If you don’t understand me, it’s your fault; If I don’t understand you, it’s also your fault!
This is one infuriating comment, yet people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) received such comment from some of us, the “neurotypical people”, on a day-to-day basis — when they don’t understand us, it is “they can’t put themselves in our shoes”; when we don’t understand them , it is “their atypical expression or strange behavior”. People with ASD do think and communicate differently, they sometimes do not understand us, and we may also misunderstand them. Therefore, some people with ASD feel they don’t speak the same language and call themselves “aliens”.
In fact, many people with ASD are trying their best to learn to get along with us “earthlings.” They hope to let us know that their “abnormal” behaviors, such as their rigidity, absolute-honesty, and obsessions, mean no harm. Yet, as autism has caused them to have varying degrees of difficulties in social communication, they often offend people without meaning and knowing it. Expecting them to notice and clarify the misunderstandings all by themselves is kind of unfair to them — communication involves two parties — we also should take the initiative to bridge the gaps between us and them.
Maybe we should reflect on what is “abnormal.” Taking height as an example, “normal” refers to the average height of our population, too tall or too short are consider “abnormal”; however, the standard height varies on different factors such as nationality, age, and gender. Similarly, among different cultures, generations, and genders, there are also different social communication or behavior patterns. The mode of communication or behavior that most people are accustomed to is considered “normal.” When we meet foreigners or people in other generations, we occasionally think that their behavior and ideas are a little weird, but these cultural shocks can broaden our horizons.
Sometimes, in order to go along with the mainstream, people have to distort themselves and their children to go on the “normal” path and bury their unique talents and dreams. Let’s respect and cherish individual differences, so we may all walk on the path of our heart and build a global village together.
Chinese version published in Apple Daily on 14 March 2018.