It’s about time that we started to acknowledge some of the wonderful characteristics that so many autistic children and adults give to the world. Some may be pretty obvious, others less so – but all are worthy of consideration. And of course, many or all of these qualities can be found in any population – but I do think that making the effort to counterbalance some traditional thoughts on how autism presents can be a necessary component in breaking down misconceptions and reducing unfair stereotypes. Finally,
some of the following are suggestions or hypotheses rather than ‘fact’ – you can make up your own mind in terms of how far you buy into them . . .
Sense of humour
Whoever decided, long ago, that autistic people lack a sense of humour was clearly about as incorrect as a human being can be when understanding a population. For example, Sarah Hendrickx is not only a prolific autistic writer but has dabbled in being a standup comic! And you only need to start following a handful of autistic folk on Twitter to realize that their humour is evident all over the internet. I adore the humour I come across – usually on a daily basis – with my range of autistic friends and acquaintances. It’s uplifting and powerful. Much of the humour is self-deprecating, and perhaps this might go some way towards dispelling another myth – that autistic people are egotistical.
Lack of ego
Contrary to what some people believe, many autistic individuals are almost totally lacking in ego. Many of the autistic adults I know are the first to put others’ needs before their own, and in fact lack any kind of understanding as to how and why anyone could or would be egotistical. The concept of self-importance appears to me to be lacking in many autistic individuals; conversely, many autistic adults will put others’ happiness and needs well before their own in importance and value. This can cause problems, but must surely be recognized, and valued as an extraordinary individual characteristic.
Some might label this quality as being ‘too direct’, ‘blunt’, ‘literal’. I call it being honest. Quite simply, if you really want to know the truth about something, ask your autistic friend. It’s far more likely that you’ll get an honest answer than anything embellished, or hidden under a cloak of social nicety. If you really want to know the answer to whether it’s noticeable that you’ve put on weight, you know who to ask . . .
Lack of adherence to nonsensical rules
This is another one that can get autistic people into trouble – and yet to me it’s admirable in the extreme! The ability, in the name of honesty and truthfulness, to ignore social hierarchy or unwritten convention that makes no logical (autistic) sense should surely be celebrated. While perhaps socially unconventional, the child who kindly corrects her teacher who has got something wrong in her lesson, or the office worker who contacts his chief executive to point out a spelling mistake in her email, are demonstrating the level of equality that so many autistic people have. They so often simply see people as genuinely equal, and refuse to acknowledge socially constructed hierarchies of importance.
Degree of passion
Again, this is so often seen as a negative – ‘obsessive behaviour’. And yet the passionate interests of many autistic people should surely be celebrated. Definitions of challenging behaviour refer to levels of intensity, duration and frequency – all which can be found in some people’s engagement with their subject of interest – but this cannot always be seen as a negative. Having a passionate interest in something can be amazing for the individual – and it has a massive contribution to make to the wider society. After all, advances in academic disciplines, among others, may well stem from autistic passion . . .
It’s worth contemplating just how many breakthrough moments in history may have had their origins in autistic thinking. The way in which the autistic brain works, the ‘different’ way of processing information, the ability to think ‘outside the box’ – it’s certainly possible (even probable) that these cognitive capabilities can lead to dramatic changes in all sorts of areas that subsequently impact on the world. Information technology is perhaps one of the most obvious recent examples in which one might consider autistic thinking as having a powerful influence, but throughout history it would be fascinating to consider positive autistic influences in a range of areas, including academia, science, electronics, mechanics and the arts.
What you see is what you get
I don’t necessarily mean this literally (see the next paragraph), but in terms of honesty and the lack of a hidden agenda I do think many autistic adults are very straightforward and don’t play the sorts of ‘social games’ that can sometimes be found within the PNT population.
What you see is not what you get
Not that I really need to mention it again, but of course, taking into account all the masking and internalizing I’ve already written about, it’s highly advisable not to make any assumptions about an autistic person based on outward appearances. Always remember, autism is in the brain – and unless you can magically see into someone’s brain and experience their experiences, you don’t automatically know what’s going on in there.
Lack of interest in being ‘top dog’
So many autistic adults want to do the best they can in particular areas, be it an interest, a job or a relationship – but the point is that this drive to want to do the best they can is just that. It’s not a search for recognition, awards or prizes – it’s simply the desire to do the best they can for their own peace of mind and satisfaction. Very often those same individuals are the ones who strive to remain ‘invisible’. They don’t want recognition or acknowledgement, as that level of exposure can be anxiety-inducing in the extreme; they may be happiest contributing magnificently to society in their own quiet, unobtrusive manner.
Plenty of autistic people are incredibly trustworthy. Literally, say the word and it’s ‘job done’. They can make the most amazing employees, friends, partners, buddies . . . if they say it’s going to be done, you can rely on the fact that it will. No excuses, no missed deadlines, no half measures. Similarly, there may be no false emotions in a relationship (of any kind), no lies (white ones or otherwise), and a level of honesty that can be refreshing indeed.
Level of logic
Autistic people make a whole lot of sense – when one understands the world from their perspective. I am less convinced that the PNT actually makes as much logical sense. Having an autistic person explain her thinking from an individual perspective can be an extraordinary experience – illuminating, fascinating, eye-opening.
I find that many autistic adults are remarkably non-judgemental and accepting of difference in all kinds of ways. It’s very rare to find an autistic person who is discriminatory in terms of gender, sexuality, physicality, appearance, disability, fashion, style, age – in fact, in any imaginable way. I suspect that such differences simply do not appear on the autistic radar, such is the illogicality of discrimination.
If there is a problem, sometimes an excellent way of getting it solved is to ask an autistic person for her view. So often, she will see the problem in a different way from others and, therefore, be able to supply a solution that others have been unable to identify. Sometimes those solutions may be unorthodox – but they may well work!
Highly evolved principles
Another aspect that can get autistic people into trouble – and yet this ability not to ‘go with the flow’ if the autistic person has standards and principles that are against the grain can be of exceptional value. The autistic person who raises issues that others don’t can play a hugely beneficial role in society. Some see being autistic as a blessing, some see it as a curse. Everyone has their own thoughts and feelings on the subject. But my life has been made extraordinarily rich as a direct result of the autistic people within it, for which I will be for ever grateful.
This is an extract from Autism and Asperger Syndrome in Adults by Dr Luke Beardon