Posted by: E (The Third Glance) | April 7, 2013

Autism Acceptance Profiles: 1. My Friend J

It’s autism acceptance month, and in honor of that, I am going to share some real-life examples of (neurotypical) people who accept me (autism, geekiness, and everything else), just for who I am. No ifs, ands, or buts. These people have something that the rest of the world can learn from.

I’d like to introduce you to my good friend, J. He is a PhD student in a scientific field that is not really related at all to my scientific field, but is at the same university as me. We were introduced by a mutual friend, because she knew we were both going to be at the same place for grad school. I’ve talked about J before – he is my grocery-store buddy.

J is a stereotypical absent-minded scientist – I’m constantly reminding him what we’re doing and where we are going. It’s a running joke between us. He’s also a fierce feminist and is constantly angered by the crappy things people are constantly doing to each other. J is very much someone who believes 100% “a person is a person, and that everyone should be treated with respect, regardless of anything”. But he doesn’t just say he believes that, he lives it. And he lives it in a more honest way than I’ve ever seen anyone do so before. With some people, getting angry over injustice is about performing an act to get others to see that you are a “good person”. With J, getting angry over an injustice is a genuine, visceral response that has nothing to do with how others perceive him, or anything to do with performing the socially acceptable dance of “look, I’m a good person, really”. It’s his honest, knee-jerk response, regardless of rewards or consequences therein. And that’s what makes him such an awesome person.

When I first met J, we instantly clicked as friends. I felt comfortable and relaxed, and didn’t try to “pass” as neurotypical in front of him (I usually put effort into this when I first meet people, because I’ve learned that not doing so usually ends significantly worse). As a consequence, he saw the stimming, the spinning in circles, the constant obsessions over various textures of clothing, and everything else, right from the start. We started grocery shopping together almost immediately – I have a car, he doesn’t, and you can’t get anywhere in this town with any amount of efficiency, unless you have a car, or you’re willing to walk >1 mile with groceries on either end of a long bus ride. So I offered, and he accepted, and that was the beginning of a wonderful friendship. Since we first met, he has been great with all my little quirks.

I’ve talked before about how one of my stims is to repeat everything that is being said, or to sign the word I’m currently perseverating on, using American Sign Language and finger-spelling (see post: My Hands are Echolalic). Well, when J noticed that, instead of wondering what my hands were doing, or saying it was bad, he said “woah, is that ASL?” – he’d always wanted to learn sign, and when I told him that my hands were spelling things, he didn’t bat an eye. He was fascinated, and asked a bunch of really good questions about what they were saying. It ended with me teaching him the alphabet. Now he tries to read my hands sometimes. And when I’m tired and not processing speech, sometimes I can fingrespell to him.

In the grocery store, I memorize where everything I need is. I also memorize the usual pricing schemes. We often so to several stores, because there are different products needed. As a consequence, some items overlap. I mentioned J is an absent-minded scientist. When we go shopping, we have a deal. I tell him where everything is and how much it costs, and whether it is better to get it at one place or another. He deals with the people for me, and helps keep the sensory overload to a minimum. We each have our own unique skillsets that make the trip faster and more painless for the other. Combined powers.

We also go to costco together. Now I love costco. I love the big boxes, with their giant aisles and super-organized shelves with thousands of things. I think they are fascinating. But costco is nearly always packed with people, so I have to go during quiet times. I should also mention that I am obsessed with stuffed animals, have 323 of them, and have a super-soft spot in my heart for them. All of them. And I can name them all and tell you how and when I got them. But I digress. Anyway, one day we were on a costco run, and costco greeted us with a bin full of giant stuffed bears. Immediately I abandoned the cart to make a bee-line towards it, and J smiled. He took the cart and followed me to the giant stuffed bears. I greeted them, and told them I wished I could take one home. But I knew I probably shouldn’t.

I then spent the next hour, weaving through the store with J, constantly repeating “giant stuffed bear… giant stuffed bear”. I couldn’t get them out of my head, and there was this one who had been tossed aside and not in the right spot, and I had to take him home. Giant stuffed bear. Talk about perseveration. Giant stuffed bear. Anyway, rather than be annoyed, as most people would have been, J continued to smile, and encourage me. Giant stuffed bear. He carried on conversation with me, keeping the giant stuffed bear happily involved. We decided that if I was still obsessing when we got done with the necessary food and toilet paper shopping, that I could go back and if that one was still thrown off haphazardly, I would take it home. Giant stuffed bear. So we did. Giant stuffed bear. And I now have a wonderful, cuddly, giant stuffed bear named Ferdinand. When we got back to my apartment, I immediately pulled Ferdinand out to the couch and curled up with him (the bear, not J). J grinned and took pictures to send to me. Giant stuffed bear. If that isn’t autism acceptance, I don’t know what is.

