Hello, and welcome back to The Autistic Writer. I hope you’re well. I’ve had a pretty good week, for the most part. There’s been a little bit of a downside with side-effects from some meds I’m taking, but overall, I’ve been quite optimistic. I think this sense of wellbeing is partly to do with becoming settled in my home, having been in the new flat for a good few weeks now. My daily routines have become more bearable, and the improvement is dramatic. It also helps that I’m working daily on my next novel. If I’m ever not writing fiction, I feel like a fraud. Being a writer isn’t about what you’ve done in the past, it’s about the writing you’re doing.
On Thursday, I met my son for lunch, and we had a good chat about many things. After we said our goodbyes, I realised I was feeling very cheerful. This is such a rare occurrence because, since going through autistic burnout, most days I feel like this mainly neurotypical world is a place I’d rather not be. As someone who has been through some horrendous, even life-changing, periods of depression, I don’t kid myself this good mood will last forever, but I’m going to enjoy it while it lasts.
I want to talk about arguing this week, but first, a little diversion into one of my interests. I know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but allow me this… football.
I can’t let the week pass without commenting on what happened midweek with the football team I follow, Sheffield Wednesday FC. I haven’t been to a match for a long time. This is partly because I don’t feel I can tolerate the crowd and noise very well anymore, but also because I strongly disagree with the current ownership of the club. I’ve never been able to afford a season ticket, but when ticket prices were cheaper I used to go to as many home matches as I could, which was pretty regular. I’ve always been a Wednesday supporter, and loved going to matches with my son. Once, he treated me to a season ticket, but we were both dismayed that season as the cracks under the new owner were really starting to appear.
The club owner, Mr Chansiri, has made many mistakes in handling SWFC, and I feel as though the soul has been ripped out of the club. Although football is all about money these days, most supporters who hand over their cash for tickets don’t feel like paying customers; we feel like part of a community and a tradition. But when Mr Chansiri started referring to us as customers, it was emblematic – regardless of anything lost in translation – of how the ethos of the club had changed. I’ve vowed never to attend another match while the club is under Chansiri ownership. But I still feel like I support the old, traditional spirit of the club. Sheffield Wednesday is the foundation stone for my general interest in football and football tactics. Anyway, the point is that even though I can’t get on with Mr Chansiri, and don’t feel like I can face going to matches right now, I still follow the team’s progress. And this week, something ridiculous happened. You may have seen the headlines on the news…
Sheffield Wednesday played the second of a two-leg semi-final in the League One playoffs, against Peterborough. Wednesday lost the first leg with a colossal hammering of 4-0. Few people thought Wednesday could rescue the tie in the second leg at home. No team had ever turned over a 4-0 deficit in the history of playoffs. But Wednesday roared back into their own 4-0 lead at home… then conceded a goal… then scored another late in injury time to make it 5-5 on aggregate, before winning a dramatic penalty shootout! Good grief! I’m happy for all the fans who made the effort to go to that second leg. There are times I miss going to football matches. Maybe one day, I’ll feel more like I can handle the sensory onslaught and proximity issues, recant my vow, give Mr Chansiri a break, and go again. Maybe. But honestly, while the spirit of SWFC remains in my veins, the actual club in its current status doesn’t feel like it’s mine. I know a lot of other fans would argue over this with me – they have done in the past on social media. But I feel the way I feel. And talking of arguments… is winning an argument really what arguing – or debating – is all about? Let’s talk autism…
It’s remarkable how many times people mention to me that someone in their family is autistic, or that they themselves are autistic, or might be autistic, or are in some way neurodivergent. I feel rather honoured when people share that with me. I’m very openly autistic, and will talk about it with people whenever I feel I can. Sometimes, I know, my openness can make people a little uncomfortable, because they’re just not used to autism being talked about so brazenly. But often, as mentioned, people will come to me and share these facts about themselves or their loved ones.
Sometimes – not always – people who talk to me about, for example, a cousin who has just been diagnosed “with autism”, will say things I’m not okay with. The whole “with autism” terminology is one such thing (newcomers to this blog, please read the Words Have Power section of the website). Or there might be talk of “severe” autism, or “high functioning,” and so on. But I don’t challenge it. This might surprise people who read this blog regularly, or who follow me on Twitter. You see, I’ve always had a bit of a reputation as someone who doesn’t shy away from a debate, or even a heated argument. In fact, if I find out someone on social media is bullying autistic people, I will actively seek them out for cross words. So, why am I so different when talking to people face-to-face about autism? Am I a bit of a coward? A “keyboard warrior”? No, that’s not it…
It’s a well-known phenomenon in psychology that if you tell someone their opinions or beliefs are wrong, in a straightforward, assertive way, they are likely to double down on their opinion, regardless of any evidence you use to back up your position. Virtually all people react this way; you back someone into a corner, and they come out fighting. There are exceptions, of course. People who are naturally inclined toward, or trained in, logic and critical thinking, are more open to criticism of their views, and more likely to reconsider in the face of evidence. But most people when confronted with a dissenting view react as if it is a threat, double down, and argue back as if their unfounded opinion is incontrovertible fact. Anti-vaxxers and flat-Earthers are great, hilarious examples of this.
