Proud to be Aut

I’ll just come out and say it: I’m autistic. I’m 48 years old. My diagnosis was confirmed last week. I have been labeled with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) for a little over a week but the label means that I have been autistic all my life. That feels right given I’ve always felt a little off. When you live your life feeling out of phase with the world you can do two things: change the world or change yourself. I did both. I defined being normal and tried to live up to the standards. Any remaining awkwardness I compensated by controlling the context. It is not a strategy exclusive to autistic people, if you read attentively it is a common strategy for strangers to cope with and compensate for a world which is not (yet) theirs. In my case, I don’t look like a stranger and I don’t have a world which is self-evidently mine.

I’m writing this not as a complaint against the world nor as a frustration about myself. I’m writing this in the hope you might come to appreciate what it is to be different. The feeling of being different is not at all owned by autism but it is, I think, well exemplified by it. This is how it feels: things which most people find relaxing I find exhausting and vice versa. It’s not uncommon for me to feel refreshed by reading Kant in German for days on end but, all in all, I get tired as hell if I engage for half an hour in smalltalk. It is what it is. I don’t want to say chitchat is bad and reading Kant is superior. I know that’s not the case. I appreciate the need some have to be swept away with feelings, to behave according to convention and custom and to establish and follow rules. We’re not incompatible, we’re just different.

Those who know me will be surprised and some will even say: “If he is autistic than maybe everybody is.” I sure hope that’s not the case. I hope most of you do not have to constantly make a conscious decision to act in a way that’s deemed natural. I hope most of you aren’t constantly tired of trying to fit in to the point of breaking down in a fog of fatigue. I may be proud to be autistic but I am not so daft to wish it on anybody else. It is just the way I am, I have no desire to convert anybody else to my Jekyll-and-Hyde-ness. It is neither superior, nor inferior. If I don’t correspond to the stereotype of the socially inept recluse who can do the same thing over and over again in a robot-like fashion, probably that’s a reason to call into question that stereotype. Anyway, I’d prefer you don’t question my authenticity.

The truth is that despite of my being different, I have succeeded in establishing some level of success. Autism is not a childish thing that stands in between us, like a wall that cannot be crossed. I have had a lot of luck in my life. I am not ashamed to say I am happy even if it is a happiness that will always be precarious. I can come home to a fantastic family and the family allows me the latitude to come home to a virtual reality of philosophy – which is my life long obsession. I wish everybody the kind of luck born out of the latitude that is love. If there is one thing I know for sure it is this: there’s nothing naïve in thinking love is crucial for creating luck. Just as luck is crucial for creating the conditions for love. That’s probably the reason why I write this: as a message against times in which bad luck is your own fault.

Bad luck is nobody’s fault, and therefore everybody’s responsibility. It is made of invisible barriers that refuse to include difference (whether it is mine or yours); barriers requiring a type of individual flexibility that insists on group sameness. My ask is to think about those barriers when dealing with human beings. My question to you is to stop seeing humans as resources or as capital. Don’t append diversity as an afterthought to efficiency. I think in a very different way, those who appreciated the value of my difference enjoyed the benefits of it. I know autistics are seen as calculating. There’s some truth in this so take it from me: if you calculate well you will see that being reasonable with others is where reason starts, not vice versa. Morality is to human culture as bio-diversity is to biological evolution.

Sorry to be all philosophical about this. It’s just the way I am. Philosophy allowed me to be open to my family and friends. My family and friends make me feel I belong here. I may be all words but at least they are words of love, not hate. Words of diversity instead of words of incompatibility. This may sound cheesy but I can assure you: I’m definitely not.

One response to “Proud to be Aut

  1. Johan Deiteren

    Beste Jo Bervoets,
    Heel interessant. U bent heel intelligent denk ik. Ik was vandaag op de studienamiddag van autism ethics. Ik had in de nieuwsbrief wijsbegeerte UA, die ik als oud student ontvang, gelezen over dit event en het leek me boeiend wat het deels ook was. Wel jammer dat er niet zoveel publiek was, kan ik mij inbeelden. Beste groeten en misschien tot later.

    Hartelijke groet,

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