The vulnerabilities of being non-autistic


I’ve heard a lot of talk about how bad autism is, because of the trouble autistic people get into. We are either harmful to other people, or, through ignorance of danger or lack of social awareness, vulnerable, and this somehow makes autism a bad thing.

If this is true, if we follow that reasoning above, then being non-autistic is a very bad thing indeed.

How many people have been taken advantage of because they were too polite, too invested in social rules, to get out of a situation, or even to see it for what it was? Where many autistic people would have walked away?

How many car accidents have happened because the driver, having a brain that only sees what it expects to see, did not see a problem until it was too late to react to it? Where many autistic drivers would have seen it right away, and used that split-second advantage to react to the situation before it was too late?

How many children have been kidnapped because they were willing to get in a car with a stranger who touched them? Where many autistic people would have been so frightened at the touch that we would have fled?

How many predators have used their knowledge of typical human behavior to smoothly carry out a sexual assault on a non-autistic person? Where the unusual responses of many autistic people would cause them to back off in confusion?

How many non-autistic people have died because they failed to stand up for themselves in a life-threatening situation because of social concerns that autistic people would be unlikely to have?

I am not saying this to minimize anything that has happened to autistic people, or to claim that the above things don’t happen to autistic people. But I look around me, and all the time I see people hurt because of byproducts of being wired standardly, things that might not have happened were they autistic. I see them being hurt emotionally, I see them being hurt physically. Some of them die because of it. Yet I have not once heard someone say, “But doesn’t this mean… wouldn’t it be better if they were cured?” I only hear that when these things happen to autistic people.

Non-autistic people are at serious risk every day because of their ‘deficits’. I’m completely serious when I say that I sometimes wonder how they manage (well… often they don’t, but I really can see a lot of how they do it if I think about it). There’s a lot about the world they don’t perceive, there’s a lot of habits they fall into that are alien to most autistics and utterly dangerous, there’s a lot they don’t understand how to react to. Just as autistics have our own areas we’re not great at, non-autistic people have gaping holes in their ability to relate to the world in a ‘safe’ manner, holes they are ordinarily unaware of and at times have had to discover through science before they noticed them themselves.

It’s my understanding that most non-autistic people are horrified at the very thought of becoming autistic, even if it would solve some of their problem areas and vulnerabilities. Even if in many instances, a dead non-autistic person would still be alive if they were autistic (an idea that a lot of non-autistic people would meet with offense or incredulity, now think of how it sounds to a lot of autistic people when you say the opposite). So, to people who have brought forth these examples of the vulnerability of autistics in order to promote cure, if you don’t want to become more autistic to deal with your vulnerabilities (which, even if you have illusions of their non-existence, are many), why do you think autistics would necessarily want to become less autistic to deal with ours?

About Mel Baggs

Hufflepuff. Came from the redwoods, which tell me who I am and where I belong in the world. I relate to objects as if they are alive, but as things with identities and properties all of their own, not as something human-like. Culturally I'm from a California Okie background. Crochet or otherwise create constantly, write poetry and paint when I can. Proud member of the developmental disability self-advocacy movement. I care a lot more about being a human being than I care about what categories I fit into.

8 responses »

  1. “Where many autistic people would have been so frightened at the touch that we would have fled?”

    Yeah, or turned around and bit the toucher.

    My mom who is very blunt and probably ADD (now past 80 years old) had an attempt at molest done to her the man of the house where she had gone to help the woman of the house to take care of a child… my mom was maybe 10 years old.

    She let the guy know that she wasn’t going to have any part of it when he started to try to molest her and demanded that he and his wife take her home, immediately. This family lived in another town and they had to drive my mom back to her home. My mom got out of the car and told her mom in front of the couple what the man had done. If I remember right the child they had was disabled somehow and the man was physically abusing that child… or something like that and my mom exposed how he had been mean to the child, too.

    In high school there was a peeping tom guy who used to sit in his car outside a building at where the girls had home-ec class on the second floor. The girls went into this room with windows opening out toward where the car was and they would take off their school clothes in order to try on clothes that they were sewing in the class. One day my mom looked out and saw the man playing with himself in the car…
    She was freaked out and told the other girls. They said, “Yeah, he’s always out there.” My mom, on the other hand, immediately went to the principals office and told him and the letcher/peeper was sent packing.

