Spectrum Women, Walking to the Beat of Autism
Chapter 7 – Personal Safety by Liane Holliday Willey
While the understanding of the variability of autistic realities is moving from the concept previously confused by co-occurring conditions as completely debilitating, it is possibly leading to the belief that if all looks well, it is well.
“Simply put, the recognition that autistics are capable in many valuable and unique ways should not be morphed into a belief that we are beyond the need for tangible supports meant to protect us from imminent dangers that we aren’t wired to recognize.”
Some say women appear better at hiding the traits of our autistic challenges and the truths of our deficits. This hiding in plain sight could also be due to women’s problems being written off to the modern-day equivalent of vague catch-all conditions similar to those previously labeled hysteria or neurosis.
The fact remains, as evidenced by my own story and many more, our concerns are often not taken seriously. Even after compelling evidence of 50 years of life-threatening struggles, my official diagnosis report included this statement: “Tendency to over endorse psychological symptoms”.
When pressed to explain this determination, my testing psychologist affirmed his belief that I was actually doing quite well despite what I knew was significant distress, and he deemed me certainly not in need of autism-specific assistance.
This isn’t an indictment of the psychologist so much as it is of society and the narrow-minded professional education resources. Sadly the underlying message is that women’s complaints are not to be taken seriously other than as a result of their own making.
These facts would explain many other times in my life where my own understanding of my distress in a situation was not believed or corroborated by observers.
For autistics who don’t have a good internal sense of boundaries, continual dismissal of our fears and anxieties can cause us to become more confused about our own ability to discern our mental states and to lose confidence in our own skills of autonomy. This is a self-perpetuating dangerous state that can have us believing that speaking up or out is being difficult, bitchy or hormonal; in other words ‘bad’.
The first most difficult barrier to assuring our personal safety is understanding personal boundaries and the right to assured autonomy.
I did not understand my rights to govern my own comfort and my own body.
I did not understand the concept that people in positions of authority, and otherwise trusted and ordinary people could be abusers who did not have my best interest at heart. I mistakenly thought that monsters had monster faces and clear-cut behaviors that pointed them out as untrustworthy.
I really did not know what abuse was.
“In fact, and make no mistake about this, abuse is a multifaceted state that can take many forms including (but not clearly limited to) any word or behavior pushed upon another person in a way that sparks physical, emotional, financial, sexual, negligent shocks, or after-effects.”
It may be the single most important concept to understand, we always, and at all times, have the right for no to mean no.
Predators have a sick sense for what motivates vulnerable individuals to relinquish their personal power.
“There is absolutely no set of circumstances under which you are obligated to move beyond your comfort zone.”
Liane lists 4 scenarios that describe ways we can be victims of economic abuse. Anything that keeps you from financial independence and which involves being controlled by the decisions of persons in power over you is likely economic abuse.
Too often I was a victim of the first scenario Liane describes. I was harassed at work to the point of resigning to save them needing to make up reasons to fire me.
Liane asserts that no matter your challenges with math or finances, this is one area where it’s imperative you learn enough not to be at the mercy of others.
For many reasons, autistics can be fooled or convince ourselves to remain in a physically abusive situation. To help autistics better recognize physical abuse, Liane provides a list of unacceptable abuses.
Know that not recognizing these things is not a reason to beat yourself up. There are valid reasons that may have prevented you from realizing this sooner.
It is particularly important to see that any past reporting to authorities might have resulted in our being dismissed for many reasons beyond our control, do not let not being heard color your own perceptions of what you know to be truth.
“… we don’t often look the part of a person who has really been abused, “
There are way too many ways emotional abuse can go unperceived. From the subtle ways, people get their digs in.
I used to say of my school days that Catholic girls have a special talent for delivering insults that can easily be defended as having benign intent or even be seen as compliments. ( “Your hair looks so much better today”)
Liane provides a really thorough and descriptive list of emotionally abusive situations; unfortunately, I can say I can personally check off every one of those.
Liane ends this chapter with the acknowledgment that we all have different personal thresholds for what we find acceptable and tolerable, it is important to know the extent and impact of the trespass over our boundaries when attempting to self-advocate. If things do go past this threshold, it is important to have the strength of conviction, and not feel shame in reaching out for help.
Dr. Garnett on Personal Safety
Dr. Garnett outlines and restates the reason autistics, even those without co-occurring intellectual challenges can be vulnerable to abuse.
-Individuals on the autism spectrum are not neurologically ‘wired’ to read the intentions of others.
-They may not recognize abuse because of their tendency for literal thinking and self-blame.
-Their inner fears of rejection and/or low self-esteem can lead to an acceptance of certain levels of abuse.
-Their innate social confusion and intricate analysis of social situations can lead to poor judgment and decision-making.
-Their natural tendency to believe in the honesty and innocence of other people can lead to naiveté and vulnerability.
-Perpetrators recognize that the person is unlikely to tell others about the abuse because of their high levels of anxiety and lack of assertiveness skills.
Dr. Garnett outlines the actions that can and should be taken by individuals, families, schools, and community to help autistics and help autistics help themselves.