For several months, I didn’t talk about the “autism-thing” with J. He was just content to overlook all of the things that others considered to be horrible autistic behaviors (stimming, failure to eat most foods with certain textures, not speaking properly, perseveration, etc etc etc). When I was struggling, he was patient and never critical. When I was perseverating or even scripting, he happily went along. He has always met me where I am at. But one day, we were with someone else, and they got snappy and I got defensive, and I snapped “I’m autistic, that’s why!” at them. A couple of weeks later, J and I talked about autism a bit. He said he didn’t think I could possibly be autistic. I didn’t fit what he knew about autism. So then I brought up my clothing, my eating habits (which he’d been dealing with for months), my stuffed animals and the Giant Stuffed Bear perseveration, my obsessions, my fingerspelling, stimming hands. I brought up the fact that I don’t communicate well in groups, and how clumsy I am, and the fact that I’m apt to lecture him with lists and things I’m currently obsessing over (like that moment when I started explaining how I was autisitc, or when he asks about things related to my research). And a number of other things that are all indicative of autism. All things he’s seen me do constantly since the day we met. And his response to all of this was the following:

“Huh, that’s interesting. I really didn’t understand what autism is at all. I’ve never met an autistic person before. Thanks for explaining. I don’t think of those things as deficits or symptoms or anything, they’re just what make you, YOU. And that’s the best part of hanging out with you, is that you are an interesting, unique person, who has a bunch of awesome traits, is fun to hang out with. I don’t care if it has a name or not, I wouldn’t change anything about you.”

And he hasn’t. He’s never tried to convince me to do something I can’t. He’s never criticized me for any of it. He’s asked me if things are ok or not when he doesn’t know (like going to the stores in a different order, or watching a particular movie or show, to eating various foods), and he accepts the answer “no” as easily as the answer “yes”.

And that, my friends, is what autism acceptance looks like.

———————————————
Author’s note: This is the first in a series of Autism Acceptance profiles in honor of Autism Acceptance month. I have been lucky enough to meet and interact with a number of wonderful people in my life who really embody autism acceptance, and I want to share their awesomeness with the world. Read more about this series here.

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Responses

  1. Re your friend who says:
    ” “a person is a person, and that everyone should be treated with respect, regardless of anything”

    Regardless of their aims? Regardless of their actions? So (for example) he’d give the same respect to you and to a person who wanted to kill you?

    • I think your argument is flawed. But yes, initially, he would give respect to that person, until he learned of the person’s desire to be malicious. Does that make sense? The point is no snap judgements based on appearance or background. Those judgements come from subsequent interactions, not as the first impression.

      • What flaw do you judge to exist in my argument? And if your friend has the good sense to judge by actions — why didn’t you (or he) say so, instead of saying “everyone” when he meant instead only “everyone who hasn’t proven malicious”?

        Saying “everyone” isn’t rational when you (correctly) don’t _mean_ everyone.

    • E. Love what you have to say about your echolalic hands. You’ve enriched my sense of what stimming can be doing. Your J comes over as a wonderful person. Your theme of writing about people who accept you, is well-chosen.

    • Kate Gladstone, Am I right in assuming your issue is with the use of the word “everyone”? If so I’m struggling to understand what merit there is to your point in context of the above post, which seems written with so much good will and positivity.

      If your argument was based purely on semantics surely your approach could have been far more respectful? The fact that it doesnt come across respectfully makes me question your actual motivation. Im not sure if it was intended, but it sure looks like trolling.

  2. I have to apologize – i haven’t read your blog in awhile. I’m so far behind on blog reading, it’s a serious shame. But now I’m remembering how much I liked it when I first read it, eons ago.
    I didn’t know anything at all about Autism before my son was diagnosed – and a year later, I’m still learning & will always be learning. So if I were to hang out with you, I would probably not have any idea you were Autistic either. I probably wouldn’t know what to make of you at all & just see you as just your average person with some personality issues/quirks. I think most people have things that are weird about them – including myself.
    I also have ADD & didn’t know it until I was about 25. I saw a shrink for Depression, after finally admitting to myself that I definitely had that after years of self loathing, and she pointed it out really fast and had me look into that more. After doing some reading of respectable lit (not just crazy google stuff), yeah, duh, of course I have ADD. How did I not know this before & how did nobody else?
    Also, if you & I hung out, it could be dangerously expensive. I love, love, love stuffed animals – I used to have floor to ceiling shelves on one side of my bedroom, until I was probably too old for it, full of stuffed animals. Having a child now gives me an excuse to have them out again (no, not all of the old ones, but a goodly amount) & to buy more. My husband has to rein me in when we go to the Disney Store in particular (if they’re having a sale, omg, it’s so hard not to get a plush for every character he even slightly likes or might like. thank goodness I do have some spending guilt with me at all times).
    Anyway, I ramble again. Anyway, I must try to catch up on blogs, including, obviously, yours.

