So, I had this interesting dream last night, one that I thought brought up some issues important enough to discuss. So, despite the lack of statement in the title, this is actually a “Let’s Talk About It” post. As usual, I will welcome any commentary.
To explain the dream, we’ll have to go back to yesterday (plus a bit of back story), because I think something that happened then was what triggered it. (Note: Seriously rambling post because of it, but there are a few other points in there aside from the main one, so….)
First of all, did you know that St. John’s, NL, has its very own SF/Fantasy/Anime convention, the eighth iteraton of which took place over the weekend (May 23-25/14)? It’s called Sci-Fi on the Rock, and each year they chose a designated charity with whom they split the proceeds of the charity auction. This year (thanks to the fact that the sister of someone who is in my Social Thinking group is on the Convention Committee), they chose the Autism Society of NL to be their designated charity. (And they raised $850 for us in the auction – that’s enough to ensure that either one program isn’t cancelled for a full term, or we can add another program for a full term! Yay, SFotR!)
So, as the designated charity, ASNL had a table at the con, and volunteers were needed to help man it. I volunteered to help for yesterday (Sunday), as I had other stuff to do on Friday and my Social Thinking group takes place on Saturday (and trust me, we’re getting into Paralinguistics, and I’m finding it fascinating. Stay tuned for more posts on that topic). So, I got picked, and spent 5 hours manning the table in Diagon Alley (one of the vendor’s rooms) with Dayna (who happens to be one of the facilitators for the Connections group, as well as the teacher/leader for the adult Social Thinking groups, so we were able to chat about stuff as we know each other).
We had a fair few people stop by our table, considering the placement and the fact that it was Sunday (Sunday on a 3-day weekend con always tends to be slower and less populated than Friday and Saturday – I speak from my experience as staff and Convention Committee member for Toronto Trek/Polaris, now Reversed Polarity, for many years). Some were interested in the catering menus for The Pantry, the restaurant at the Elaine Dobbin Centre, some were interested in the IQ≤70 issue (for which the ASNL has now put together an information sheet – though I can’t find it on the site to link to, I’m afraid), and some were interested in gaining further information from talking to us. I have to admit, I wasn’t that shy about using the term “we” to refer to autistics, on purpose – science fiction/fantasy conventions are one place where autistics tend to not be “out of place”, because there is nothing strange about people participating in cons being able to quote lines from their favourite shows, nitpick tiny details, etc.; nor do there tend to be issues with disabilities (when I was working staff and most of my ConCom years, my supervisor – the head of the Hospitality Department – had CF, and needed a wheelchair to get around; there was a woman who dressed up as a Klingon every year who needed a power scooter to get around, etc.). While not all fans are tolerant / accepting of humanity’s broader differences, the majority tend to be; in part because of the general mindset of science fiction and fantasy, which tends to embrace differences. (IDIC, for any Star Trek fans out there? 😉 )
Anyway, getting back towards the point of this post: one of the people who came up to talk to us, an older gentleman who was rather amiable – I certainly enjoyed talking to him – mentioned two autistics he knew of. One, when he was younger, was a non-verbal boy whom everyone thought (because of the non-verbal thing, and therefore the “low functioning” label) was essentially… unintelligent, and couldn’t really do anything for himself except the very basic tasks of feeding himself and such. In his late adolescence, his parents used to leave him to watch TV while they worked, and when they came home, he’d still be watching TV. It wasn’t until his father went into his room to look for something one day that they discovered that while they were gone at work, he would be carving beautifully detailed horses out of stones. He had about 200 or so of them hidden under his bed, and had never shown them to anyone for fear of being teased. And when they gave him a pencil and paper, he could draw wonderfully detailed art, without ever having been taught.
The other autistic the gentleman knows is someone who works at the same place he does. Apparently, when the men in the place start teasing each other, the autistic (the gentleman of course never gave me his name, and even if he had I wouldn’t be using it) gets upset – because, I suspect, of the lack of understanding of body language and tone that would explain that they’re just teasing each other. So the gentleman has apparently occasionally taken the autistic to one side and given him a script for responding (saying, “Okay, when they say ‘this’, you say ‘this’ in response”). He had also noticed that when the boss gets angry with other people (apparently he doesn’t tend to get angry with the autistic in question, because the autistic has one job to do and he does it very well), the autistic gets tense; and when I explained about the possibility of being empathically overwhelmed, the gentleman agreed that that made perfect sense. 🙂
So, moving onto the point of the post – the dream I had.
