When non-autistic people walk out of their homes, they are “taking a walk” or “walking somewhere” or something like that.
When autistic people walk out of our homes, we are… wandering!
I don’t know what it is that gives people that impression. But I have been accused of wandering when:
- Taking a walk.
- Waiting outside rather than inside for staff to show up.
- Trying to take a bus.
- Running away from a fight that broke out at a day program.
- Leaving the room to avoid reacting physically in anger.
- Trying to escape institutions.
- Going on long walks to explore the geography of an area.
The assumption in all of these cases and many more is that we are just kind of moving around without any point to it. I suppose this should not be surprising, since most of what we do is described as purposeless and pointless.
If I were to walk out the door right now — walking, without any mobility aids to make people afraid to look at me or whatever it is they do — I bet someone would call the police in a matter of minutes or hours, to report a “wandering” person in their neighborhood. (Possibly more adjectives would be added, such as disoriented and unresponsive to being shouted at. I have also been described by one neurologist as having some sort of unspecified but severe ‘psychiatric issues’ for, after many years of this being the case, fearing it enough to get a Medic-Alert bracelet — something I did on the advice of a disability professional, mind you.)
But it gets even more interesting. I do sometimes do things involuntarily, without knowing why I do them (I assume there is still a neurological purpose to them), and sometimes while very confused. It is at these times — times when the whole concept of attention is often lost on me or the last thing I want — that I am often referred to as engaging in deliberate, “attention-seeking” behavior. And I have seen this same concept applied to other autistics doing the same thing.
Why our behavior is presumed to be the result of purposeless confusion, while behavior toward an identical goal by others is not, is still a mystery to me. As is why, when our behavior does involve some amount of involuntariness or confusion… suddenly we’re “fully aware of our actions and just using them to manipulate people or get out of doing something”.
Not all those who ‘wander’ are lost. Or even wandering.