As a man on the autism spectrum I am no stranger to making blunders that were well intentioned. I long ago lost count of the occasions that I said something I didn’t realize would be controversial or offensive and there have been more than a few situations where I said something out loud that I didn’t know was meant to be private. Many people on the spectrum struggle in similar ways and our community has a lot of shared stories of blunder.
So I am very sympathetic when someone else does something like I describe above. I can empathize. However I had a curious situation that struck me as similar and found myself sort of confounded on what action to take, I am referring to my first official internet “hater.” That’s right my friends and followers, I am officially internet famous, I am now controversial.
On my Instagram account, my profile is listed under “autistic jiu jitsu,” and on my Instagram account as well as my website by the same name, I regularly post video’s and blogs detailing some of my interests and shared information that I find engrossing while I also spread awareness and share information regarding autism and mental health challenges. On my most recent video post I detail a breakdown of a Brazilian jiu jitsu technique with a dear friend of mine named Professor Ram, an owner and instructor at Yorkdale martial arts academy, in which we discuss the use and effectiveness of certain techniques from the perspectives of competition versus self defense. On that video someone unknown to me commented asking,
“Do you really have autism? Or are you insulting people on the spectrum.”
I didn’t know what to make of the question. I felt like it might have been well intentioned, it seemed like the person was perhaps looking to defend persons on the spectrum. However asking someone if they are “really” autistic, or saying things like “you don’t look autistic,” is sadly a common occurrence for many of us on the spectrum. In a way I suppose it’s something of an indication of how well one is functioning in a neural typical world when people ask such a question but on the other hand it is steeped in re-enforcing a stereotype that persons on the spectrum are all stereotypes after the fashion of Dustin Hoffman’s famous film character “rain man.”
I chose to use the opportunity to educate the person that was asking. Informing him that being asked to authenticate ones autism is something of a cultural taboo for the autism community and giving examples of famous and successful scientists and celebrities that are on the spectrum that might not fit hurtful stereotypical expectations. Then my sense of indignation got the better of me and I finished my explanation by taking the low road telling my first hater where he could go.
Of course I am no stranger to making blunders. So I sadly must confess that I wasn’t surprised when my hater responded and explained that they too are on the spectrum and that they were asking me because they wanted to be sure I wasn’t using the title “autistic jiu jitsu” as a shameless lowbrow effort of self-promotion. I would be a hypocrite to ask my hater to verify his own level on the spectrum and so instead reminded myself that such blunders are par for the course when one is on the spectrum. I live by a mantra and have for much of my life. That mantra is,
“Failure is the framework of success.”
So I did what many of us on the spectrum have had to do many a time. I accepted my blunder and aimed higher hoping to improve and learn. I messaged the hater back inviting him to message me and offering friendship over our humorous, I hate to say it but also stereotypical, blunder of communication.
How fun can life be if we can’t laugh at our own mistakes as we all stumble through the wonder of living? In the end the best thing we can aim for is friendship and that is built on communication, even if we blunder.