Debates between logical, critical thinkers are wonderful things, consisting of a combined attempt to get to the truth of a matter. But listen to a debate between two opinionated combatants, and marvel as they move the goalposts, ridicule each other’s points, and make personal attacks. It can be amusing, but also a bit bewildering.
Autistic people, of course, have a natural tendency toward logical and critical thinking, whereas neurotypical people tend toward emotional reasoning and heuristic impulsivity. These are only general tendencies. Being autistic doesn’t automatically make you a great critical thinker, and being neurotypical doesn’t prevent you from developing brilliant critical thinking skills. But the tendencies are there. Personally, when I was younger, my tendency toward critical thinking was always present, but it was often overwhelmed by the impulsive, ADHD aspect of my brain, and sometimes undermined by naive overconfidence during times when I was masking particularly successfully.
These days, older and wiser, I choose my battles and try to make sure I’m on solid ground before throwing my opinions around. In some situations, I’m happy to go in for a tough debate with someone – especially on autism issues. In other situations though, I back right off, even when I know I’m in the right. Why do I do this? What is the determiner? Reader, I shall explain…
Before I get into any debate these days, I ask myself, what is there to be gained or lost? If someone confides in me that their cousin, “Suffers from severe autism”, it might have taken them right out of their comfort zone to tell me that. If I start unloading, even gently, about how that language is unhelpful, inaccurate, and so on, I’m probably going to make that person go into a combative mode, and the whole thing will be counter-productive, as they insist some professional has used the term “severe autism”, etc, etc. It’s much better if I can drop into the conversation a few helpful tidbits of information that might provoke some thought further down the line.
This softly-softly approach I take in such situations is, of course, very different from how I conduct myself on this blog and on social media. Let me take online bullies, for example. Every now and again, I come across some brazen fool, usually on Twitter, trotting out some nonsense about autism and bullying autistic people who try to put them straight. I revel in this stuff. Typically, I will dismantle the bully’s argument with facts and reason (even in the usual case of that person having completely abandoned reason) and then move on to making fun of them because, why not?
Ridicule is a valid tool against bullies. But here is an important point: I’m not doing it to “win” an argument with the bully; it’s not possible to reason with someone who has abandoned reason. The real purpose of these exchanges is to get the bully to expound their vile, ableist views as loudly and clearly as possible. Why would I want this? Well, it’s for the benefit of other people who come across that thread. Maybe they’ve held ableist views of their own, or have been fooled by the many myths about autism, and seeing those views rejected, dismantled and ridiculed makes them think again. This is a subtle point: If that person reading such a thread had been on the receiving end of the argument, they might have gone straight into combative mode. But coming as a third party to a debate between other people, there is at least a chance they might reconsider their position. If nothing else, a seed might be sown that bears fruit later down the line. I’m not just arguing for the sake of it.
It’s not a foolproof approach. Someone who subscribes to various autism myths, or who has internalised ableist views, might come across one of my Twitter confrontations, or a particularly acerbic blog post, and be offended by it. This might make them feel particularly defensive about views and opinions that have so far trusted and held dear, and to which they now cling more fiercely. They might never interact with me, but go away seeing me as some kind of enemy. Well, that’s kinda the risk I have to take, because the alternative is to not write about the difficulties autistic people face; to not do anything at all. I’m not kidding myself; I don’t think I’m changing the world with this modest little blog; I’m simply one drop in the ocean of the ever-swelling voice of the autistic community. But that’s the point; oceans are made of individual drops. No drops; no ocean. So I’ll keep at it.
I will never put this blog behind a paywall. I want anyone, anywhere, to be able to access this content at any time. There are costs incurred running this website, however. So if you like what I’m trying to do here, please feel free to show your support with a small contribution via buymeacoffee.com.
That’s all for this week. Until next time, take care.
You can find The Autistic Writer on all your favourite social media channels
Why Do I Write This Blog?
When I first found out I was autistic, I was a middle-aged adult and I knew nothing about autism. I quickly learned that there was a serious shortage of information and resources for adults in my situation. With this blog, I aim to inform about autism and autism-related issues as I learn, hopefully helping people who are on a similar journey of discovery. Like anyone who writes a blog, I want to reach as many readers as possible; if you like what I’m doing, please share it with your friends and followers. I will never hide this blog behind a paywall, but running the website does incur costs. If you would like to support, feel free to make a small contribution at BuyMeACoffee.Com.
You might also be interested in David Scothern’s blog, Mortgage Advisor on FIRE, which covers a range of topics including mental health issues and financial independence.
One thought on “Part 138: Not For the Sake Of It”
Educating people is hard work! It’s awesome that you do your best, and I feel that allies should work on doing this too so the burden doesn’t fall solely on autistic people.