Category Archives: Friendship

Slut-Shaming on the Spectrum

In popular culture, women are presented in two distinct ways. They are presented as sexual objects and we condemn the women who embrace their sexuality as sluts. We also tell women they should remain chaste and modest or else they will get pregnant and their lives will be over. For women on the Autism spectrum, these juxtaposed stereotypes pose even more problems.

I’ve mentioned the concept of schemas before, or the way we organize ideas into different categories. People on the Autism Spectrum function well by placing things into schemas, even when things are way more complicated than just slapping a label on something to figure it out. The concept of what a woman should be is something many females struggle with and even more so women on the spectrum. We get concerned with choosing the “right” option and this creates a lot of anxiety. In the world of glossy magazine covers, we are bombarded with how we ‘should’ look and how we ‘should’ behave.

In my opinion, one of the most personal choices anyone can make is in relation to the expression of their sexuality. Some women choose to wear revealing clothing or make-out with their partner in the street, that is how they choose to embrace their sexuality. Others keep their expression behind closed doors with the lights off. Some people are raised with religious guidelines or have family values instilled in them as to how they should behave in regards to sexuality.

A problem I’ve seen in my professional and personal life is when parents or guardians don’t want a person to explore their sexuality for a number of reasons. This may be a personal reason or because they don’t want their children to explore what many consider to be ‘intimate relationships’. I’m very much in favor of having open communication and educating people on what healthy relationships should look like. There are situations where a person may not have the ability to consent to intimate relationships with another person, but they should not be left in the dark about their own sexuality.

It’s a difficult talk to have with anyone, but it is a conversation that needs to happen also to protect the individual from being taken advantage of. It is a scary reality, but there are predators out there who do take advantage of others. Education on ‘good touch’ or ‘bad touch’ is important to help people know they should tolerate and when they need to let someone know something wrong is happening.

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More that 90% of people diagnosed with a developmental disability, this includes Autism, will experience some form of sexual abuse in their life. 49% will experience 10 or more incidents of sexual abuse.  
– Valenti-Heim, D.; Schwartz, L. The Sexual Abuse Interview for Those with Developmental Disabilities.

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This being said, there are people with all types of ability levels who are in healthy relationships. These may be not be the conventional hetero-normative one man and one woman, but the relationship may make the person happy. There may be people who have intimate relationships we don’t understand or that may go against our beliefs in relation to age, gender, or any number of other variables.

That’s not our business.

To voice our opinions of what a person does with their sexuality it to slut-shame them. I’ve seen it happen very recently to a young woman was told she should not have a boyfriend until she has resolved all her mental health issues and she should break up with him because there are stressers in her life. There will always be stressful things happening in our lives. I’m currently experiencing some seasonal stressers, but I do my best to deal with things in a healthy manner for my overall mental health. I’m sure some of the people reading this right now are experiencing stress. Sexuality is not a reward to being a good person or not having a stressful life; sexuality is part of the human experience.

I can’t judge someone for how they choose to express their express their sexuality because I’m not them. There are so many mixed and contradictory messages out there, all we can do is help educate people on what healthy relationships should look like and not judge people for how they choose to express their sexuality. As long as a person is in a healthy and happy relationship, why should anyone else be affected by it? Sexuality is not a one size fits all box, it’s custom made.

Goldfish in Boxes

Little boxes on the hillside,
Little boxes made of ticky tacky,
Little boxes on the hillside,
Little boxes all the same.
“Little Boxes”- Malvina Reynolds
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One of the main difficulties of having an invisible disability is it is invisible. Sometimes my coping strategies make it appear as if I’m just like everyone else so people don’t always understand why I struggle with the “simple” things. These same people don’t realize the need to check every time I leave the house to make sure pants were not forgotten when rushing out the door. Little things some people do without thinking confuse me and vice versa.

The biggest issue I personally struggle with is relationships. Relationships are all based on communication in some way, shape, or form. Having a disability rooted in social difficulties obviously can be a big challenge. It can cause strain on my relationships because people don’t always understand me.

Letting people see my flaws and challenges takes a lot of trust on my part. I wear my heart on my sleeve and being so kind can hurt me as much as help me. It is all too common for people to use and abuse people like me since I’m such a caring person. Manipulation does not make sense to me and I am always the last to know if someone is not being straightforward with me or worse, if the person is dangerous.

The way the world looks to me helps to compound my relationship issues. Why wouldn’t people be nice to each other? What harm can come from having conversations with people? If I have the power to help someone by doing something as small as listening to their problems, why wouldn’t I?! Love, happiness, and compassion are traits spread by giving them to others.

That being said, I’m not sure when people care about me. This is not a “poor Brigid” moment, it’s just the truth. It is very confusing to think people will be there for me the way I am there for them. As empathic as Autistic people are, unless people bluntly tell us how they feel we don’t understand. Unspoken emotions and unsaid promises are never fully received. Like a living game of telephone, the message get muddled.

It was a joke for a long time about having an accidental ex-boyfriend because I never realized we were dating until we broke up. My friend Stephen Shore tells the story of accidentally dating the woman who is now his wife. How can this happen? Well as someone who has dated another friend for an undetermined period of time before we decided to take a step back, it’s REALLY easy for me to not understand the nature of relationships.

Why?

I’ve mentioned schemas before or basically having a blueprint of how things are supposed to look like. As a person who needs those blueprints to make sense of the world, there are not always the best design plans floating around. Movies and books promote conflict in relationships to move things along or bring people closer together. I thought there were right and wrong ways to date a person or to be someone’s BFF (Best Friend Forever). As someone who also has brain damage and does not actively remember the majority of the first 16 years of my life, I’m missing a LOT of the blueprints even other Autistic people have learned.

The hard/easy truth I’ve learned over the past year is no one has any idea what relationships are supposed to look like. Everyone is stumbling around looking for the magical blueprints that don’t exist to have the perfect relationship. Millions of magazines are sold every year telling people how to be a good friend, girlfriend, boyfriend, or a good person who people want to be friends with. Most of this information is so conflicting it can be comical at times, but distressing for the same reason: there is not a “right” way.

So I’m working now, and will continue, to try to figure out what a friend looks like to me. We teach Autistic kids how to treat other people so they can have friends, but no one teaches us how friends should treat us. We stumble sometimes in the world and get hurt because we don’t understand why people would want to take advantage of us or lie to us.

Growing up, I heard the story a goldfish could only grow as big as its environment. My brain translated this into a picture of different sized containers contained fish of corresponding sizes. Somewhere in the translation or transcription of my brain, I thought relationships worked the same way. As much as I’d like to put relationships into nice little boxes to organize things, they are wild things. Just like goldfish, relationships continue to grow as you grow. Some relationships are only for a short time and other cases you find friends for life. I’m still working on understanding what relationships are supposed to look like and I’ve tried my best to not hurt others by my lack of understanding. In many ways, I’m just a kid and doing the best I can to act like an adult. In more ways, I’m just like everyone else because we are all trying to do that.

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“The most common cause of stunting is a lack of understanding of a fish’s requirements resulting in a lack of appropriate care.  A stunted fish is not a healthy fish.”- It’s Not Just a Fish Organization