When I was young, the biggest preoccupation of adults in my life, for all their good intentions, was to get me to act more “normally/neurotypical/normatively”. Endless hours were spent training me how to mimic neurotypical behaviour. I can say with perfect honesty that attempts to “fix” my autism or mask it did a lot more harm to my psyche than the autism itself ever could. It manifests in a variety of neurotic, unhealthy, hurtful behaviours for me which I am slowly dismantling, day by day.
The funny thing that I’ve realized as I’ve gotten older and worked on regaining what I see as my true self, under the layers of self-doubt and internalized ableism from being coached to act like an ideal person I was never meant to be, is that the neurotypical mask I wore actually alienated me from making friends and being socially well-adjusted.
Here I am, at twenty-three, and there’s nothing but shards of that mask left clinging to my face. I’ve managed to dismantle most of it, and I’m, for the most part, hand-flappingly happy to be me. I don’t hide my stims in public, I don’t bother trying to disguise my natural voice, and I can babble about my special interests for as long as I have an interested audience. And I have more friends now than I ever did before when I was trying my best to pass as neurotypical. My friends are from a diversity of neurotypes, only about two of them are autistic, the rest are a blend of either neurotypical or non-autistic.
I don’t have a perfect, articulate explanation for why this is. It could be a variety of factors. My self-esteem at being proud of my own autistic self, finding people who are accepting and embracing of neurodiversity, and being a much more interesting person when I’m not trying to be someone else are probably the top three factors.
What I’m getting at with this is to remind the world (or my blog readership) that therapies and behavioural modification which focuses on squashing the autism in order to save the supposed “normal” child inside doesn’t do that at all. It creates a maladjusted, self-conscious child who must constantly reflect on how their natural state is a flawed one, and obsess over micro-managing their own behaviour, at the expense of a chance to grow organically into a beautiful, interesting, unique individual. You don’t save any child, hypothetical or real, in that, you instead create a downtrodden child who will, unless they are fortunate enough to find the strength to overcome the damaging messages told to them in such therapy, grow up into a downtrodden adult. Not the kind who makes friends and gets invited to social outings or feels love in their lives, just the kind who will be perennially neglected, abused, and marginalized. And they will accept it, because something will remind them deep down, that they deserve it, for not mimicking well enough.