It wasn't an Aspergers Spectrum Disorder which prompted this post today but it was an equally unusual incident which made me think about the wider implications of intolerance.
We're all familiar with the concept of intolerance. Generally it's applied to people of different races, religions or sexual persuasions. Sometimes, as is sometimes the case with religion, the quality which is "intolerable" is chosen rather than unavoidable. Usually however, the victim has no control over their status. Sometimes, even the qualities which appear chosen are unavoidable. Young children, for example, cannot choose their religion separately from their parents. In this sense, although a religious difference is usually a choice, it's clearly unavoidable for many people.
Intolerance deals with the way our own behavior towards others makes them feel unhappy.
There are so many levels to intolerance which range from simple dislike through to full blown genocide. All are examples of intolerance and all although the range is wide, the path from one type of intolerance to another is relatively short.
How Aspies Sometimes Convey Feelings of Intolerance
Although I started this post intending to talk about intolerance towards people with ASDs, I think it's important to accept the fact that people with ASDs can also be intolerant. It is after all, a human condition. I'm not going to go into depth about normal intolerance from aspies - I think it's the same as it is for NTs. Instead, I want to look at the ways in which the reactions of people with aspergers syndrome can sometimes be wrongly interpreted as intolerance;
- Social Cues: People against whom acts of intolerance are frequently perpetrated develop self-esteem issues and will see intolerance everywhere - even where it is not intended. Sometimes the eye contact issues or the lack of social interaction on the part of people with aspergers, can mislead people into thinking that they are disliked. If the other person has self-esteem issues, they will generally take this as a sign of intolerance.
- Directness: Aspies usually don't attempt to "beat about the bush" when discussing issues. Directness is our main approach. Hence, aspies can sometimes make comments about a person's appearance without intending harm. For example asking someone directly about a skin blemish or remarking on other aspects of their appearance or heritage. These are not usually intended as insults but they almost always end up being taken as such.
- The Use of Outdated Language: Aspies often have a wider vocabulary than most people. They love new words and are always keen to try them out in discussion. This doesn't usually cause too many problems when a rarely used word is simply unknown to other people but sometimes words which are no longer used, aren't being used for a reason.
This is particularly true of a variety of racial slurs. I can remember using them as a kid without intending harm, simply using a new word from a novel like Huckleberry Finn. In some cases, I'm probably lucky to still be alive. I know that my parents were often shocked and embarrassed by the things I said.
- Special Interests: There's no denying that the special interest is one of the main driving forces of aspie behaviour. Imagine the consequences when an aspie with a special interest in the holocaust begins talking to someone from Germany, or a Jewish person. Similarly, aspies with a fixation on health can cause great offence to people with weight issues.
Intolerance towards People with ASDs
There are lots of different ways in which intolerance can be expressed without resorting to physical harm. As parents of children on the spectrum - or as people on the spectrum ourselves, we need to keep an eye out for the less obvious forms of intolerance. It's a steep and slippery slope from the minor to major forms of intolerance and the only solution is an intolerance of intolerance itself.
Some of the less obvious forms of intolerance towards people on the spectrum include;
- Exclusion, from games, playgroups, teams, employment and organisations.
- Name calling, teasing and all other forms of bullying
- Curebie Hassling and Disciplinarian Hassling
I really want to touch on the two types of "hassling";
- Disciplinarian Hassling: This is where a person who doesn't really believe in autism thinks that all a child needs is a good smack. The kinds of people who engage in this often say things like "give me a week with him and I'll have him behaving".
These people are very dangerous and violent. It's probably true that you curb a lot of bad behaviors through violence but it isn't a good idea. The traumatic side-effects of negative behavior modification have far-reaching consequences and can in fact make it more difficult for children to lead normal lives.
- Curebie Hassling: This is also a very dangerous practice. On the one hand, there is an effort to remove all autistic traits from the gene pool by aborting babies who show signs of the condition. Often the "culling" is unnecessary because the results aren't accurate. I have friends who were told that their child had a 90% chance of downs syndrome but their child is completely unaffected.
Even if it were possible to be entirely accurate, who's to say that we have the right to deny these children life? So much of modern science has been developed by people on the spectrum that it seems they have specific roles in society. Remove the deep thinkers and you potentially remove innovation from society as a whole.
Then there's the other side of curebie hassling. The side that deals with children and adults who have already been born. In this case, people have identified them as different and not to be tolerated. They've put them into institutions, drug and disciplinary programs - all with the aim of making them "normal".
Quite often, the worst curebie hasslers of adults and children on the spectrum are the child's parents themselves. It must be a very painful thing to not be accepted by ones own family. Surely, when everyone else around you is being intolerant, the one place you should be able to find acceptance is at home.
Acceptance instead of Intolerance
The problem is that people with differences, regardless of whether they are colour, race, religion, sexuality, biological, appearance or neruological all suffer at the hands of the "majority". They are aware of their differences and often feel compelled to hide them. This isn't always possible. Sometimes they express the desire to be normal.
People with a difference generally know that they are different. They live with their differences everyday and with the constant disapproving stares and unthinking discriminations of others. They need no reminding of their differences. Simply acceptance.
If the problem were racial for instance, modern social values would suggest that the affected person stop "trying to be white" and instead understand that there is no difference. We are all the same and all as good as each other. The problem in black/white prejudice isn't that a black person is the wrong colour but rather that a particular white person has not accepted them.
This is true for people on the spectrum too. The problems don't lie with the person on the spectrum but in the intolerance of others for that person's differences.
Disclaimer: I've deliberately stayed away from the original reasons for this topic so as not to upset anyone. I've used race in several examples here only because it's probably the best understood form of intolerance. I hope I haven't offended anyone but if I have, my apologies are most assuredly offered.