember in great detail, right back to childhood. Before my diagnosis, these would puncture my thinking constantly and cause me to shudder. Post diagnosis they still occur, but now I am more forgiving of myself. 

There is an interesting philosophical debate to be had about the nature of transgression. The things that are “wrong’ may not be wrong in an objective sense, and certainly not in terms of an autistic person's own nature, but may be socially constructed as wrong in a society engineered for, and by, neurotypicals. To what extent are they really wrong? Who makes those judgments, and why?