So, Is Your Autism Community Bringing You Down?

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I like almost every autism parent I have encountered online. My personal statistics on this are overwhelmingly positive. I’ve been lucky. And, of course, my page is small. But I can accept that in life people can and will make fools of themselves. It does not define us as a community, it’s just how human nature works. Some people are simply meaner than others. Some are more (or less) emotionally charged. Some are at an intellectual advantage. Or disadvantage. Welcome to the wonderful world of human interaction.

I am certainly no saint. I repeatedly have to stop myself from saying things I might regret. I write ten times more blog entries than I am willing to post, but have let a few slip through the cracks. Maybe this is one of them. There are times when I have been meaner than necessary in a debate. And I pray no one is still whispering about anything I said or did during the summer of 2005- when I proved that the combination of alcohol and fertility drugs make me way more outgoing than I ever intend to be. Consider this my official overdue apology to anyone who just said to themselves, “I remember that summer.”

We all have a long list of things we wish we could take back. But I hope no amount of anger or insult would make me react in a way that compromised my integrity in this community. Some people have a very different definition of integrity, or have no idea how to maintain it when they are angry. Many people are quite mistaken about what a clever comeback is or how ineffective pointless insults are in proving one’s point. We all possess varying degrees of wit and emotional self-control. I guess it’s because we are all human. Unless you are part of the lizard people conspiracy (and I secretly hope you are).

There is temptation to delight in the mistakes of those who we don’t like, and even more temptation to pick sides when a line has been drawn in the sand between a friend and someone we deem undesirable. But if you choose to publicly attack one another with immature insults and mean-spirited conversations, we can all see you doing that.

(I can’t tell you the things I have learned from that stupid Facebook ticker.)

In your clear desire to be visible to your adversary, please consider that you are also visible to the rest of the community. And whether we speak up or not, the rest of us will make up our minds about you and your behavior.

Some of you may have noticed the cyber bullying blog posts about adults bullying each other right here in our own social media corner. I give them my support because the spotlight is effective. I know I’m sure not going to say anything mean to anyone around here right now. But the task of holding people accountable is tricky. Many people don’t mean to be bullies and usually do not believe they are bullies at all. They are still wrong, and are often too stubborn to know when to apologize. They don’t realize how their reaction to others is inappropriate, even if the other person did it first.

It is almost never about good versus evil, but rather a battle over whose human imperfection shines brightest today.

While I have faced these situations again and again in the real world, I have had no arguments with anyone here in the autism community. Like most of you, I am only an audience to it. I am sharing my thoughts because the regular conflict brings me down. Some leaders in this community have disappointed me with their ugliness. They have quietly lost my respect. I need to remind myself why I don’t walk away; so I am sharing my pep talk with the rest of you, who might also be wondering whether or not you belong here. Before we let go of worthwhile relationships prematurely.

I was recently unfriended over an incident I had nothing to do with. Did I not pick sides soon enough or something? I’m not sure. Perhaps they just decided to detach themselves from the environment as a whole, and our friendship was a casualty of that exit. No hard feelings. But it’s too bad. I would never walk away from the good people in this community because I was burned by a few bad ones. Their support is valuable to me, no strings attached.

A few bad examples are nothing compared to what is still an overwhelmingly positive experience. We just get stuck on the negative. But what if I let “Martha My Dear” cloud my entire White Album experience? If I never played that record in an effort to avoid it, think of what I would be missing. We live in a world of technology where I can skip you, or “Martha My Dear” entirely. But usually I go ahead and let it play. It makes me appreciate “I’m So Tired” that much more. I feel the same way about the people in my life. And long ago I accepted “Helter Skelter” as Paul’s apology.

We do our best to live, learn, and let things go. Some of us are better at it than others for a million different reasons. As I mentioned in the beginning, our conflicts do not define us as a community. This is just how human nature works. Not exclusively in our little corner, but in every corner of the world.

So friends, please don’t run away from this community during a moment of disappointment. People will always disappoint you. But I bet like me, you can think of a hundred good examples for every bad one. It’s just like the real world. Count all the people who make you feel good, and be as forgiving as possible. For your own sake.

And if you do find yourself the unwilling star of an autism parenting battle, be careful. Some people may hurt you more than you anticipated. They will make it personal. They will bring friends. But if they can look foolish without it affecting your peace of mind – you win. Let them suffer with their own thoughts. Anger and spite can be painful, and there is no sweeter revenge than being the one who earns everyone’s respect. It won’t matter if they never figure out how wrong they are, because the people who matter will already know. They really will. I recommend sticking around for the ones who matter.


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