A post from Sunny, co-founder of The Musical Autist
The relationships that I have with neurotypical people are very valuable. CJ Shiloh and Bri Brophy are good examples of friends and allies. Our relationships are valuable, because they listen and respect my opinions just like I respect theirs. They are familiar with autism, which means they understand my specific needs, and our relationships are based on shared interests like music. Last month, I went to Bri’s apartment so that she could show me around. I had deep conversations with her about autism and how I should work with my future job coaches. I value every word that she said, because she gave me some good advice. When I work with CJ on our nonprofit organization, the Musical Autist, I value every word that CJ says to me. She helps me to be a good leader in our organization. This is what it looks like when the neurotypical population and the autistic population have strong relationships.
Barriers to Relationships: However, there are many things that prevent strong relationships between autistic people and the rest of society. For one, I noticed that many neurotypical people tend to treat us like they are better than autistic people and they know more than we do. I have seen this in many places, including the professional world. In my experience, I have had teachers and therapists who have the mindset that they are the professional and that I am an incapable autistic person. Therefore, the therapist or the teacher that was working with me thought that I should do what they tell me without including me in the decision making process. This is not the way relationships between autistic people and neurotypical people should be. Neurotypical people, especially educators and professionals, should try to empathize with the autistic person in order to work with us and validate what we deal with every day. Autism causes us to have many challenges, but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be included in decisions about us.
Social Expectations: One of the challenges that autistic people face every day is social interaction. However, it seems to me that it is expected for an autistic person to follow all the social rules, even the ones that don’t make sense to us, but it is okay for a neurotypical person not to follow these rules all the time. I have seen how neurotypical people enforce these social conventions for autistic people, which can break the relationship between autistic people and the rest of society. Just because somebody is autistic does not mean that you shouldn’t relate to them and try to understand the challenges that they face every day.
Forming Meaningful Relationships: I believe that this world is all about human relationships regardless of our differences. People with autism should be allowed to live fulfilling and productive lives without the pressure of socializing on the terms of neurotypical people. We should be allowed to socialize on our own terms and we should also be allowed our own space whenever we feel overwhelmed. I am not saying that autistic people should never learn to get along in society, but society should also work equally hard to accommodate the ways autistic people feel comfortable interacting. Autistic people should not feel the social pressure of neurotypical people all the time to the point where we please the neurotypical crowd rather than forming meaningful relationships that fulfill our lives.
Unity: I hope that we all can come together and relate to each other despite our differences. Autistic people and neurotypical people alike should connect with each other in ways that were previously unimaginable to the rest of the world. I hope that this endeavor will allow all human beings to relate to each other to the point where differences do not divide us, and the human race is united across all levels of ability, disability, race, ethnic background, or religion.