Uniquely Driving while Uniquely Human

My Mini Cooper S Paceman is a 2013 model, manufactured in Austria.  BMW made the decision to eliminate the Paceman from their lineup and begin using the plant in Austria in 2015 to make room for more BMW models.  It makes my car a little more unique.  I hope to keep it running for a long time.  I drive defensively for the most part, but sometimes, the car is so much fun and so peppy that I do rev it up on occasion to get a better spot in traffic.   I wonder sometimes what other drivers around me think of this little black car trying to fit in.

The car is more successful at fitting into traffic than I am at fitting into the world sometimes. But my perspective has changed about all of us who are not neurotypical, and how we fit into the communication traffic of this fast-moving society.  One of the first books I read on autism after getting my ASD diagnosis was Uniquely Human: A Different Way of Seeing Autism by Barry Prizant.  It was referred to me by a friend I made at an ASD support group for adults. 

Direct from the Simon and Schuster promo page: “Instead of classifying ‘autistic’ behaviors as signs of pathology, Dr. Prizant sees them as part of a range of strategies to cope with a world that feels chaotic and overwhelming. Rather than curb these behaviors, it is better to enhance abilities, build on strengths, and offer supports that will lead to more desirable behavior and a better quality of life.”

Dr. Prizant’s decades of work with children with autism, leading teams of therapists in schools, homes, and clinical settings spills out on the pages of his book – filling my mind with hope and wonder.  What if we could instantly communicate with each autistic person?  Most communication among neurotypical adults is instant, and even then, sometimes misinterpreted. I remember being impressed with the ideas presented by Transactional Analysis during graduate school.  Sometimes we are all trying to communicate, but yet are misunderstood.  Perhaps the goal is not to make the communication instant.  Am I, or anyone else, patient enough to find out what a person is trying to tell us with what we often call “unusual behavior?”  Should teachers, parents, friends, or even coworkers consider it off-putting when an autistic person is repeating a question, or looking away when spoken to, or even hitting his head? 

Maybe we judge these behaviors too quickly.  Remembering how it feels to be misunderstood may help all of us step back and ask, “What’s this person experiencing right now?  Am I considering him as a person, or her concerns as valid, or at least as an equal concern to any of my concerns?”

The whole idea of dysregulation helped me greatly in understand my own issues.  Sometimes those of us on the spectrum are having trouble processing various inputs in our environment – anything to noises in the background, the frequency of florescent lights, to intestinal upset – and those inputs are hard to recognize and express to others – whether we are highly verbal or not.

I highly recommend Dr. Prizant’s book to help anyone grow in his or her perspective on what autism really is, and if any changes are needed in how we communicate with each other – regardless of our place, or absence, on the spectrum. 

Mini drivers will wave at each other – at least the friendly ones do.  Maybe that’s a shift we can all make – Be friendly, have patience for all people during communication — and during driving, because you never know what they are dealing with.  I don’t know why you cut me off, or why you are driving too slowly.  But in most cases, I don’t need to dismiss you as a huge pain in my life, or give you any “sign language” to make your day worse.  I’ll keep wavin’ and keep shiftin’.

Published by Bart Shoaf

Blogging about victories and challenges as a middle-aged man with a late diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder.

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