Millennial culture is my favorite on Earth. And autistic Millenials…?
I identify with them like no others. I talk with autistics who are staring at turning 30… or 40… every day.
Smart. Educated. Eyes wide open…Yet bewildered. Uncertain.
Some think they’ve done something wrong… but can’t figure out what.
But some are… mad. Because many people they turn to for help seem…
Worthless. Or worse…
The voices you’re told to trust? Likely giving you values, guidance, perky memes, demands, commands…
Expectations… you struggle to meet.
Designed for other people, other nervous systems… other lives.
A quick personal story from when autistic-as-fuck me turned for help…
“I’m sorry… What did you just say?”
“I said…” He looked nervous. “I said… I always recommend aversive therapy for my autistic kids. My clients.”
“Snapping a rubber band.”
“Y-e-s-s.” He seemed torn. Was I gonna get positive reinforcement… Or that weird, hostile, defensiveness professionals get. When you ask questions.
Into that hesitant silence, I say, “Snap it hard. Hard as they can. Against their wrist.”
“Yes. The sting is important.” Now, he’s eager to share. “When they repeat the aversive stimulus, they…”
I interrupt with my ashen, Clint-Eastwood voice. “During a meltdown.”
“Well… actually… just before.” He’s beaming, proud. “They learn to snap the band at the earliest hint they’ll lose control. It’s operant conditioning.”
As if by giving it some science-y name… it’s not self-inflicted torture.
Late summer 2016. It was hot. The world was getting ready to come apart…
And I was desperate. Desperate to know why my third marriage was ending. Desperate to know why everything… was ending. At 63.
Finally desperate enough…
To park my butt in my least favorite seat. In the known galaxy. Yet another bony, but functional… armchair.
Facing yet another therapist I’d never met…
Busy checking boxes. On yet another intake form. One of a dozen in my 26-year quest to discover… I’m autistic.
But, maybe… I wasn’t desperate enough. I couldn’t let what he’d just said slide by.
My mind flashes on memories of instant panic… powerless to speak… sometimes in rage… Those are the hints of my meltdowns.
Followed by excruciating shame. And days of recovery.
I’m stunned. Certain that… in that state… one more painful stimulus would totally short circuit my adult nervous system. But a kid…?
Yeah. I’m sure a child could learn to avoid that. And… how to quiet herself… right-the-fuck down. You betchya.
Just like rats in a maze. Shocked into submission.
I look down. Then quietly, “May I ask.. where you got your training in autism?” My history… which the clinic required I fill out… would’ve revealed I’d been a clinical counselor for some years.
If he’d had time to read it. Which he confessed he didn’t. Like every other specialist, I’d faced… for a couple decades.
Let’s just say the “session” kinda went south from there.
On the upside…
I wasn’t ejected from the office. Not this time.
I just never went back.
Most experts, consultants, seminar leaders, authors you’re likely to consult… with few exceptions…
Have little personal knowledge of what it’s like to be autistic.
Definitely not what an adult autistic… at this time… on this planet… is going through.
Inheriting a broken world we didn’t create. Coping with a rigged economy. Trying to stay motivated in shitty jobs… barely paying bills with shitty wages.
Career advancement? That get-outta-jail card every generation counts on?
Even with grad school… Many young autists find the doors to the professional class… closed. Despite published “inclusion” policies.
For bonus points? Try being autistic… and female. A person of color… Or… openly non-binary.
They told us school was the path to success. Looks like false hopes… now.
School didn’t prepare us for this. Not the special classes… sensory accommodations… adjusted schedules.
Because it taught… from that first day in kindergarten… til that night you drank yourself silly after graduation… any graduation… every graduation…
School taught precisely the wrong cultural messages to help autistics thrive.
My friends? You. Are. Right.
This world ISN’T working… WASN’T designed to work… as advertised… for you.
It was designed to control… someone completely different than you.
Maybe you are a square peg in a round hole. Is there a fix?
Could be switching careers to match your passions will work for you.
Or maybe… keep your job but invent the free time to dedicate to them.
Could be. If you’re more functional than me… I tried about a dozen times to make that work.
I was a freelancer, magazine publisher, therapist, ad agency owner, marketing VP, nonprofit founder… With early success at each. But ultimate crash-and-burn. At each.
