Survival on the Spectrum: The Long, Uncertain, Road to Adulthood

                So far, I’ve written a lot about all of the obstacles an autistic person must endure. You’re coming from Syria and the xenophobes and racists do not want you. The obstacles they put in place to keep you from succeeding are too many to count. There is no affirmative action, few accommodations, and few allies. Those who make it, make it mostly alone. It’s the movie 1917, it’s a long way through bombs, guns, and knives to the other side. Yet, then there is the other side. That means different things to different people. By the time one has gotten to the other side, one has built up a massive arsenal of skills and knowledge that other people never had to get. Malcolm Gladwell pointed out that spectrum people usually don’t make it but when we do, we have a much better chance of making it.

                It’s a combination of luck and skill. When I was mid-functioning, I was both extroverted and cute enough to be a pet retard of popular girls which threw me into lots of social interaction and while I got hurt I also got higher functioning through the regular social interaction. A social interaction that wasn’t facilitated by the school’s institution but was natural and involved lots of cruelty, sadism, and shameless exploitation. With peers asking me to perform for them, cheering on my socially blind dances. Had I not been as cute as an early teen, I wouldn’t have gotten that, would have not gotten the social skills I did, and wouldn’t have made it as far as I did.

                I may have done what many semi-successes did and become a reclusive IT specialist but I didn’t. Many after the traumas of bullying, disciplinary action, and more turn to alcohol or drugs. I am a lifelong abstainer. I attempted suicide but I didn’t succeed, obviously. When I was on academic probation it was the virtuous vice of the strength of my pride that made me too dignified to go to community college that kept me fighting like hell to get off. The landscape where I was, the medium in which I fought, was the wild west. It was a society of disparate cliques with little knowledge of the world and much less how to design a system that would help me. The bureaucrats in the various institutions on whom I relied were hopeless uneducated in the science of how to do what they were doing. I made it to the point I did against most odds and because of a series of very lucky circumstances.

                What makes survival and victory so unlikely for many people on the spectrum is that the individuals who do it have to compensate for all of the accommodations, resources, and scientific knowledge that they don’t get from elsewhere on their own. Professionals helped me in marginal ways, to get papers stamped, but when it came to either coping with my trauma, gaining social proficiency, networking, and those things, I had to do that mostly on my own. That requires a set of skills and background that a lot of people don’t have. The other side of that is that since I had to work so hard and refine my methods so much that it advantages me more than if the system were easier. Once you’re on the other side, there is a resentful pride that you had to defeat society in order to make it. There is a loss in faith in humanity since society only loved you once you were metaphorically light-skinned enough to pass as white.

                I don’t deny that my other demographic privileges helped me succeed in this. The poor and the black were put at an even further disability since the few resources and perks I got were unavailable to them. Neglect and malnutrition only contribute to worse functionality and lessen the ability to learn. Early childhood for autistic people can be the difference between playing with dolls at twenty-five or writing scathing Marxist-feminist critiques of the doll industry. Both individuals likely would have begun at the same place but ended up in very different places owing to both their environment, experiences, and, to a lesser degree, their own choices. Autism can make you a radical genius or a lifelong toddler and that depends on a lot of things but some of it is the fight you put in. And winning is amazing.

                Coming from a disability, especially being Asperger’s, one climbs up from dust with no one appreciating how difficult that was. I’m white, male (beta/tomgirl), straight (heteroromantic asexual), Christian (Anglo-Catholic, theologically) and for those reasons, among the demographics that are usually counted as minorities or those who are disadvantaged, I don’t count and yet the monumental struggle is equally difficult. It’s a vicious game where fighting the odds and only the lucky, the daring, the swift, and the clever manage to beat it. Being an autistic adult is originating in a place where others with your same condition will grow up to be mid-low functioning, not because of their genetics but because of their environment and their experiences, elected and not, and managing to be a full adult nonetheless. It is a game where the victory is both full of pride and sorrow for how hard it was to win and how many did not.

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