I have been pondering the need people have for labels. I think society is beginning to recognise that generalisations need more refinement. We can see this in the media. People are fighting for the right to be the gender they choose rather than one that is assigned from their sex at birth. We no longer have boys and girls, but people can have the physical characteristics of both sexes or in short form people can be intersex. People don’t necessarily have autism but are they are said to be on the autistic spectrum.

I have had an interest in autism since I first read about it as a teenager and thought “that’s me!”. As I grew older I realised that most men could probably be described as being on the autistic spectrum because of their lack of communication skills and their lack of emotional intelligence. Traditionally more men have ASD (autistic spectrum disorders) but it is becoming apparent that more women are undiagnosed or misdiagnosed with another condition so it is possible that parity does exist. I am not aware of intersex rates of diagnosis. I do have an issue with the “disorder” in ASD and personally prefer “condition” since there is a taint of judgement with disorder that says it isn’t normal.

I was watching a video just now by an autistic savant arguing that autistic people should be encouraged to play to the strengths and not be forced to act more normal, when that just isn’t possible. The example given was asking autistic people to look you in the eye when they are listening to you. The guy made the point that if he’s having to look you in the eye, then he is not hearing anything you say, it is impossible for him to do both. He compares society’s expectations for people with ASD to the expectations society has of blind people. We do not expect blind people to read books as a sighted person can because that is impossible instead braille books are produced. The guy takes the argument further and states that everybody should play to their strengths because it is not only good for their mental wellbeing but it is also good for society as a whole. He does point out that of course it is good to try new things and experiment, but forcing somebody to do something they can’t do is just plain wrong.

I caught myself thinking that if I was labelled ASD life would be simpler because I would no longer feel bad about certain aspects of myself. What was interesting about this thought was that I seemed to be giving myself permission to not feel bad about aspects of me if somebody gives a label. Having that label allows me to grant myself a get out of jail free card when it comes to responsibility. Then I thought, why the hell do I need a label? I seem to be saying that certain things are okay if somebody else diagnoses an issue but they are not if it is only me that feels the problem.

Let me give you an example. I really don’t like answering the phone nowadays. As a child, I would happily pick up the ringing phone, say the telephone number back and ask how I could help the caller. I actually took pride in doing this particular at my grandmother’s home because it showed I knew the phone numbers (which for some reason is something to be proud of – environmental conditioning?). I am not sure when it happened but at some point I became wary of answering the phone (death of my Father, waiting for a new liver perhaps). I worry that I won’t understand the caller. I worry that I will say something wrong. I worry that I will be misunderstood.

Nowadays I don’t answer the phone unless I recognise the number, my thinking is that the answerphone will allow me to filter the difficulties though often people won’t leave a message. The problem is exacerbated when I am left in charge of the office at work. Thankfully we have a call answering service so I will let them take a message which gets delivered as an email. The problem arises when the caller wants to make an appointment and needs a call back to start the ball rolling. The company helps people therefore we want to connect them as soon as possible to the support they are looking for; the pressure is now on me to call back. I am perfectly capable of calling back and working through the well-defined procedure, it is just that the anticipation of doing so causes me anxiety and pain. I force myself to do the call back when I would rather not because that is in the best interests of the client. The client interests come before mine, unfortunately it can take me a while to gain the courage to make the call, time when I beat myself up for being so feeble. Why do I need to beat myself up? Surely it would be easier if I didn’t pass judgement on myself but why put myself in that position in the first place.

It isn’t impossible for me to make phone calls, so this isn’t a great example from that point of view. I could for instance switch off my emotions and just do the call back straightaway without thinking over the difficulties; trust in my capabilities and acknowledge that an immediate call back will be the least painful for me. The dilemma though is that I want to integrate my feelings and not ignore them, I guess I want to honour my feelings whilst still doing the ethical/morally correct thing. Perhaps this week I will do just that. Be gentle on yourself.

 

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