Like lots of autists, I’ve got what pros call co-morbidities. PTSD, depression, dissociation, medical issues, an abuse history…
Real-world careers proved nearly hopeless. My longest job? About 2 years.
Nothing like suicide attempts & a stroke at 30 to slap you up side of the head.
I finally realized… I CAN’T be the success others expected.
I never had a family. So I could walk away from pursuing a career. And make a new life out of music & writing. Which kept me out of psych wards. Even if it meant taking minimum-wage jobs to pay bills. In my 50s.
What they call “special interests”… what I call my guiding passions… Those are my career. They get me out of bed… and keep me outta the hospital.
If I hadn’t dropped career fantasies, I’d be dead by now.
Question every thing, my autistic friends.
Teachers, doctors, experts, scientists, pastors, advocates, activists, loved ones, parents…?
Their clichés only make sense in a world where everything is designed to create productive factory workers. And consumers.
A world where as many human bodies as possible… are crammed into as little space as profitable. With cheap lighting. And little concern about privacy. Or even noise level.
An entire planet designed to keep billions of humans coming, going, eating, shitting… and making baby consumers…
On the most regular schedule. Producing their measurable work in reliable amounts per hour.
Their ideal humans are indoctrinated to focus on dreams… income, power, satisfaction… always off in a hazy future. While we ignore the dreary job directly in front of them.
Or… they choose to deny the reality many begin to suspect in their 30s. These dreams come true only for a few. A small club…
And we ain’t in it.
Biggest career obstacle autistics face?
Ideal humans know by instinct… things we autists fight to understand. The social norms of power, dominance & hierarchy.
And that being liked by higherups… is more important than any public policy… or societal value.
But higherups tend to like what they understand. And can control. Ideal humans like themselves.
Not so much autists.
Question every thing. A few to start you off…
Question Medicine. The medical model defines the deficits they find between you… and what’s “normal.” They don’t understand your strengths.
Question Government. Populations keep getting bigger. Which nations control with ever bigger demands for social compliance. And cops. How’s that going for the neurodivergent?
Question Experts. They freely admit they aren’t sure what causes autism. Or how to “treat” it. So they possess no secrets. Consider what they say. And feel free to reject it… when it doesn’t match your experience.
Question Family. Are their expectations making you happy?
Question Religion. Are you comfortable meeting the norms of a tight-knit community? If it either tries to save… or condemn you?
Question Research. Since the 80s… funded mostly by corporations. Or nonprofits, with agendas… like Autism Speaks. Researchers tend to report results that please their funders.
Question Journalism. Again… corporate owners. Again… messages only meant for “productive” citizens. Who consume.
Question Heroes. Did Temple Grandin grow up in your world? Are her answers… yours? Does Judy Singer understand you… or mock you?
Question What “They Say.” Like two can live as cheap as one. Or never drink… or trip… alone. You’re not a pack animal. Their rules aren’t yours.
Question Autistic Social Media Celebrities. Is your relationship two-way? Or are they making money, power, or “influence” off your autism. And your follower number.
For g-dsake, Question Me. You may only learn from my mistakes.
Above all, Question Yourself. How are you living? Failing to meet society’s expectations? Or acknowledging your unique needs… and working toward them.
One last tip.
When I set out to figure out what to do, I start by considering the Forbidden things.
Pretty much any societal rule… what happens if you break it? Who would it hurt? Who benefits from it in the first place?
Listen to yourself.
Make knowing what you need and want… a “special interest.”
You know you can be pretty good at that.
I’d love to hear from you about this episode. Let’s build a bridge across autistic generations.
Cuz we got an entire autistic culture to create.Drop me a comment or email.
I answser one personal question each episode. Here we go:
No… I’ve never been an actor… or narrator.
Take an autistic kid… secretly mimicking movie actors, tv ads, pop songs, and talkshow hosts…
in his basement… for 7 decades?
I’m what happens.
One “special interest” that’s finally coming in handy…
Next week? Autism & Substances. You know, those substances…
Some have helped. Some not so much. Let’s compare notes.
Wanna know more? Check out my posts, paintings, poems, music, and politics at http://www.autisticaf.me…
And… If you enjoyed this episode… please share it on social media? Better yet, send it to a friend.