The Destructiveness of Fear

So. Boycott Autism Speaks is sponsoring a flash blog with the theme of “Love, not Fear.” It got me thinking.

I was trying to come up with something snappy to say – something intelligent and witty, something quotable. But in the end, I kept coming back to the same thing: that we all, allistic and autistic, neurotypical and not, need to adopt this as a mantra, for a happier world.

Fear breeds divisiveness. From both ends of neurology.

Neurotypical people fear for us – good parents and allies fear society’s ignorance and cruelty. But some neurotypicals also fear us. I’ve seen it firsthand. Coworkers and potential friends and distant family members would view me like a bomb. How do I talk to her? Is she going to start screaming over something? What if she snaps and hurts me? Why does she flap her hands like that? She’s not normal.

It’s hurtful, and it’s dehumanizing to hear out loud. To hear fear in someone’s voice when you’ve done nothing to deserve it except be born and live your life. I hear fear in Suzanne Wright’s appalling words when she talks about autism like an epidemic – but it’s not fear for us. It’s fear of us. And I console myself with how empty her life must be – how much fuller and brighter it would be if she chose to love who we are instead of fear what we could be.

There is another side of the coin, though. Some autistics definitely fear some neurotypicals. Even when their neurotypicality is the only thing that connects them to the monsters of childhood, of young adulthood.

Some of our fears are absolutely justified. Some allistics – some fellow students, some coworkers, some caregivers, some parents – will abuse us, or “snap” and harm us. And be lionized, martyred and cast like Joan of Arc being saved from the stake in a disgusting display not seen when it’s a neurotypical child suffering.

But others – others do good. Some fellow students stand up for us. Some coworkers love to work with us. Some caregivers want the best for us. Some parents will fight to the death for us. It’s sometimes hard for me to remember that, with all that we see in the news, in internet comments, in our own families.

But I try to love, and not fear.

I want neurotypicals to love, and not fear.

The biggest myth I encounter as an autistic is that we are not capable of emotion or empathy. If you put aside your terror and your sadness, you might see that we are capable of great love. And in this day and age, we have to be fearless to give it.

I urge anyone reading – be as fearless as we are. Don’t be afraid of what we deal with or how we think. Love the person we can become.

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4 comments

  1. I’ve seen the fear happen on facebook pages, where a (probably) clueless parent says something that strikes at the heart of an autistic person – there are deep wounds. But if parents are trying but clueless, making mistakes because they don’t know, how do we ease everyone’s fear so that the parents don’t get frightened away from their absolutely best resource (autistic adults) by the passion of the reaction (that can be taken as anger/attack if one doesn’t know the history)?

    I understand the hairtrigger reaction, as I had some experiences as a tween that caused me to live in fear & anxiety for a VERY long time. It takes work to overcome this, I know.

    How do we neurotypical parents of autistic kiddos help bridge the gap?

    1. I think both sides have to accept that we’re not born knowing everything. Autistic adults have to be aware that good parents, especially when their child is just diagnosed, are terrified in the productive way – that they understand the world is not a nice place, and are frightened that their children will be chewed up by it. Parents have to be aware of the struggles autistic adults face, and the fact that there IS a lot of misinformation and fearmongering out there. Some of the parents I’ve spoken to are seriously of the opinion that if it has an institute or nonprofit label on the paper, it must be true, never mind that they have a walking, talking contradiction (me!) right in front of them.

      It’s not always possible for either side, but respect is the key, and there’s a difference between fear and respect – autistic adults must realize that not every parent is Kelli Stapleton or Dorothy Spourdalakis, and neurotypical parents/caregivers must realize that we as grown autistics have a unique and helpful perspective that they will never duplicate, simply because we are autistic and they are not. Dialogue has to at least start with an acknowledgment that we understand what the other deals with.

      1. I am so with you. I’ve stuck my foot in my mouth accidentally on facebook (sigh). But I am so unbelievably thankful that I was able to find autistic adults to help me understand my kiddo. I guess the more of us that can work to gently get others to listen instead of react, the better it’ll be. Slow progress, but progress 🙂 Thanks for your words!

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