This is a subject which has always troubled me, an assertion that one can behave poorly because one is autistic. Perhaps it's because of or some other permutation, but let's start with a very simple truth:
Being autistic does not make you a jerk, nor does it ever give you license to be one.
...and it's a truth that digs deep, because I was very much that jerk when I was younger. It's still something that I regret to this day.
You see, I'm autistic, Asperger's syndrome to be precise.
People have said that those with autism are less emotionally intelligent, capable of feeling, or empathy. They're robots, mechanical, not really human at all when you get down to it.
They're bent on obsessions and hobbies and will talk your ear off about anything and everything for hours if you let them. Nothing else matters to them except that, and because of that whatever social gaffes are just because they're autistic.
After all, that's just how we are, right?
Ours is a strange world, full of misunderstandings and missed cues. Not all of us are exceptionally good at picking up on nuances and protocols, we make mistakes, we're human after all.
We love what we love and love to pursue it, it's what gives us meaning and makes our lives fun. We talk because we want to share this magnificent thing that's given us so much happiness, we want to let others experience some of what drives us.
We learn, we live, we laugh, we love. Really we're not all that different from anyone else except in many ways we feel in excess.
Experiences, sensations, and feelings are magnified. It's like turning a dial up to 11 and letting the world scream at us. Ever notice an autistic person with headphones on everywhere, or one that can't eat certain foods? Perhaps one that can't be around large groups of people without panicking.
Especially when we're younger we don't know how to turn these things down. The world and everything around us is a constant cacophony of existence, so we miss the subtle, the nuanced, the social protocol.
Now take someone like this that "hears" constant shouting, how do you think they'll communicate back? How do you think they express themselves? They're just as loud, because to them that's the normal state of things.
Autistic people aren't non-feeling robots, if anything they feel too much and it short-circuits us.
Sometimes for higher-functioning folks we're considered exceptionally smart. That smartness, in a way, is our greatest weakness. It leads to a notion of eccentricity and infantilization of bad behaviors.
After all, that's just how we smart folk are, no?
Repeat this for long enough and we believe in our own infallibility. We do because we're smarter, better, and more fit. Our decisions are right, and everyone else is too much the fool to comprehend our deep thoughts.
They're just jealous of how superior we are, how much beyond normal humans.
The problem here is that if this message is repeated it begins a vicious cycle that leads to severe issues later in life.
It strips us of our ability to empathize and consider others, it strips us of our very humanity, and points the entirety of our focus to a goal and to hell with all else.
There is no more dangerous trap to a high-functioning autistic person than a belief in their own infallibility and superior intellect. That intelligence is a curse, and it exacts a heavy cost.
How do I know this? Because I was very much that person.
I was convinced that I was better and that I was always right. After all, I'd been told my entire life how amazing I would be and how smart I was.
The danger began when I started consuming more and more talk radio. Rush, Mancow, Beck, Fox News, you name it, I was listening to it.
They spoke with so much authority and certainty, and it just felt like it made sense. Of course we conservatives were superior, of course the others were lazy and deserved their fates. The poor fools, didn't they realize any of it?
I became a monster.
I hated, oh how I hated. I had to prove how superior I was, to crush those I saw as lesser, to assert my dominance and use my intelligence as a cudgel to destroy and show people just how stupid they were.
I'd debate, I'd get into arguments, I would refuse to listen or hear anyone else. I was right, and they were just wasting their breaths, if only they would listen to me and my discoveries.
This toxicity grew and grew, tainting everything I touched and every person I'd ever interacted with. I was a miserable wretch that would destroy anything around me just to one-up and prove how amazing I was.
If this sounds exceedingly like Ben Shapiro, that's because that's his entire deal. If he were around when I was growing up I would have been nightmarishly worse for it. These people live and breathe toxicity, and it infects and spreads.
I surrounded myself with people who fed into these beliefs, those who were superior like me, and it became a vicious echo chamber that blocked out all chance of a dissenting opinion.
When I say that myself now and myself ten years ago would not agree, it would be putting it exceptionally mildly.
During all of this, I was a runner. I'd managed to place well in meets, I thought I was quick, and I was signed to run in College. It was my identity and everything I was.