    I think it’s so funny to see how my mom’s social ineptness led her to do the right thing, where as social suavitee on the part of other girls made them victims or participants in something that could have led to something worse (the peeping tom thing).

    My mom really bugs lots of people, even today, she’s quite outgoing and tactless in many ways and so steps on lots of toes, but she’s not really mean.

    I think I made a pretty good target for molesters maybe.. I wasn’t molested as a child, though, but I think that was partly luck. I wasn’t bold like my mom to tell people off. I may have been too odd to be “attractive” though. I was abused/molested as a teenager, but that was a different situation. I was drunk. (Do NOT try this at home) I heard about what happened to me later when I came to.

    I haven’t been drunk since I was 19. I’ve managed to stay out of trouble with men since I turned 20 if you don’t count a bad marriage and divorce. I got quite cynical somewhere in my 20’s and it has become quite difficult to take advantage of me in just about any way. I suspect just about anyone of being a creep and out to take advantage of me somehow…until they prove otherwise. Then some of them stay in the partial suspect realm forever…so I don’t let down my guard.

    If you are abused and you decide you hate people, and you are autistic, and therefore less dependent on people’s opinion of you, you can become safer, almost bullet-proof, as far as manipulation goes.

    Creep: “Come here sweety, sit on my lap or I won’t talk to you anymore”

    Autistic: “Get lost you creep”

  2. Unfortunately I also had a few bad run-ins before developing an assumption that everyone was out to get me unless proven otherwise. There were certain points in my life when I was overly dependant on others’ opinions of me, though I don’t necessarily think this is a comment on my ‘level of functioning’ or what have you; there are many valid ways to be autistic. Mostly, I was frightened that I was going to end up liked by no one, and therefore with no one to turn to for help, if my primary sources of support dropped out; and I still have a craving to be liked and understood by someone and to fit in somewhere. From suppressing my own, innate senses of “this is wrong” and “they don’t have a right to do that,” I got in a lot of trouble, though.

    It seemed that people always got angry at me when I was honest– for instance, if I got upset about gender stereotyping, I’d be yelled at for being a ‘fanatical feminist’ and ‘making a big deal over a little joke that’s true of most people anyway’; so I got to feel that my opinions were inherently bad, wrong, and terribly offensive, and should be replaced with others’. Then my rages would get even worse from unsuccessful attempts to suppress my feelings. Every time I had a strong opinion, someone was disgusted and shouting at me for being an angry, hateful fanatic, which *did* hurt; so I decided I shouldn’t be a hypocrite and dish out what I couldn’t take.

    The event that finally began to shake down my self-enforced tendency to meekly comply with everyone’s wishes– due to fear that any dissent would get me pegged as an angry bitch– was nearly getting in trouble at work for breaking the rules to please a very rude patron. I had “you must not give them a reason to yell at you” going head-to-head with “but you’re not technically allowed to do that,” and the don’t-let-them-get-angry faction won out.

    Later on I began to question myself: what *else* would I have done, other than break the library rules, to keep someone happy? If someone had come in and demanded a sexual favor of me, would I have given it to avoid trouble? The thought frightened me– particularly considering that I’ve had people try to lure me into such situations before, as an adult, and I *should* have gotten wise to the warning signals. I told off an obscene phone caller when I was 10, but somehow I lost much of that ability over the years in trying to acquiesce to the dominant culture’s notions of how women should behave, and had to work past my self-conditioning to regain it. Hindsight is 20/20, of course, and I’m now coming to see all the places where I could have avoided trouble if I hadn’t become convinced that standing up for myself in any way, shape, or form was not permissible, and followed my real instincts.


  3. There was one time by the way when I think the good side of being autistic totally canceled out the part that made me vulnerable. Sticking to a routine no matter what, and disliking touch, meant that even though I didn’t know until much later that a couple people were up to no good, I also did not go anywhere with them.

  4. How many non-autistic people have died because they failed to stand up for themselves in a life-threatening situation because of social concerns that autistic people would be unlikely to have?

