Something transcendent happens to autistic people when we turn 21: We disappear. Unfortunately for me, however, I’m 27, still autistic, and still living and breathing on this planet. Yes, my friends: I have been left behind.
My parents made the mistake of not aborting me. And ABA, CBT, talk therapy, support groups, anti-depressants — none of these things have exorcised my autism. Sometimes, when I go to conferences, self-important parents like to pretend that I’m not really, truly autistic, that I have, in fact, outgrown my autism in the most spiritual and inspirational of ways. Because, honestly, haven’t I heard? The good and faithful autistics all recognize the depravity that is autism and work hard, so tear-inducingly hard, to make their disordered brains and disordered bodies disappear. That my disordered self could still exist… that I even want my disordered self to exist… such a pity. I’m so autistic that I cannot fathom how soul-sucking autism really is.
If I will not make my autistic self invisible, then they must. And if “evidence-based practices” won’t do the trick, ableism just might. So, I’m here providing a few suggestions for further infantilizing me, for facilitating a neurotypical brand of the Second Coming:
1. Remember that, while I may exist physically, I do not exist semantically. Pairing autistic and adult in the same sentence, for example, is a no-no. Other off-limits words include woman, citizen, activist, colleague, and anything with a —sex affix.
2. Although I might be an adult in the chronological sense of the word, stress that I will never be an adult in the developmental sense of the word. There are many ways to assert neurotypical dominance in this regard. You might, for example, correct my use of the words depression and anxiety and replace them with sad feelings and worried feelings. When I present at conferences and seem a bit too comfortable in my empowered adult status, you might knock me down a few rungs and ask me at what age I was toilet-trained. And, every time I remember to bathe, you might write me a 1,000-word email, CC four or five of my family members and/or former employers, and tell me how proud you are of me.
Other infantilizing measures might include, if you’re a soprano or alto, using a sing-songy voice and speaking only in rhyming couplets. But, hey, don’t take advice from little ol’ me. You’re the neurotypical — you’re the adult here.
3. Remind me that I am incapable of empathy and perspective-taking. If I disagree with you, tell me how self-centered I am. Emotionally speaking, I’m forever lodged in the terrible twos, and I’ll just never understand how bad you have it.
4. Emphasize that, unlike real adults, I cannot maintain mutually beneficial friendships and will always fail to meet your emotional needs. Condemn my black-and-white thinking and preach to me about shades of gray. If I pick up on your sadness and attempt to console you — make it clear that you’re not sad, you’re lachrymose. You’re not depressed, you’re bummed out. You’re not upset, you’re very upset. There’s a difference, and I damned well need to learn it. To facilitate this process, draw cartoon faces on the back of your business card and instruct me to keep it handy in my wallet.
5. Never give up on the messy, imperfectible project that is me. No matter how many times I tell you how cruel you are, no matter how many times I tell you how patronizing you are, no matter how many times I tell you how proud I am to be autistic — keep working on that disappearing act. Remember how glad you are that you’re not some bitter, twisted, ungrateful, disordered half-person like me. Remind yourself that I’m so lucky to have such a wonderful, personal savior like you in my life.
This post brought to you by a big a move, a new job, and my lack of existence.