About Resentful Autists, Neuronormativity, and Discrimination
If your autistic child has reached adolescence, you will probably find yourself in one of these three situations:
A. You get the impression that your child is a kind of “little angel” without any capacity for malice, always obedient, naive, and a “goody two shoes.” You fear that others may manipulate them. You will constantly be shielding them from any abuse happening to them, but in general you are glad that your child behaves better than other Autistics— whom you perceive are resentful and rude to everyone.
B. You are under the impression that your child has become a resentful, disobedient child who talks back, who always says bad things about others, sees the world darker than it is, rebels against their teachers and maybe even with you. You perceive them as not respecting anyone, as rude all the time, and you no longer know how to shut them up. A week at school does not go by without a teacher, guidance counselor, or administrator calling you and asking you to correct your child’s behavior and attitude. You feel that you have failed as a parent.
C. You get the impression that your child is constantly traveling between point “A” and point “B.”
As strange as it sounds, I hope, with all my heart, that your little one is as close to the “B” as possible, and I’ll explain why:
On Being Autistic
Imagine that as you get to the office, your boss steps on your foot, and then one of your coworkers steps on it again a couple of times. When you complain about the pain, they tell you that you are exaggerating.
Imagine you have an ingrown toenail that is really hurting, and when you tell them about it, they don’t believe you have it.
This is how it feels when people make loud noises and you have auditory hypersensitivity. You beg them to turn down the volume, and they don’t. You end up convinced that they don’t care how you feel and you even start to think that they do it on purpose.
Imagine that you came up with a great idea, and minutes later you present it at your daily office meeting. Your boss shuts you up in front of everybody, tells you that you are saying stupid things, and everyone makes fun of you for sharing it.
This is how it feels to share your special interests and have people boo at you. This is how it feels when every time you present a novel idea, others reject it without thought and in bad manners. This is how it feels when you notice something is wrong and you communicate it because you care for the wellbeing of the group, and they call you “rude.”
You end up convinced that people are wilfully ignorant, thoughtless, have no desire to improve, and that they are more interested in accumulating social power than in doing things well.
Imagine that an hour later your boss walks into your office and asks you to scam a client, to do something that seems downright immoral to you. When you refuse, your boss replies that “everyone does it,” and then he demands you do it, too.
You refuse again, and in a subtle way, he threatens you that you will lose your job if you don’t comply. As you know that the law and common decency protect you, you refuse once more, so your boss leaves your office amid threats and asks someone else who accepts immediately.
I’m not even going to explain what it feels like to be asked to do immoral things. You already know how many immoral things this society asks us to do on a daily basis and how often people compromise— some without realizing it, others pretending they didn’t notice. I assure you that you end up convinced that people are immoral, or what is worse, that they have double standards. They’re hypocrites.
Imagine that when you get home that night, you tell your partner about everything that happened and they reply that you should have listened to your boss, that everyone does it, and that you don’t think about the wellbeing of your family.
This is how it feels to tell people in your family about how bad your day was, and for those people to accuse you of exaggerating, playing the victim, being lazy, not thinking about others, being dumb, being stubborn, and a long list of accusations that ends in the tired platitude, “That’s life, we all put up with it, and you have to do it, too.”
Now imagine that all that happens time after time for like… a week? …. a month? … a year? … a decade?
Hmm … now let’s get closer to the reality of an autistic person: Imagine that you live like that for 15 years. Add to that growing up listening to people talk about you as a burden, about how much they suffer because of you, opining about their constant fears that you will probably not achieve anything in your life, etc.
– How do you think you would feel?
– What would you think of people?
– How would you feel about your family?
– Would you want to interact with these people beyond what is strictly mandatory?
– Would it seem healthy to you if all that happened to a regular person every day, for years, and they’d still behave like a little angel, quiet and obedient?
For me, if someone endures all this quietly and obediently, it’s because they have not realized what is happening to them, or worse, they are convinced that they cannot do anything to avoid it and will let it continue, unable to defend themselves.
