Un-training Myself

*NOTE: I could see this post upsetting some people, so fair warning…this is me and my processing in action. This is me attempting to understand a perspective outside of myself, and in the process of trying to understand, you are almost bound to offend someone along the way. I’d just appreciate refraining from any inflammatory responses, that’s all. Anyway, onward we go…

The past few weeks of indirect research has been an eye-opener, to say the least. I wasn’t specifically looking for anything for my literature review, but I wanted to hear more from the adult autistic viewpoint, something I had just started really looking at late last year because my life work has always revolved around kids and teenagers. What I am discovering is making me realize that a decent amount of how I was trained when it comes to autism is not only wrong, it is deplorable.

The first lesson that made me start to question a sizable chunk of (especially) more recent training was the entire “first person language” mindset that so many autism workers and therapists have. I mean, it’s everywhere. People correct you on the daily about it. So imagine my surprise when I emailed an autistic professor at my school for some feedback on my thesis idea, and he politely informed me that most autistic adults find the first person language insulting. The record in my head came to a screeching halt. Wait, so…my trainers with the boatload of autism experience and degrees/certifications weren’t right?

Now I suddenly found myself in not just uncharted territory, but to me, scary territory. The last thing I ever want to do is demean people, and the fact that I had been doing it unwittingly for some years now horrified me. As I started to read more and more from the growing presence of the autistic adult community online, I began to realize that a LOT of my trainers in the field got quite a bit wrong. My challenge now was to re-train my brain on my own. I realized one day that to do this, I simply had to make one observation.

I am a black female, and with that label comes pluses and minuses. Sadly, in the United States, it includes a lot more minuses than pluses. So I thought about it from my own viewpoint, and the re-training began. I would balk at someone if they constantly referred to me as “a person with blackness” or “a woman with melanin.” No, I’m a black woman, end of story. I don’t see my skin color as an asset or a liability per se, it is simply who I am. I also have heard people say to me something to this effect: “It’s amazing how intelligent and well-spoken you are despite being black.” Maybe not those exact words, but you get the point. Again…what? So in other words, those people came in with a very clear and very low expectation of me and were just sooo amazed that I surpassed it. The expectation shouldn’t really be there to begin with, especially with regards to my race.

I could go on and on about that, but the bottom line is that this little exercise helped me to get it. In both cases (being black or being autistic), we are born with it (or at least the scientific evidence with autism is pointing in that direction, environmental factors or not). It is not to be ridiculed or worshiped, it is who we are. This is not to say that the experiences of both are the same, because they certainly aren’t. I needed a way to redefine in my mind what it meant to be autistic after hearing…well, crap…for so long. This was the best way for me to do it, by looking at “whole person” rather than “first person” in reference to my own experience. In doing that, I’ve realized that there is a lot of work to be done, both within myself and in the therapeutic community. I’m ready to roll my sleeves up and do that.

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