Posted in Autistic Identity

The Rules as Written By Hallmark, the Media, and Children’s and YA Media

This is another archived post I’m bringing back.  I’m having a really hard time at work now.  Part of it is the Protestant Work Ethic that saturates U.S. culture: you know, the whole work yourself to death thing and somehow you will be rewarded.

By the way, if you work as hard as I’ve been working and you’re Autistic, you will not only not be successful, you may burnout.

I’ll be honest, though.  What’s really going on is that I am pretty sure we are going to fail.  My school will close.  When I focus on the little things, the little glimmers of success, I keep getting hopeful that things will turn around.  But when I zoom back and look at everything, we will close.  It’s not that I per-se did anything wrong (although, the people who hated my promotion will be giddy with delight in watching my failure) but I took on a task that was impossible.  Not improbable…impossible.  The school should have been closed a decade ago, and yet it limped along.  Most Catholic schools close with over a hundred students in attendance.  Before this year, we had 60-70 students each year, at best.  We limped along.  This year, I have about 22 or so.  We have some people who are interested for next year, sure.  We might get up to forty next year.  More if we can afford to spend money on marketing.

We haven’t marketed (and when we did, it was badly done, ineffective marketing) for over a decade.

We have a significant cash flow problem in the fall especially because we had to spend money on textbooks and materials, something that hadn’t been done for too long.  No one would have wanted to come to this school, the way we were running.

But if we don’t market now, it’ll be too late.

The frustrating thing is that, when I walk around my school I see happy kids, engaged in their learning.  I see families without a lot of social and cultural capital doing the best they can do on, in some cases, very limited economic capital as well.

But society doesn’t care about that.  My school looks “weird.”  I am “weird.”  This is what happens when an Autistic plays at leading anything.

The funny thing is, the nail in the coffin for me happened this weekend.  I learned that the public schools around here are starting to use the language we Catholic schools have been using for generations: “whole child.”  Since when do the public schools care about the “whole child”?  Since the backlash against being test scores focus finally came home to roost, apparently.  This won’t solve their racist, classist, ableist policies, I know, but philosophically, this means we Catholic schools are no longer diametrically opposed to the public schools, at least, locally.

There’s more to share, but suffice it to say getting a few more students and growing organically is not a realistic option.  Had I come to the forefront ten years ago, we would have been able to grow up again.

It’s too late now.

But this is why I got the job, I think.  First, no neurotypical would have touched this job.  Second, my boss has some irrational belief that I’m amazing, and that doesn’t happen too often for Autistics so I was so grateful I couldn’t even consider saying no.

But I really believed that things would be different if we worked hard and did our best.

I’m looking at bills I can’t afford to pay for myself including health insurance I have to buy for our family that we can’t afford, even with this so-called healthcare market.  By hoping and praying for this to work out, everyone who left, predicting failure, has landed at a place that pays better with reasonably decent benefits, or so I hear.  By staying and trying to turn this around, my family is facing economic collapse and I’m exhausted.

And those who left will love this gossip.  Of course I failed: I was clearly the wrong person for the job.  Nevermind that there never was a “right person” for this job and the people who ran this place over the past decade ran it into the ground before I even got here.

The thing about being Autistic, I think, is that we believe so many adages are true because they help us make sense of this world.  Work hard, be a good person, try your best (etc.).

But very little of it is true.  And I think sometimes because we believe these things, these tales they tell children to make them “good people,” we are the very reason for our own economic challenges (and we Autistics tend to have a fair amount of them).  I am not discounting the fact that it’s expensive to be us (“saving money” by not having, say, electronics, is not an option to us) nor am I discounting society being built for neurotypicals, not us.  I am well aware that I am never going to make $100,000 more a year in my profession because I am “weird” and that that is ableist because nearly every principal in town who is able to get hired at a public school does with fewer years of education than I have does.  But in the end, we believe these fairy tales too easily, and I think it’s why we struggle even within the cruddy cards we’ve been dealt.

So I’m rerunning this bit about rules that I wrote on the original blog in hopes it helps someone.


