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For an autistic person the pathway towards good company is distinctly different from the life trajectory mapped out by the expectations of mainstream culture.
The most appropriate pathway for an autistic person depends significantly on the surrounding social environment and the stage of life:
Isolated adult who is unaware of being autistic
Amongst the adult population of those currently over 30 years old, this is probably the largest category of autistic people. People in this category are often depressed, possibly burnt-out or even suicidal, and potentially misdiagnosed and medicated.
- Never truly understanding why people are interested in cultural status symbols and in pursuing social status
- Idiosyncratic ways of performing specific activities or jobs, usually based on extensive experimentation with different approaches, and resistance to simply following the ways in which others perform similar activities or jobs
- Valuing truth much more than the need to be seen as successful or popular by others
- An innate sense of individual agency that is much stronger than any desire to conform to social norms
- Always interested in sharing knowledge, and not understanding why anyone might be reluctant to share knowledge
- Many experiences of being surprised by the level of dishonesty of other people
- When in traditional leadership or managerial positions, experiencing strong feelings of never really fitting in anywhere, struggling to cope in general, and experiencing severe physical symptoms of stress
- Feeling extremely exhausted following all meetings with three or more people, especially if the people in question are not familiar friends or colleagues, or when being forced to engage in smalltalk
For this group of people the Communal Definition of Autism can be a first step towards recognising their own autistic traits and related experiences.
Isolated adult who learns about potentially being autistic
People in this category have learned about autism either via a diagnosis or via hints from colleagues, friends and family. Some people react with disbelief or denial, to avoid having to acknowledge many traumatising experiences in society.
Autistic people in this group tend to try hard to mask their autistic traits well enough to meet cultural expectations in many situations – they may not even know what masking is, and may confuse the effort of masking with the effort of applying hard-won social skills.
However the effort of masking comes at a high cost, and can only be maintained continuously for limited periods of time. Individuals in this category are on their way to autistic burn-out. People at this stage are particularly vulnerable to relationship breakdowns, as their frustration starts to show, often increasing the isolation.
Isolated autistic adult
Isolated autistic adults tend to avoid social interaction to retain sanity and to minimise the mental energy loss of masking. Many people within the adult autistic population fall within this category.
People in this category may have never tried to reach out to the autistic community, or they have had a few disappointing experiences in connecting with other autistic people, perhaps surprised by the level of diversity amongst autistic people.
Isolated autistic people no longer seek to meet all cultural expectations, and minimise autistic burn-out by avoiding places or social contexts that may trigger sensory overload. They are at great risk of economic exploitation and bullying at work.
If you are being bullied at work, you can use the Bullying Alert System on this website to report your situation in anonymised form to the autistic community.
Some people in this category have internalised the pathology paradigm, and a few feel threatened by the neurodiversity paradigm, as it suggests that it may actually be possible for autistic people to develop healthy trusted relationships with other people, and this suggestion contradicts their own experience.
For this group of people the only way forward is to find the courage to again reach out to the autistic community, by contacting helpful openly autistic autism rights advocates and members of the neurodiversity movement, either directly, or in small and welcoming non-public online groups, and away from the often toxic public places on online social media platforms.
Autistic adult who has found autistic community
A growing minority of autistic adults have learned to developed enjoyable relationships with autistic peers, but many do not dare to openly identify as autistic due to widespread discrimination in wider society.
People in this group have understood the fundamentals of autistic cognition, mask only when critical for survival, are actively learning about autistic culture, and incrementally start to develop an individual peer-to-peer support network, a multi-year journey that likely involves some successes but also many failures along the way.
A useful next step for people in this category is to compare notes about autistic forms of collaboration and about the ways in which autistic people find ways of developing and maintaining trusted relationships.
Autistic adult engaged in autistic collaboration
Amongst the adult autistic population, at this point in time (2019), this is probably still the smallest category.
People within this category will have discovered some of the principles for building trusted relationships that underpin the NeurodiVenture operating model, in particular techniques for creating a collective interface to the wider society that
- optimises for collaboration between autistic people, and
- minimises the need for interacting with wider society on terms that are detrimental to the mental and physical health of autistic people.
Autists are acutely aware that good company is constructed one trusted relationship at a time – this is the essence of fully appreciating diversity. Autistic people relate to specific people, and primarily to other autistic people, and not to group identities. All groups that are genuinely inclusive of relationships with autistic people are small in size – they are human scale.
Collectives of collaborating autistic people can benefit significantly by connecting with other groups of autistic people and from knowledge sharing and building trusted relationships with other autistic people. The future of autistic collaboration involves establishing a collaborative network of NeurodiVentures.
Isolated youngster who is unaware of being autistic
Children and adolescents in this category are traumatised by their experiences in the social world, often including by the expectations placed on them by parents and teachers. Unless someone picks up on their autistic traits, they are on track to becoming isolated adults who are unaware of the existence of other people experiencing similar challenges with sensory overload and with bullying in the social world.
Isolated youngsters may be baffled by the socially constructed gender identities of their peers, and they may neither identify with male nor with female gender “norms”. Isolated autistic adolescents are at risk of drug and alcohol abuse, seeking calm, and not really understanding how they can possibly fit into an apparently insane social world.
For this group, developing areas of deep interest and expertise, and receiving support on their journey towards discovering autistic community can be life saving.
Autistic youngster with non-autistic parents
When non-autistic parents seek assistance from the autism industry, and as a result subject their autistic child to various normalisation “therapies”, especially under the heading of “early intervention”, they are subjecting their child to additional trauma and institutionalised bullying, resulting in depression, suicidal ideation, and PTSD.
Rather than therapies to “reduce autistic behaviours”, autistic children need to be supported in the full development of their unique autistic potential, and need to be encouraged to follow their intrinsic motivations to explore the world.
The most valuable step that non-autistic parents of autistic children can undertake is to connect with and learn from the adult autistic community – and without any delay, to facilitate access of their child to autistic peers and adult mentors.
Autistic children can be introduced to autism via the Communal Definition of Autism, and via age appropriate related learning resources developed by the autistic community rather than by the autism industry.
Autistic youngster with at least one autistic parent
Autistic children and adolescents with one or two autistic parents are ideally positioned for becoming thriving autistic adults – provided that their parents have the financial resources to provide a healthy home and educational environment.
There are many examples of multi-generational autistic families. Autistic adults choose autistic partners at rates that are 10 times greater than random choice. This perhaps is the strongest indicator that social progress in terms of autistic rights and self-determination is overdue.