Not only was I obviously smarter than others, I was also this amazing athlete. The level of arrogance I had at this point was revolting.
...but then something happened. During a workout my chest felt tight, so I went to get checked out to be safe.
The result? Months of testing, hospitals, doctors, and a permanent fear of needles. My supposed running career was over, and with it my life.
Depression, thoughts of suicide, all of it and I had it. What was the point of anything anymore?
In my uncertainty and my vulnerability I was forced to listen to the quiet, those around me that had been trying for years to get me to listen for even a second, and those were the people that were the turning point of my life.
Some of those people were in technology, which is where I'd decided to go with my degree. I moved to Kansas City to start a new life, and through it I found a community in Ruby of people who were accepting and cared for each other.
I began to rebuild my identity around programming, and of course became far too obsessed and entrenched, but that community saved me. It forced me to listen to others, to empathize, to learn, and to teach.
In it I found a sense of fulfillment no amount of hatred would have ever given me. I had friends who liked me for who I was, for all the fun things we could discover and do, for all the possibility in the world and all the hope there was out there.
It took me years, and it will probably take me several more still, to sort through all the toxicity in my life. All the hatred that had defined me, all the people I had destroyed through my actions, all the bitterness that encumbered my soul.
I moved to the Bay Area and met people from all walks of life, and learned to appreciate them for who they were, and the beauty of their lives and passions.
I learned the meaning of working together on a team, of growing together towards a common goal, of empathy and truly seeking to understand others. Through this process the cacophony of existence bent away from myself and my own selfishness to helping others and coexisting.
So why the story? You see, I keep seeing stories of autistic jerks, of people like me that have fallen into that same hatred and callousness. I see these things and I know one simple truth:
They've made a choice to be this way, and their evil is their own.
It's a conscious choice, no matter how much lead-in, to become like that. Getting someone out of that is a near impossible task, I should know, and I cannot thank those people enough for having enough faith to keep fighting what I was becoming.
Racism, sexism, xenophobia, and all other forms of hatred are a choice. They're also a choice that you can take back, something you can apologize for and heal from.
There's always forgiveness out there to those who earnestly seek it, but be warned that the deeper the wounds you've caused through that hatred the more it will take to heal them and repair all the damage that has been done.
People do not owe you forgiveness, you have to earn it, and sometimes that means leaving them be because some wounds are too deep to heal. If you seek reconciliation to sate your own guilt instead of to heal the wounds you've caused it will go very poorly. You must, in your heart and mind, want to become better.
You're going to get called out, you're going to have skepticism, and it's yours to learn and grow from. Digging in your heels and refusing to accept responsibility for the harm you've caused is done out of selfishness.
Always question your motives in why you do something, because all too often a selfish heart will cause more harm when trying to repair what damage has already been done.
These people believe you have the capacity to change and be a better person, or they wouldn't even bother to say anything. In all the noise of the world, listen to those voices which push you to be a better person.
No matter what you do, you'll always have a certain amount of shame for the person you were. The damage you've done won't ever fully go away, and the scars will remain.
Always remember that actions have consequences, and being "right" all the time and "winning" are insidious traps of self-assurance that lead to destruction.
That shame is a lesson, not your identity. Grow from it, become a better person, and whenever you see someone that's acting a lot like how you used to be it is your duty and obligation to call them out on it.
Hatred and bitterness stop with us, ignoring it and wallowing in our shame will only allow it to grow and consume all we love.
Of all the lessons in my life I've learned, it's to love others unconditionally. There are no ifs ands or buts. The world could use more empathy and love, understanding and working together, and a belief in a brighter future.
It starts with a compliment, a reassurance, celebration of the good in the world, and a shoulder to cry on when the world bears down on us. That love is working through the bad times together just as much as celebrating the good. It's ok to cry, to have that frustration, because in that we grow and learn to become better both for ourselves and for others.
That future isn't going to come for free, and we're going to have to fight for it every day. It starts with calling out hatred for what it is, refusing to accommodate those who would deny people's right to exist. Hatred will fill this world if we let it, it will grow through our apathy and negligence. Part of love is to fill the world with that hope and allowing no place for hatred.
We autistic folks experience such a loud world, but in that we have the capacity for so much more. What will you fill your life with?