On Autism and Foreignness

To be autistic is, in many ways, much like it is to be an immigrant from a foreign land.

I do not mean this in the sense of metaphor, but more so that in some ways, it is the same experience. I do not know, directly, what exactly it is like to have come from another culture into one which I do not understand, but I do know for myself what it is like to be in a culture which is not mine and which I do not understand.

I have found, in spending time amongst recent immigrants, that I am much closer to that level of comfort which I experience amongst those whom I know to be on the same spectrum as myself; for when I speak, they take pains to understand what I mean, and when they speak, I do the same: not, for either of us, because of their foreignness, but for both of us, because it is what we must already do in the culture we find ourselves in.

Those who are comfortable in this culture, whose culture it is, do not naturally spare the effort to understand the rest of us, nor do they take pains to be understood by us, for they are accustomed, neigh privileged, neigh they feel entitled to the ease of communication which they experience when communicating with one another, and they feel robbed of that ease when they must speak to us - not on our terms - but as equals on uneven footing.

If I unmask1 myself in front of a native2 of the neurological majority, they become agitated, frustrated, and think me rude for not sending the signals to which they are accustomed. If I unmask1 myself in front of a nonnative2, they may notice, but many of the signals which they might expect from me were already not being sent, and they are already accustomed to not receiving them. Any signals they were receiving from me before that they are not now do not matter as much, as they are already doing their best to understand me on neutral ground, as I am them.

In summary, all of this is to say that I much prefer working and living amongst first-generation immigrants and other cultural nonnatives than I do neuromajority cultural natives, because with the former we are both already on unfamiliar ground when interacting, and as such I am not met with the hostility or confusion I might otherwise be by those who are used to the ease of communication their cultural hegemony affords them.

  1. A term which here means that I cease to erect the façade of cultural fluency, which may occur when I am tired, under stress, or amongst those whom are like me.
  2. By native and nonnative, I do not, here, mean to refer to those whom have made their homes here for centuries and more, and those whose more recent ancestors took said homes from them. I, instead, am referring to those whom are native or nonnative to the dominant culture of this land.
    Indeed, many who I might, in another context, refer to as native of this land, I would, in this context, categorise as nonnative, much like myself.
    I hope it is understood that I do not mean, by this, to undermine the right of said people to this land.