My friend Ellen just wrote something on her blog that really hit me. She came here from another country. More importantly, she came here from another culture. In her post, she vividly describes the experience of trying to learn a new culture while also struggling with others’ perception of her as an outsider because she is a little different. I can relate to all of this. I can feel the pain.
I have often said that to be autistic is to live in a constant state of culture shock, even in one’s own culture. This should be easy to see just from the diagnostic criteria. We struggle with the nonverbal aspects of communication, and cultural norms are communicated nonverbally. So many of us feel out of place, disconnected, and deeply lonely. It might seem strange to say, but I’m grateful for Ellen’s experiences because I believe it’s the reason for the times she stood up for me before she actually knew me. I also believe it’s the reason she encourages me and treats me with respect, even though she may not always understand me.
I never really felt connected with anyone until well into my adult life. Even then, I had a hard time identifying who was an actual friend. Most abandoned me when I started sharing my autism diagnosis, but I found new friends in the autism community. I also found freedom from the constant and exhausting effort of trying to fit in. Most of my friends now have children like me. They don’t always understand me, but they want to because they see their kids going through the same things I describe when I talk about this. They help me when others misunderstand me or try to push me away. They do this because they get the pain. They get it because their own pain comes from seeing the very pain of their children.
Toward the end of Ellen’s post, she gave a list of wishes. I especially relate to this one: “I wish it meant my voice and experiences were considered — even when not understood — and that there was a real desire to understand.” I wish this could be true of everyone in this world. Can you imagine how lovely that would be?
I wish I knew how this could happen without all the pain.