If autism is a superpower, as I’ve heard some people remark, I hope people understand the full implication of that statement; all superheroes have dark pasts and a plethora of weaknesses. Being too accepting of autism by imagining it to be a superpower without drawbacks is to deny the reality of the situation, which is that it potentially comes with a list of them, and at this present moment in time, in most countries, even countries where it’s supposed to be accepted, it in fact ruins childhoods and leads to significant social and emotional difficulties later on in people’s lives.
Yes I’m autistic, and in a way that makes me like Batman. I have no father (unlike Batman I’m lucky enough to have a mother however our relationship is fraught with difficulties) and just like Batman my social persona is a complete fraud and the real me hides in a dark cave as often as possible and isn’t even friends with himself. I have an elderly companion, my grandmother, who helps me with certain common sense issues relating to my social life and I have a younger brother and sister, my two Robins (one of them is even called Todd) but they don’t understand me, and yes, I know that’s a terribly stereotypical thing for a depressed person to say, but in reality there are a lot of people out there who are misunderstood by everyone; I happen to be one of them.
Moving away from the Batman analogy onto an X-Men one, many other people do not see autism as a superpower, but an undesirable mutation. Yes, we need to change the way those people think but for the time being they do exist and knowing they are wrong doesn’t stop the discrimination. I’m reminded of the 90s X-Men cartoon, when a bunch of non mutants are chasing a green skinned mutant down a tunnel. When he gets trapped he remarks that he doesn’t even have any powers he just has green skin, but they still hate him for being a mutant. Well, I don’t know what my supposed superpower is, I know what my obsession is, and it’s numbers going up. I’m not good at maths, in fact I’m bad at it, I just happen to really like role-play games and things like Pokémon where you get to see your numbers going up on a daily basis. It relaxes me, I like the repetition and I like the immediate sense of reward. Other people, the very few people that I still have left in my life who care about me, might suggest that I have some sort of other power but what I am definitely not is a savant and the suggestion that all autistic people are, or that some autistic people have savant abilities in some areas and are otherwise normal is what I would call problematic. You over-empower autistic people when you make out like we’re somehow special in a way that other people aren’t.
Most of the diagnostic criteria are in fact negative, such as obsessing over repetition, lack of empathy, speech delay, mobility issues, sensory processing disorder, mind blindness and a host of other problems, which can be worked around, and that may even lead people to some people developing alternative strengths, however this is not a guarantee; some of us don’t consider ourselves to have powers. The closest I have to having a superpowers is a super high level of anxiety, which give me above average strength during meltdowns which enables me to punch myself in the face really bloody hard and give myself black eyes in a way that people don’t often believe it’s possible to do to yourself.
If you love yourself and your autism and do not see there has been any struggle in your life as a result of being on the spectrum then good for you, however you make things more challenging for people who do experience difficulties, especially those of us who were diagnosed late in life who, for the most part, suffer depression and anxiety.
I would sooner compare myself to Someone Like Cyclops of the X-Men, who actually has incredible powers, he can open portals to another dimension through his eyes. However, he cannot control this power, it’s just something that happens. In order to control it he needs to seek medical support from Dr Xavier, who is able to provide him with the glasses that he needs to be able to switch the power on and off. This is much more similar to my experience of having autism where my diagnosis came as a result of my meltdowns and my meltdowns are wholly destructive. Now, partly because I am often suffering incredible guilt as a result of a meltdown, I believe I’ve developed powerful empathy skills compared to the average autistic person, even just the average person, and I have actually managed to largely overcome the innate- selfishness isn’t the right word- but let’s say egocentrism that is common in a lot of autistic people, especially the ones that do not agree with my views and who often decide that I’m simply slagging off or using my diagnosis to justify having a go at them, when in fact I’m just pointing out that it’s not all wonderful for all of us. For some of us getting diagnosed didn’t lead to us feeling better it lead to us realising that we had mistakes to overcome, when maybe previously we really had thought we had superpowers.
And I mean literally.
I used to think I had superhuman mind reading skills until I realised that what I was actually doing was projecting my emotions; that’s why all the girls that I was convinced were obsessed with me all turned out to be sickened by me. It was very difficult finding out that so many people, the average person at my school for example, hated me, and my assumption that I was some sort of cool kid was based on misreading a whole bunch of signs such as people being afraid to talk to me or people staring at me; it was because I was a ‘weirdo’, not because I was ‘special’.
These days what I really crave is acceptance. The best way to get that is not to make any new friends or put myself in situations where people who don’t already know me well are going to judge me for any reason. I have to avoid new people at all costs. I focus the majority of my attention on maintaining relationships with those people who have stuck by me despite the number of times I’ve hurt myself and in doing so hurt them.
To continue with the X-Men analogy, most people probably think that if they did have superpowers they would want them but in the X-Men we see many characters resenting their abilities. Despite all the people who would argue that they’re actually super cool, they would give that up to be supernormal. I can relate. The people who truly love me and have truly accepted me over the years could probably tell you how I am better for my autism, but I wish I didn’t have it.
Not that this is intended as a diatribe against autism, I am so happy that some people have been able to turn it into a defining strength or that other people have managed to avoid being defined by the condition. However, having lived in a psych Ward for 6 months and now being on a waiting list for a rehabilitation centre, I am most certainly defined by my condition.
Do I want a Magneto type figure to arise and put autistic people in charge of society or to set up a separate Society altogether where only autistic people speak for other autistic people, some sort of state within a state? No. That would be anti-democratic and I actually believe social democracy to be the best model we currently have to live under. I want white people to be able to speak for black people I want neuro-typical people to be able to speak for autistic people and I believe that if we can’t all work together then inevitably we are going to end up fighting.
I side with Dr Xavier. We are special, but we need help, and we need to work with non-autistic people to create a harmonious society.