I was sitting on the ground, playing with a Lego-type house toy (and yes, Lego was also brought up at the convention, by the kids at the table next to us – plus I like Lego, and the niece whose 6th birthday was a week and a day ago loves Lego), and one of the people (I’m not going to specify who, it’s not important) who bullied me as a child (and was around the same age as I, in the dream) was sitting opposite me. Anyway, I was just playing happily, and then it was time to tidy up and pack it, because we were going to be travelling somewhere. (It’s a dream, go with it. 😉 ) And the person started taunting me about an issue I have that has to do with executive dysfunction (brushing my teeth, I think). I protested – can’t remember specifics on what was said at this point, it’s been some hours since the dream – and the person ignored me, and kept taunting me. And taunting me.
And I lost my voice, or my speech, or at the very least my ability to respond verbally. And lashed out physically (I somehow had a whip in my hand, and it struck the person’s forehead – again, go with it, it’s a dream). And from there it turned to pushing, shoving, and hitting, until we were in a knockdown, dragout fight (I think those are the appropriate terms). We both ended up pretty damaged….
…And then I woke up. (Or the dream ended, and I slept for a little longer before waking up, but anyway….) So, here we have the relevance to the title of the post. (Side Note: I didn’t feel upset on waking from the dream – all I was thinking about was what it actually meant; I certainly didn’t feel as though I’d just been bullied again by the person in question.)
What I think the dream was talking about? When I was a child, being bullied by my sister (long time ago at this point, and it’s been mostly dealt with by now), I used to resort to pushing or hitting her to try to get her to stop. She’s always been (and I suspect always will be) more verbally quick-witted than I am, so I couldn’t keep up with the taunts. Mom thought at the time that I was responding that way because my favourite show then was GI Joe, which she suspected was encouraging me to react with violence. (It happens. This was over 30 years ago now.)
Nowadays? I think it was exactly what the dream was telling me. I think I may have mentioned it before, but I feel it even more strongly now – I couldn’t reply to my sister’s taunts, as my speech had shut down due to frustration at being unable to keep up (AKA something of a meltdown), so I tried to get her to leave me alone the only way that might work. And when it didn’t – when Mom punished me for that kind of reaction by taking away something I enjoyed – I figured it was better to internalize stuff than externalize it. (Though it took me a hell of a long time to be able to just walk away; and there have been new studies done over the last decade or so that are showing that’s actually the wrong way to respond to bullies – but at the time, it was thought to be the right way to handle the situation. So as far as Mom knew, she was teaching and encouraging me to respond correctly.)
Anyway, the ultimate reaction to that? There was one day, when I was in my mid-teens, where I was babysitting my two youngest siblings. They did something naughty (no idea what at this point), and I sent them to their rooms to cool down for a bit. They then continued the argument through the outlet in the wall between their rooms (the outlet was in the same place on both sides of the wall, and they could talk to each other easily through it, despite the soundproofing in the rest of the wall); and I exploded – not physically, but yelling at them (it was a “straw that broke the camel’s back” situation). I scared myself with how angry I was; and I suspect that’s when I began repressing my anger (which led to more frustration throughout my life, thus more imploding meltdowns, etc. etc.).
Moral of the post? If someone (and they don’t have to be autistic for this to apply; I just think my reactions were somewhat exaggerated because of the effects of the autism and the meltdowns and problems with communication I was running into) wants to be left alone, unless it’s seriously endangering their health or the health of others (which tends to be an exception to most things), please, please leave them alone. Especially in the case of autistics, where the request (however it may be communicated) might easily be because they need to be alone for a bit in order to get control of things like their sensory input or the like.
(And also: SF/Fantasy conventions are fun, and fan-run ones tend to do good deeds like charitable donations! 😉 )
[Edited for wording as per suggestion in first comment: May 26/14 @ 23:23 hrs.]