Resentment is the natural consequence and the emotional shield of being UNJUSTLY treated, and INJUSTICE is having the legitimate right to something or to do something, and that this right is denied to you.
All people are victims of injustices; but generally speaking, a single act of mistreatment does not trigger resentment. In most cases, resentment is the product of an accumulation of unjust acts. That is why the people who most frequently encounter injustice, bullying, invalidation, or mistreatment suffer more.
Resentment thrives on failed promises and expectations. When someone promises, they give the other person the right to legitimately expect the promise to be fulfilled, and people, institutions, and society make many explicit and also tacit promises:
- Inclusion, that is a promise.
- Unconditional love, that is a promise.
- You have the right to express your feelings, that is a promise.
- Be yourself, that is a promise.
- We must all treat each other with respect, that is a promise.
- You have the right to be wrong, that is a promise.
- You have the right to a job, that is a promise.
- If you are good, you will have friends, that is a promise.
- You have the right to have something explained to you until you understand it, that is a promise.
Ask yourself, and answer honestly, hand on heart, how many of these promises are fulfilled for your autistic child? How many times have you felt resentful towards society because these promises are not fulfilled with your autistic child?
If it is difficult for you, do you think it is easier for your child and those of us like him/her? The truth is that, “that’s life” is neither a valid excuse nor does everyone have to endure what an autistic person endures.
The vast majority of people don’t have their foot stepped on several times a day, or get hushed several times a day, or get forced to do things they consider immoral several times a day, or receive insults several times a day, for the majority of their lives.
And what is worse, most people have someone to rely on, someone who believes them, someone who comforts them when they feel their world is falling apart and who agrees with them when they complain about an injustice. Many autistics do not.
About the NeuroNorm
If you are one of those who feel offended by the last paragraph, and you want to think that you do give your little one all the support he/she needs, or that I am wrong to generalize… let me tell you that I am autistic, and still I criticize my autistic daughter more times than it is fair and support her less than I should. Because like all of you, I too grew up within the same value system. The same prejudices afflict me.
I, like you, have grown up in a society that wants children and young people who are “properly dressed,” have the “the right interests,” who “speak correctly,” follow closely “the right manners,”who have “the right friends and in the right amount,” and little of this translates to meeting the needs of autistic children and youth.
So, no, the criticism is not directed at you. The problem goes to the value system in which we live… NEURONORMATIVITY.
Neuronormativity is the set of social, political, cultural, and personal norms that privilege a particular way of thinking, feeling, behaving, and communicating as superior to the others.
Neuronormativity is a concept related to neurotypical majority, but they are definitely not the same.
“Neuronormativity” means that being neurotypical is the only regular, natural, and valid way to think, feel, behave, and communicate.
Neurotypical refers to the neurology of a person, and means that the way someone is wired means they will not be likely to fall outside the local social norms.
When an autistic person, with little knowledge on autistic rights activism, complains about “neurotypicals,” they are usually referring to a comment made by someone, a policy, a kind of behavior, a narrative, or a social system that seeks to enforce the norm, to the detriment of their rights.
Complaints against neuronormativity are not complaints against neurotypical people themselves. They’re complaints about a society structured in a way that inherently disadvantages and devalues people who are inherently different.
This is why you should not take the criticisms or “generalizations” of autistic people as personal. Listen to them!
When an autistic person tells you that you are doing something wrong, they are handing you perspectives to review your NEURONORMATIVE prejudices so that you can become a better parent, teacher, friend, partner, or therapist for your autistic loved ones.
Neurotypicals are not trash, but neuronormativity is. When you talk to an autistic person who acts resentful, remember to understand that resentment is not gratuitous or personal.
No matter how we try, those feelings of discontent, resentment, and non-compliance will never go away as long as society continues to mistreat us.
Nor should they.
- Neurotypical People Are Not Trash - April 10, 2021
- When Parents Say “I HATE AUTISM” Their Words Affect Autistic Lives - June 3, 2020
- For Non-Autistics: How to Survive COVID19 in a World Not Made for Your Neurology - April 21, 2020