Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Different ... But Not Less: Autism, Temple Grandin, GPs, Ignorance and Celebratory Pride

"Different ... but not less."

Never less.  That goes for all autistic people no matter how supposedly "high" or "low" functioning we are.

And it goes for ALL disabled people.

No disabled person should be thought of as less, demeaned as a lesser human being.  No matter how severe the disability.

And it goes for all genders, sexes, sexualities, colours, nationalities as well.  It goes for all groups of people who have had to fight, and often still need to fight to be treated equally.

"Different ... but not less." 

This tiny quotation comes from the closing speech in a TV movie about Temple Grandin PhD, starring Clare Danes.  I haven't seen the movie - does anyone have a spare DVD?!  This three minute video contains that speech.  It would be nice to think that approaches to autism have come a long way since the 1981 conference where the impromptu speech was made.


If you want some extra entertainment try watching the clip while reading along with the English transcript youtube helpfully provides.  The software isn't quite perfect yet.  But as always, don't read the comments.  They include such things as "Can autistic women have sex?"  With the answer, "Dude, autistic people cannot have sex, they don't know anything."  All rather depressing that people think such things.

I happened to have a book by Temple Grandin in my bag when a GP said during a consultation, "How can you even think about autism when you can speak and are intelligent?"  That made it easy to respond with, "Hey, GP, look at this science book by an autistic lecturer with a doctorate.  GP, your views on autism are entirely wrong."  I find most people are amazed by that GP - surely everyone knows that there are plenty of very intelligent autistic people.  Everyone apart from that GP.

There is so much to know about the human condition that sometimes GPs don't know things.  The best GPs are the ones who admit that they don't know - and who find out what they don't know so that they can be of use.  The worst GPs are the ones who pretend they know everything.  Fortunately at least a couple of GPs here are open about it when there's gaps in their knowledge.

A GP my whole family likes fully admitted she didn't know about the referral process for adult assessment.  "But," she said, "I will find out and I will refer you and if there's any problem then I will contact you personally."

And the good GPs here are fully open that they don't know the ins and outs of the medical side of my gender transition.  But that's fine.  They are happy to follow instructions from the gender clinic.  And to a large extent they are happy just to follow my instructions, trusting me to know far more about it than they do.

Yes.  GPs do not know all there is to know about medicine.  That would be impossible.  But that's fine.  We cannot expect them to know all the answers.  Not knowing is acceptable, as long as they don't pretend to know everything and in doing so say ignorant things and mistreat their patients just as that GP said to us.

That's a lesson for us all.  We're all ignorant about things.  Let's accept that and be humble about our own lack of knowledge.  Let's all refuse to speak in ignorance as if we were the knowledgeable ones.  Let's accept that we really don't have all the answers, just lots of questions that we can't yet fully understand.

Regarding autism, I was ignorant.  Six months ago I knew really very little about it.  And although I keep reading, there is still a massive amount I don't know.  And although I have a few autistic friends, knowing them and learning of their lives doesn't by any means give me cause to say I know about the lives of all autistic people - because there is so much variation.  Six months ago I hadn't even come to the point of accepting that I too might be autistic - but I've covered that in another post.

I was ignorant.  Knowledge coming from the media, which often gets things wrong.  Knowledge coming from stereotypes.  Knowledge coming from seeing the sort of traits mentioned on Simon Baron-Cohen's autism spectrum test.  Basically - often dodgy knowledge and sometimes totally erroneous knowledge.

I was ignorant about autism.  I've been ignorant about many things.  Two years ago I knew virtually nothing about anything to do with transgender issues.  And yet I am transgender - so my ignorance really didn't serve me well!  There are many things I am still ignorant about and there always will be.  I am fine with that, as long as I am always prepared to own up to what I don't know and am always prepared to keep learning.  And I confess that on occasion I've slipped and haven't lived from a position of that humility.

I was ignorant about autism.  But that's fine.  Because, in the main, I was able to accept my ignorance about other people and not tell them about it and say all those things that well meaning ignorant people have said to me in the last few months. Unfortunately the same ignorance meant I could not accept myself.

And if I'm totally honest, I think my beliefs, somewhere deep down, ran contrary to that statement of Temple Grandin,  "Different ... but not less."  I was fearful.  "If I admit this, if I tackle the possibility head on, does that mean that I am admitting that I am not just different, but I am less?"  The answer, of course, is "No."  It's taken seeing myself plainly in the mirror of another person's life to get me to realise that I can accept the possibility and not have to fear myself.

Like Temple Grandin, like my still few openly (to me or the world) autistic friends, like all autistic people, I am different.

But not less.  Never less.  Never.

In fact, I am proud to be me.

I am proud to be autistic.

And actually in some ways I am glad to be autistic.

In all the difficult times I am still glad.

When breaking down from sensory overload I am still glad.

Beyond all that, there is so much good in this

And I am starting to recognise all these good aspects.

Get that?  I am GLAD to be autistic.

I could not imagine my being to be anything else.

I am glad.  I am autistic.  Good.  Celebrate.

Because it makes me who I am.

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