Recently, Joel of NTs Are Weird wrote a post on stereotypes about successful autistics. Even though I already wrote a comment, I think I need to address this issue in a wider context in my own journal, since it’s been quite an issue for me personally and I’ve particularly faced it over this week.
I am intelligent. It was no surprise to me that, when the mental health folk who interviewed my parents, asked what I was interested in as a young child, my father immediately said “Knowledge”. I do not remember my very early years, but at age four or five, I taught myself to read. My mother stimulated me by creating books with very large print in them for me. At age seven or eight, I found myself explaining squareroot calcxulation to a 15-year-old acquaintance who had trouble with her math. At age eleven, I was fascinated with maps – studying as well as drawing them. I was also still interested in calculus, and could (and still can) do calendar calculation, albeit not extremely quickly. I remember one day about five years ago getting my mother into a “she’s so sublime” brag about me for doing this at a family get-together. I don’t know what’s so sublime about this, since anyone who bothers to learn the rules of how the calendar works and who has reasonably good calculation skills, could do it.
Of course, if you didn’t know anything about me other than my current ASD label, it would be fairly easy to write off all of these abilities as splinter skills. The thing is, they are not, even though I obviously did perseverate on these topics. I am in fact intelligent. My verbal IQ (performance IQ can’t be measured cause of blindness) has always been within the gifted range, and I did well academically in high school with relatively little effort. I will not deny I was (and still am) successful intellectually.
Arda has come to call my intelligence an impairment. Even though I don’t like the negativity in this wording, I can see where she’s coming from: because people know I’m intelligent, they will make false assumptions about my abilities in other areas. Since being labeled autistic, this fortunately has changed for the positive at least with people outside of my family or the autism community. That’s why I’ve only come to dislike my intelligence less since finding out I’m autistic, because when I now explain my difficulties and how people can help me, most will not assume I’m trying to excuse myself for being lazy. Some will, of course. One is my sister, unfortunately. She may not have meant it that harshly – or maybe she did, I don’t know -, but when repeating over and over again that I should “just try”, she really hurt me. I’ve been trying freaking hard for all of my life and I’ll continue to do so, but when I request help it’s not because I’m lazy or lack self-confidence, but because with that help, I can have a fuller life.
The problem is, you either acknowledge you have a problem and get to have your whole existence medicalized, or you prove that you’re good enough not to be medicalized and, by this means, lose your right to get help or services to help overcome your problems. Last Tuesday, I found myself caught between these two, when Arda wanted to write into my “care plan” that I “suffer from an autistic spectrum disorder” and my sister kept saying I could do much better if I just tiied. I asked Arda to correct the “suffer” part, and she did, but didn’t seem to understand the point. My sister kept repeating herself until I hung up on her. And here I’m sitting, caught between two stereotypes, neither of which I meet. I don’t suffer from autism, but the reason has nothing to do with how little trouble I have cause of autistic difficulties.
But, I must say, I am not a strong self-advocate, at least, not yet. I still realize I’ve pretty much internalized that line, where on one side you’re good enough to claim a right to be accepted as you are, as long as you stay good enough, and on the other side, you have the right to acknowledge you have difficulties, but you’re only accepted for who you would be if you didn’t have whatever people assume makes you bad enough. The thing is, I want to accept myself for who I am. This doesn’t mean I don’t want to change anything about myself, but that I want to accept myself as a person with strengths and weaknesses, who wants to develop her strengths and work on overcoming her weaknesses. Unfortunately, this is still a very fragile concept, and I’m beginning to believe no-one shares it. Man, was this whole stupid issue ever easy on Tuesday, when I did my writing for BADD. Not anymore. Now I’m using the same stereotypes and counter-stereotypes to prove to Sigrid that I do have difficulties and to prove to Arda that I don’t suffer from my ASD, while all I really feel is, God, I don’t want to choose between being good enough or bad enough, I want to be okay cause I’m me.
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