Chasing Coffins: Answering the Call to Stand in the Gap for Autistic Persons4 min read

Sitting near the window in the café, I kept busy while occa­sion­ally glancing at the time on my watch. Where could he be? He gave no response to my mes­sages, and it had been 45 min­utes since our appointed meeting time.

Could he be dead?

If your response to my thought is, “Don’t you think you’re being just a bit melo­dra­matic?”, then you prob­ably don’t under­stand the reality for the pop­u­la­tion of per­sons I serve each day.

Autistic adults are killing them­selves in droves.

Not that our media seems to be taking up any sort of call to action, or even much notice, but we have seen research in the last three years pointing to an ugly truth: autistic adults face an average life expectancy of 38 years of age. I’ll leave it to you to ponder on the cause of this horrid sta­tistic.

It’s been esti­mated autistic, or neu­ro­di­ver­gent per­sons, see a sui­cide rate which is between nine and thirty-eight times higher than the average for sui­cides of the neu­rotyp­ical pop­u­la­tion. And even more tragic– these are diag­nosed autistic per­sons, and not the many autistic per­sons who live in hiding, those who mask their neu­ro­di­ver­gent minds from the rest of the world in order to try and fit in to it… or those who have no idea they are autistic because what it means to be autistic is so widely mis­rep­re­sented.

These autistic per­sons, social chameleons live just under the radar screen of main­stream notice, each of them exerting tremen­dous per­sonal energy each day in hopes of fit­ting in to some mea­sure of cul­tural nor­mality. They’re living exhausted from trying. I’ve wit­nessed this deep exhaus­tion first­hand, in the per­sons I serve.  In myself.

The dis­abled com­mu­nity has a code­word phrase about run­ning out of “spoons,” and I know many who live each day using plas­ticware, doing every­thing they can just to keep swim­ming in the cur­rent of life.

Nerds, weirdos, odd, eccen­tric. Dying to be known. Dying.

When I speak to groups, or even indi­vid­uals, I usu­ally describe this yearning, this search I see borne out in the lives of autistic adults, as a decades-long striving to find the “fre­quency” of the social com­mu­ni­ca­tions land­scape around them. And if you don’t see this hap­pening around you, then might I gently suggest- you’re prob­ably not looking into the stream of human lives around you.

And not-so-gently, I need to say, if you’re seeing neu­ro­di­ver­gent people des­per­ately trying to con­nect with others, and you do nothing-- then you are com­plicit in their deaths.

It has been my priv­i­lege, and often my bit­ter­sweet burden, to have been given pass­port by the autistic com­mu­nity to under­stand their deep strug­gles to be known, given the lack of dig­nity of accep­tance by the broader com­mu­ni­ties around them. I’ve dis­cov­ered through empa­thetic inten­tional engage­ment, the sto­ries and the hearts of many autistic per­sons.

Eventually, I dis­cov­ered my own story.

It is not uncommon for me to be in a con­ver­sa­tion for a few moments and to have autistic per­sons begin to weep in my pres­ence. And while I seek to give them dig­nity, com­fort in their tears, my deepest gift is to simply assure these per­sons they are fully accepted just as they are by me.

So, given autistic adults are extin­guishing them­selves from the human land­scape in what should be hor­ri­fying, blaring wake-up-call num­bers, what am I asking of you?

More ser­vices, more money, more ther­a­pies, more searches for “cures,” more autism orga­ni­za­tions living off of the fears of autistic par­ents?

No.

I’ve come to believe we are each called to seek per­sonal oppor­tu­ni­ties to engage with neu­ro­di­ver­gent per­sons, find a dif­ferent per­spec­tive in seeing beyond false social safety obsta­cles, and create new nar­ra­tives for accepting all per­sons as unique, of infi­nite value.

Do I think we can actu­ally reverse the tide of ruin for autistic per­sons in our com­mu­ni­ties? Can we rewrite the ending for the story of untold num­bers of autistic, neu­ro­di­ver­gent per­sons in our com­mu­ni­ties? I believe we can, and I’d like to sug­gest a very simple approach for us to try.

In the places you are today, whether it be schools, work­places or homes, could you simply stretch out your con­nec­tivity mus­cles, open your eyes to see even one odd duck person nearby, and ask them about their lives, their story? Just the simple gift of empa­thetic lis­tening can have impact. I’ve seen it happen, wit­nessed trans­for­ma­tive results for hope­less per­sons.

Too dif­fi­cult for us? I really don’t think so, in fact, I’ve been graced by sharing the life story with per­sons out­side of my stan­dard social “zone” more times than I can count. It can have pro­found results. For everyone.

Engage.

Encourage.

Rewrite the nar­ra­tive.

Save a life.

Save your own heart.

Do it today.

Copyright © by J. David Hall, Life Guides for Autism | NeuroGuides (2018)

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1 Comment

  1. “Stand in the gap”?

    Baby, I have lived in the gap for so long
    that I have *become* the gap.
    Don’t even try to gaze into this abyss, because you won’t see any­thing
    but your own reflec­tion,
    and you won’t like it
    at all.

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