    Exactly. Also, how many people (autistic or otherwise) have died because of non-autistic people’s failure to stand up for them because of social concerns?

    If someone is, say, drowning, they are less likely to be saved if there’s lots of people around. Often, the watchers are busy “fitting in” by doing nothing (since everyone else is doing nothing), and the person dies.

  5. I had an episode in my freshman year of college wherein an older student (well, he was 23 and I was 18) literally offered to show me his cabin in the woods.

    I had absolutely no idea what his real intentions were, and when he was in the process of showing me the cabin (yes, I got into a car with a stranger) he randomly tried to kiss me.

    I didn’t let him, and asked what the heck he was doing. He said he figured it was “what I wanted”, as if I somehow should have known what was going on. He drove me back to school without incident, but I REALLY feel like I am lucky to be alive, and that nothing beyond an attempted kiss happened.

    But he did leave me alone from then on…I’m guessing that my “signals” in response to his overtures made me less interesting.

    Throughout my life I have found that in some ways I am “immune” to manipulation in ways that most other people are highly susceptible. I consider arguments fully based on their merit, rather than on something like a speaker’s “charisma”.

    If something doesn’t make sense, it doesn’t make sense, no matter what sort of body language or tone a person might be using.

    I really do think this sort of thing has helped me in life. I may be more vulnerable in some ways due to autism, but also (due to autism) I am less vulnerable in other ways. It balances.

  6. I think you made some great points. At the heart of your post is that disability is socially constructed and so we *choose* to see what makes people vulnerable or not in particular ways. The child who is kidnapped because he or she is not afraid of strangers is a victim of the bad behavior of the kidnapper, we don’t collectively view the child as being outgoing and friendly and not afraid of strangers as a bad thing, we put the blame where it belongs, on the perpetrator. On the other hand, that same scenerio involving a child who is disabled in some way (I don’t know enough about autism to use a good specific example, so I’m going to be general, it still gets the point across) looms different to the rest of the world. Oh, we still see the perpetrator as bad (maybe even worse because he preys on the “helpless”), but we also assume that an able child would not have been kidnapped in that same situation. We see the problem with an able child being kidnapped almost soley in terms of the kidnapper being bad and doing something wrong. We see the problem with a disabled child being kidnapped as partly about the kidnapper doing something wrong and partly about the fact that the disabled kid may have been unable to defend him ir herself. It’s a double standard and it’s truly part of the larger problem with ableism in general. No one’s body is perfect – we all have weaknesses somewhere, it’s that we choose to see certain things as more weak and detrimental than others, label them in a certain way and create a new socially agreed upon set of rules for defining “normal” and “not normal.”

  7. There was some kerfuffle about auties driving in the USA. Well whizzo! I spent 11 years driving taxis in Sydney in my younger years, and the barking stupidity of most drivers has to be seen to be believed, and only then with difficulty.

    Of course, the poor little suassages are disabled. Poor dears. It must be gruesome to be non-aspie – how do they cope with it? Answering phones, talking to people, falling over, crashing into things.

    Yes, it’s a disability.

    Interestingly, a lot of the very worst drivers are in expensive cars in expensive suburbs. I had a theory that a balanced mind and good social skills had, when driving, about the same health risks as having unprotected sex with a dead heroin-addicted goat.

    But this theory of disability is far more politically correct. We no longer need to fear and loathe them. They’re disabled, so everything they do must be acceptible, unless it contravenes the laws of the day of the outpourings of whatever the latest pressure group decrees.

    On the subject of that: I presume all the non-aspies are seriously irritated regarding the serial stupidity of the so-called war on terror.

    I suppose that after a while the only enthusiasts for that most foolish of all quests for wealth will be the tight knot of retards currently dribbling on the carpets in the white house.

    One day I will count up all my disabilities. Should I include the facts that I play 3 instruments to a professional standard and have functioned as a professional in 3 other industries?


  8. Throughout my life I have found that in some ways I am “immune” to manipulation in ways that most other people are highly susceptible. I consider arguments fully based on their merit, rather than on something like a speaker’s “charisma”.

    One need only look at cults and charismatic dictators like Hitler to see how much harm can be done by the NT tendency to focus on things like charisma and body language

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