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“Handbook of good practices for autistic people” by Catarina Abreu

Catarina Abreu

This text has a much more positive tone than the ones I have been writing (thank you, antidepressants). I write since what I am about to write is “easier said than done”, even I have moments when I just want to send everything to… It’s not toxic positivity. We have a right to be angry and quite angry, but the idea is to redirect the anger towards the real villain: empowerment.


1 – Value is what we give it

We generally have low self-esteem. We blame ourselves for being this way, as if we possess a curse and are not as good as the “normal” ones. The good news is that yes, we do have value for ourselves. We have good parts too. And yes, they say a lot of things about us. Bad things. But they have no right to define us that way. They are not on the inside of us, they don’t know what we go through. As the old saying goes, he who doesn’t feel, doesn’t understand.

So sometimes it’s better to apply the in at 100, out at 1000. They are the “ignorant ones,” not us. Repeat after me: we are enough. And the pejorative adjectives they give us don’t necessarily have to be true. “You’re slow, Catarina” Yeah, we have a brain that processes everything, it’s like a machine. Of course it will take longer, it’s like the computer, which I heard the other day “with only one tab open, it will be faster than with ten!”. So of course we fail, but this doesn’t mean that we are incapable! Have you ever tried to let us regulate and reduce stimuli? Have you tried adapting your environment? Do it, and then appreciate the result. So much for sluggishness.

2 – Meet your fellow citizens

Like many others, I have been in contact with several autistic groups like myself. This has made a spectacular revolution in my way of looking at life. I now have a hope and examples that I didn’t have before, of people who look at the world in a similar way to me, who are not so judgmental. The ship has finally returned home. Ironic that the experience I have is that neurodivergent people in general, who supposedly lack empathy and have social deficits and other things are usually the most inclusive, the friendliest and the most honest, and the least judgmental. As I read once “it’s not about exclusion. It is (among other forms of oppression) capacitism that excludes. It’s more about valuing each other, since no one else does.” And this is it. Being united is great because it empowers us as a discriminated group, and this can lead to improvements in our situation.

3 – No one owes anything to anyone

Yes, I also have trouble accepting this fact at times. For many years I was successively excluded from various things. In fact, today I believe that I still am. And yes, if I am confronted they will say that no, they are not like that, or that they don’t discriminate me for being autistic, but I know that unfortunately, no matter what they say, yes, I am. Maybe they may not even realize it, but microaggressions do exist. However, they are free to invite whomever they want, and if they don’t want our presence in some activity, whether it’s a trip to the café or an excursion to South America, they don’t owe us anything. This seems very unempathetic of me, “so they exclude you and you don’t care, Catarina?” I reply, “I already cared a lot, and what good did it do? Frustration! They’re not going to say ‘sorry, we really screwed up’, the sooner they’re going to do gaslighting.” The truth is that if they don’t want our presence, for whatever reason, bear with me, forcing it is much worse. Invitations, inclusion and acceptance have to be done willingly and freely. We have to fight for this acceptance, for real inclusion, not for others to like us and include us out of obligation.

4 – Others, in general, have no right to decide what we can or cannot do

Attention, before you are misunderstood: I’m talking about the general population having the tendency to limit someone because of stereotypes associated with a certain disability, not in cases where for example a doctor forbids an alcoholic patient to drink, or a blind person cannot drive a typical car, those obvious situations. People, in general, have the habit of putting everything in little boxes, and stereotyping people with some kind of disability. To think that a person, because he or she is x, cannot automatically do such and such a thing. We see this a lot, for example, when a child is diagnosed with autism and the parents are immediately told that the child won’t be able to go to college, have friends, get a license, etc. or when the adult person is infantilized and not given the same opportunities and invitations that would be given to a typical friend. This goes along with points 1 and 3. However, as I have already mentioned, who decides what we want to do, who defines us is ourselves…

5 – …there are no ridiculous or impossible dreams.

There are times that I am ashamed of myself, for often expressing my desires and dreams and still not having the financial conditions for it. Or because I think that the typical people will think it’s “too much” for me and ridicule me behind my back. We are human and as such we have that right! I am within my rights to dream and to want to do things. Even if it is with adaptations, what matters is to live. For example, I have a dream to travel around, to see the world. I love trains, they are my favorite means of transportation, I really want to travel around Europe by train. You know what? I have that right, and I also have the right to whatever adaptations I may need, not to be told it’s impossible.

6 – We should not let ourselves be made to feel inferior because we need adaptations/help

I still struggle with this aspect a lot. We are not inferior because we need help/adaptations in things that most people do with their eyes closed. Or because we can’t be as productive at times. Because we consider that there are things that really aren’t for us and prefer to do without (mind you, this is up to you). What matters is that we achieve our goals in our own time and in our own way, this is not a Formula 1 competition. There are several ways of living life and they are all valid. Adaptations serve to equalize, not to benefit anyone to the detriment of others. Human beings are a social animal, nobody does everything by himself, we always need the collaboration of each other. People survive because they help each other. In our case, we need specific things. We are different, we have a different brain, not worse, that’s a fact. There’s no harm in that. It’s much better to be helped in what we have difficulty with, and then we can reserve our energy for what we shine in, in order to realize our full potential. We are valid exactly as we are, our achievements have no less value for having been achieved in an unusual way.

7 – Achievements are always achievements, whether it takes one or ten years

Continuing the previous point, people have the habit of judging the other for not accomplishing their goals right away. Or for thinking differently. For being peculiar. “Oh, you only passed your driving test the third time? Did it take you longer to finish college? I never failed anything and I was a merit student!” “Are your friends by Zoom? I have real friends” Okay, best wishes to you. I’m glad you made it. What matters is passing that exam, and the person then effectively driving well. What matters is the person getting the diploma at the end, and being able to get some job with it. What matters is finding people who like you and listen to you, whether online or offline. Not least because online friendships can become offline, and typical people themselves also turn to online to find friends or other even greater things. The question should be more whether people are participating on equal terms. Here the previous point comes in. The point should be to adapt to the other person’s way of functioning in order to get the best possible results. If it takes longer, it doesn’t matter, what matters is to arrive. In my case, will it take me longer than typical to get the “straw”? Yes! The fact is that I did it with almost no help, I suffered and put up with things that others did not put up with! It’s the story of the fish trying to climb the tree! I tried very hard, and no one has the right to take credit from me.

In short, we are all amazing and deserve better than we have. We should unite and fight for our rights, and listen less to those who know nothing. We should focus on those who really believe in us. In time, I believe we will evolve and more people will believe and accept us and give us the value we really have. This text is not an attack to the typical people, in fact it is good that they read it in order to know our reality and be able to put themselves in our situation. And I believe that there are those who have an open mind and want to grow, to learn, I’ve crossed paths with people like that. It’s one more text to help us face the negative situations in our daily lives.