    • 🙂 Thanks, Jenny. Yes, it would be dangerously expensive. Next year, I’m moving into a one-bedroom all of my own, and you can bet the floor-to-ceiling stuffed animal shelves are going to happen. Most people take me as “wait, you can’t be ‘normal’ you have way to many quirks and my god, I don’t understand you. But you look normal, wtf is wrong with you…” which is such complete bs. But anyway. Thanks for the comment. 🙂

  3. What a beautiful post. And what a beautiful friend you have. I wish more people just accepted people for who they are. Thank you for sharing this.

    • I have a lot of great occupational therapy practitioners and students who accept me for what I am. That’s huge in a profession where people with autism are very rare.

      That said, I put a lot of work both professionally and friendship departments. The professional part- a good bit of students and practitioners respect me because I have some pretty big goals and dreams and have been doing what I can to try to meet them. The friendship part- I use social media to proactively seek friendship with my professional colleagues. Then, when I have a chance to meet them in person, I try to be as personable as I can. Sure, I still have some slip up’s at times. But the good qualities I have for the most part have given me the benefit of the doubt in that they are willing to work with me on how to prevent such slip up’s again. (If one ever looks at my Facebook and see the numerous occupational therapy practitioners and professionals that I am friends with, it can be pretty hard for some people to believe that I am also an aspie.)

      My take home point is- there are NT’s who accept people with autism for who they are. It’s just we on the autism spectrum have to have some know how’s in not only identifying such people, but also build rapport with them.

  4. Kate should chill a bit. Enjoyed your post and thanks for introducing us to your buddy.

  5. I love it! It is such a great example!

  6. So glad to hear that it really exists.

  7. That sounds like a lovely person and a lovely relationship.

    Just out of curiosity: have you, or have you considered, to show your blog to J, or is it out of the question to connect any point in your online and offline social worlds? (it is my understanding that they are separate).

    • I’ve considered it, but generally my two worlds are separate. A couple of people in my real life do read this, but most don’t know it exists, and I would like to keep it that way. Though I talk about a lot of the content with J, so its basically the same thing.

      • Thanks for your reply:-)

  8. It’s taken D quite some years to understand my autism, but he’s managed to get the hang of it.

    I’m obsessed with stuffed toys too. When I was living alone in one of Britain’s larger cities (Birmingham) I spotted a pair of apricot-coloured, fluffy legs sticking out from a bin when I was on the way to the shops. I already knew that I was going to rescue it on the way home, and I pulled out a beautiful teddy bear wearing a floral-print pinafore. She went straight in the wash, and I still have her (for some reason I named her Sophie).

    Then there’s the cuddly Doberman (Dexter) and the Beagle (Porthos) that I found alone on a shop shelf on seperate occasions – and I just couldn’t leave them there all by themselves!

    My son learned Makaton; I think he knows some ASL but I couldn’t swear to it. I also talk with my hands a lot, which annoys D to no end, but he also understands that I can’t help it.

    J sounds like a lovely person; it’s good to “meet” him 🙂

    • Aww, they sound sweet. I always had to rescue the ones who were on the wrong shelf, or on the floor. They didn’t deserve to be tossed aside, and I knew I could give them a loving home. 😛

      • When I bought Porthos (the Beagle – named after the sweet little Beagle from “Enterprise”) the shop assistant looked at me and said she’d considered buying him because she hated seeing him there alone too! D wasn’t very amused, but he also understood that I just can’t leave a lonely plushie to sit there (like yourself, it’s a part of my autism). When I brought Dexter home, D rolled his eyes and said “Let me guess: he was the last on the shelf and you thought he was lonely”. Bang on the nail 🙂

      • YES! Exactly! It’s not like I just buy stuffed animals – I always buy the ones that are in need of some extra special love. I think I feel a sort of bond with the poor little (or bit) plushies who are all lonely or different from their “plushie peers”. One day I’ll write a post about the cuddlies specifically. But that’s going to happen after April.

      • When I was a kid, I used to visit a particular stuffed animal in Hallmark, until I had enough money to buy him. Also, if it didn’t already feel sad to see a stuffed animal all alone – there’s a Disney Jr. Doc McStuffins episode where a stuffed giraffe in one of those prize machines gets a rip & nobody wants her – she sings this sad, sweet song about how nobody wants a broken toy and she sees all the other toys go home. Ugh!

      • I used to take the ripped ones home and sew them back up. I would’ve wanted her!

  9. This absolutely beautiful, E. We parents can learn a lot from your friend J about acceptance. ❤

  10. This is a beautiful post! Sounds like you and J have a wonderful friendship. Thank you for sharing this. Giant stuffed bear hugs to you.

  11. My daughter (also on the spectrum and also with a huge place in her heart for plush and fluffy stuffed animals) has a giant stuffed bear from Costco as well (though she’s still young enough that our picture on the couch is with the bear cuddling her as it’s so much bigger than she is — or at least was when she got it). Your experience with J gives me hope that she can find that same acceptance in her friends in the future. Thank you!

    • Awwwww… I’m about 5’3, 100lbs – the bear looks rather bigger than me too… So glad your daughter has a bear she loves too. 🙂


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