29 Jan 2020

It all starts with understanding

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7 mins

Understanding each other Understanding each other is the most important thing on the way to a good society in my eyes. Having an understanding for someone else is important, but having an understanding for yourself may be even more important. During my discovery of what autism means to me and what influence it has on me, I also learned to understand myself more.

I’m in different Facebook groups that deal with neurodiversity or autism in different ways. I get a lot of different stories from many different angles. From parents of autistic people, from autistic people themselves and from organisations within the neurodiverse movement. They offer a lot of information and support. From stories about successes to stories about abuse and discrimination, everything gives me more and more insight into what autism is like for people. And it’s clear to me that it all starts with understanding.

Understanding each other, for each other.

Understanding your own neurodiversity

Many autistic people don’t feel understood by the world around them. I myself have always been troubled by this. I did not feel understood and did not always understand the world around me. I didn’t know what caused this, but I always felt like an outsider. After my diagnosis I began to discover what autism is, and what it meant to me.

This made me realize that I wasn’t crazy, but different from the people around me. My autism makes me think in a different way, see things in a different light and has consequences for the way I experience the world around me. For me this was an important revelation; the people around me are not the same as me. And that’s why I got stuck and problems arose in my life. So the problems I ran into came, because I am not neurotypical, in a neurotypical world. So somewhere I was right; I am an outsider in this world. But I am not alone! There are a lot of people who, like me, are outside this neurotypical world.

Understanding others

Different people, different ideas. Now that I’m better on my way in my journey through the neurodiverse world, I can also take a closer look at the world we live in. Instead of being frustrated by the fact that I am different, I try to understand more that the people around me sometimes don’t understand me. They sometimes need an explanation of what I mean to say or do. Most people want to help me or explain things to me, but I don’t look like I need it. After all, they can’t tell from my nose that I’m autistic.

So it has also become a matter for me to be clearer to my surroundings. About things I don’t understand or when I get stuck in everyday life. It is time for me to take up the space to which I am entitled. But it is also time for the people around me to understand better what I have problems with, so that we can work on it together.

Understanding others

To make my life and that of other neurodiverse people easier and better, I also need understanding from others. And I am not talking about the fact that people should just forgive me, an autist, (“because he has autism”), but that they learn to understand autism better. And especially what it is not, that the ghost stories need to be eliminated. When the diagnosis of autism was developed, people had no idea what it was like for autistic people. They didn’t think about that at all, on the contrary! Autistic people were a burden to their environment and had to be hospitalized and tucked away as soon as possible.

Fortunately, this has not been the case for years. But there are still many harmful things that are done and said by neurotypical people. In my opinion this is often due to a lack of understanding. Also from the diagnostic point of view the understanding is only slowly coming. But understanding only comes when people start to see the side of the autistic person. Only when people have an idea what the world looks like for autistic people, they can understand that some things don’t work for us.

Acceptance of neurodiversity

That is my ultimate goal; the acceptance of neurodiversity in society. It hurts me when I read the horror stories about “treatments” of autism in which children are tortured (ABA) or when I think back to the times I felt misunderstood. However, if we can get more and more mutual understanding, we can also work more and more on acceptance.

And mind you, I’m not saying that work can only be done on the side of the neurotypical human being! I too, as an autistic person, have to learn more and more how to deal with these people. And what they need from me, so that they understand me. And if it is something that not only works for me, but for the whole group of neurodiverse people, it is something that has to be shouted from the rooftops. The fact is, there are a lot more neurotypical people than neurodiverse.

So sometimes it sounds as if certain neurodiverse people are “very present” or “seem to have an opinion about everything”. And yes, we have to. There are also many neurodiverse people who are not able (for many different reasons) to express themselves so clearly. Who are not able, or have no idea how, to solve their problems. So it is important that there are people within the neurodiverse community who do express themselves. And within this neurotypical world, that has to be loud.

Listen and learn

A dialogue is the best way to learn more from each other. The autistic person may be different from you, but that doesn’t make them scary. We’re just people. We may not always understand each other, but we want to participate in this world like neurotypical people. And we don’t want to be pushed to the edge of society. We’re your brothers, sisters, friends, teachers, scientists, newspaper publishers, photographers, DJs and so on.

Ask each other questions And I’ll be the first to admit that we have enough to learn. But remember how man has historically dealt with “different”… Listen to how people talk about people of different ethnicity or sexual orientation… For years autistic people were put away as a big burden, as almost inferior people. Fortunately, this is no longer the case. But the stigma is still on the term autism. So there are plenty of reasons for us as autistic people to sometimes react vehemently to prejudice.

But listen to the people who want to tell you about their world. Listen to neurodiverse people telling you that something does or doesn’t work. Learn from them.

To all neurodiverse people I want to say, if they don’t know how to deal with you, they can never do it right. Try to find out for yourself what works for you and what doesn’t. If you have room for it, tell others what works and what doesn’t. Other neurodiverse people may benefit from your story or your ways of dealing with something. So most of all, share your story with each other. That’s how we help each other.

I know I’m very open about my autism and the consequences it has for me. And I also know that it’s impossible for other people to be so open and exposed on the internet. But I still ask you to share your story with the people around you. By engaging in dialogue, I think we can make the world a lot more pleasant for each other.

Thanks for reading
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Tags: autisme begrip neurodiversiteit positief dit-is-autisme sociaal-gedrag tom 
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David Westerink
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I am David, born in 1984 and I'm autistic. I write blog posts and advocate for autism acceptance. I'm willing to talk to anyone about anything.

I have my own podcast (in Dutch) about autism and neurodiversity! Checkout the AutCast!

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