What Does It Mean to Be Aware, to Understand and To Accept?
A story about quantum computers, flowers and autism
Are you aware of this?
Awareness implies that you are familiar with the existence of something. It might be a common everyday item, a concept you have heard about at university, or maybe you have come across something while reading your newsfeed or social media. You might have heard about quantum computing, for example. Unless you are a geek, you probably do not really know what it looks like, where can you find one or how to use it. The tech section at the department store does not offer any yet, and neither do you find it on Amazon. It must be something rare. At least you are aware that there is such kind of invention and that somebody somewhere is using it for something.
Understanding the needs
You receive a beautiful potted plant full of bright crimson blossoms as a birthday present. You know that it requires care. You understand that it needs to be watered regularly, or it will die. You know that it will benefit from occasional fertilization. As it grows, eventually, you will notice that it needs a bigger pot. You understand how to take care of your plant to ensure that it keeps on blooming regularly. You decide to buy an orchid. You are aware that orchids have some special needs. You understand that they do not need ordinary soil. They are different.
Sometimes there are facts that are difficult to accept. I will skip the gloomier examples, but let’s say your child is ready to move out and start a life of their own. You are feeling sad. You will miss them, and the empty house might disturb you for a long time. You might give in to loneliness. You realise that you have aged. These are all facts that have to be accepted. And you have to be proud of them.
I do not like the word autism awareness. Many people in developed countries are aware of the existence of autism. Some are aware of its stereotypical traits; however, this is by far not enough. One of the core reasons for struggle in the autistic community is the lack of understanding by the neurotypical world. They can never know what it’s like to be on the spectrum, and so they will never truly be able to understand us. Besides, it is not just about understanding; it is also about accepting the differences and trying to see things from our point of view. It can be hard to take someone for who they are. The neurotypical world needs to learn how to make fewer judgements of what is ‘normal’. In turn, this will hopefully make them more comfortable around us, too, as they will realise that we are not so weird after all.
Few neurotypicals recognise that many seemingly little things in life get to us. It could be something as simple as a comment or an action, and these can do more harm than you realise. Autistic people often analyse the exact words and tone, and an unintentional sentence formulation might sound harsh, offensive or hurtful. There are times when environmental factors become too much. A wall of noise in a busy café is unpleasant and draining. Even if we enjoy chatting, spending time in such a place is suboptimal and eventually becomes unpleasant. We can mask our “odd” experiences. Women are particularly good at that. We study how others behave and try to imitate them. It has nothing to do with being fake. It is a defence mechanism against rejection.
Just because someone is different doesn’t make them wrong. Back to the example about house plants, a begonia and an orchid have different needs. Orchids need these weird pieces of bark to survive. Many other plants will die quickly in such material. Are orchids faulty for not growing in ordinary soil? Should we plant them in soil anyway since that is what every other plant needs? Or maybe we should not keep orchids at all? They are so weird.
We need to learn how to accept those who think differently and try to understand their point of view too. Being autistic has given me some unique strengths along with the challenges which come with the condition. I do not see myself as a victim of my neurodivergence. I am proud to be unique, and I embrace my differences. My autistic traits are my strengths to succeed in my studies and at work. To me, it is more like being a leftie in a world dominated by right-handed people. This is why it is annoying and plain wrong when somebody treats autism as a disorder or an illness. Is left-handedness also a lousy trait just because many tools need to be adjusted for use with the left hand?
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About the author
I combine my passion for technology, science and art, twisting them all through the lens of my neurodivergence. My aim is to raise awareness about various conditions and invisible disability surrounded by stigma, rejection and disbelief.