Blog & Opinion
24 May 2019 • Meggie Williams
Why be happy when you could be normal?
This is the title of Jeanette Winterson’s memoir (read her!). It quotes the reaction of her adoption mother when she tells her that she is in love with a woman. It’s a striking summary of what is also often the case with autism, the tension between being happy by being yourself and being accepted by your environment, which in turn is necessary to be happy.
There is so much autism stuff relating to this. People camouflage or mask their autistic traits in order to function in society. Which costs huge amounts of energy and leads to burn-out. Some parents of autistic children pay lots of money for therapies that use punishment and reward to teach normal (aka non-autistic) behaviour. Coincidentally these therapies have the same origin as gay conversion therapies. Fortunately those have already become obsolete. Then there are different types of normal between school, family, work and the sports field. And if those ‘normals’ are not intuitive, it takes a lot of energy to track all that.
I kept going over all the different possible approaches and I couldn’t make my mind up which one I thought most important or which one would be interesting to readers. While going through different approaches in my mind I had already come up with the conclusion: Let’s not ask ourselves how ‘normal’ someone should be to be accepted. Let’s ask ourselves how much divergent behaviour we can accept and not exclude people.
Only when I remembered that a good blog has a personal element did lightning strike. I had been thinking about ‘normal’ where of course the more important question is ‘What makes you happy?’ Exclusion makes people unhappy. But does acceptance make you happy?
To me acceptance is more of a precondition to happiness than an actual cause. Being autistic I experience a few more preconditions to be happy. One of them is having a certain level of overview and predictability. These strongly influence the amount of energy I have. As a result I will now get a sign for on my desk in the flexworking area, that says that due to medical reasons I have a fixed desk.
I’m positive quite a few colleagues would also prefer to have a fixed desk and some practically have one. But I will officially get one, simply because I’m autistic. I’m quite curious how that influences acceptance. Not just being different but having a visible advantage. Will it be helpful to explain why this is really important to me, or will that only highlight me being different?
In general autistics happiness is caused by the same things as for others: autonomy, meaningful relations. A typically autistic cause for happiness is engaging in intense interests. And if that intense interest is Ajax then maybe the acceptance comes easier then when it’s Dungeons and Dragons. However, true acceptance does not depend on shared interests but on our humanity.
Guest blogger Meggie Williams, works for THUAS for more than ten years and recently became an Autism Ambassador. She will write five blogs about autism.
Photo credit: Erik van Huisstede