Since realizing that I was Autistic nearly a year ago, I’ve started trying to unpack what I know about the world and how I think that I know it.  I’ve concluded there are a whole lot of rules we all know and, in some cases, we Autistics will cling to as if they’ll save us from the great monster that can (sometimes) be humanity.  The trouble is, some of the rules are flat-out not true and/or have shades of meaning that make them less rules as much as maxims, witty little proverbs that may apply sometimes, but, like trying to find a passage in the Bible that supports us and finding a mixture of those that seem to support us as well as contradict us, don’t always work.

So, here are some of my rules that are not per-se rules but that I believed that I’m questioning now:

Donating Money, Time, etc. Makes You a Good Person

When you do for others, there’s this warm glow you feel (etc.).  The thing of it is, neurotypicals never explain that there’s only so much you are supposed to be giving.  They’ll hold up these examples of some wealthy person who donated several million and you think…wow, that’s a whole lot of money.  What you don’t understand, though, is that that’s less than 5% of this person’s income generally, so it looks ginormous, but only rarely is it really any significant portion of this person’s budget.

Similarly, people do give time and talent, and that’s a great thing.  The trouble is, we take on charity work sometimes like it’s another full-time job.  Most neurotypicals do it once in a blue moon and spend more time talking about how they’d like to do more if they had time.  They literally do have plenty of time, but they don’t want to do it, so they say they’re too busy.  Compare that to some of us overachieving Autistics who do, in fact, have no more time to fit it in, and yet we’ll try to do it anyway because…it’s what good people do.

It’s not that giving time and money to charity is bad; it’s not, but it’s not what makes you good.  You ARE good already; it’s just something good people do.  We can’t become more good by doing more of it.  In our case, it can make us ever poorer (and it’s already expensive to be Disabled; these gadgets we get to help with Executive Function, cleaning people who we can’t afford, but we desperately need, etc. are just toys to neurotypicals).

Refined Rule: Give your time and money, if you can afford it. If you don’t know if you can afford it or not, say that you’ll check your calendar or budget.  This is a neurotypical way of saying “no, but I wish I could.”  Once in a while, they’ll ask again.  Be okay with saying no if you really can’t.  It’s one thing to make a sacrifice (giving up something/doing something for Lent, doing a mitzvah, etc. but it is a CALCULATED decision neurotypicals make after taking into account all they do and the money they need to not only get by, but to live well; they are not giving up Starbucks for this).  Giving more than you can afford or doing more than you can realistically do, is not what people do, and no one will think you are a “better” person because you do.  They’ll just judge you for not being able to manage your own finances/time better.

An Education is about Becoming a Well-Rounded Person

This is a ridiculous myth that keeps getting spilled onto young people.  First, remember that education (K-12 and university) is typically the number one employer of any state.  Next, remember that education is now touted as “for everyone.”   Connect those facts.  WHY is education “for everyone”?  It can’t be because it helps you get a good job (which is what they say) because if everyone gets educated now, how to they decide who is not “worthy”?

So, one way they decide is through family connections (think the Trumps and Clintons of the world, etc.).  Once you have power, your kids will go to schools with people who have power and they “know each other.”  So yeah, they paid for fancy educations, true, but they had the head start due to connections.  In other words, they knew the codes and passphrases to get in.

The rest of us are supposed to be sorted by our school system into “worthies” and “unworthies.”  Only “worthies” used to go to college (rich people plus some “special” middle class people).  Now, since college is for everyone, if you do go the degree route, you end up getting ahead by getting a degree like an MBA to stand out.  Why?  Only “worthies” get the “extra” degree.

At a certain point, though, you notice something.  It doesn’t matter how many degrees you have.  There are prescribed paths to increased chances of success.  Typically an M.B.A., for example, can help business people and sometimes an L.L.M. (advanced lawyer studies) can matter for lawyers.  In many states, teachers are paid by degrees, so earning the M.A. means more money.

So…if all of this is true, where does the idea of “well-rounded” come in?

Answer: it doesn’t, beyond the ability to have cocktail conversation with people not like you so that those people can like you enough to hire you.  That means (as cringe-worthy as it is) mastering small-talk and how to talk about the weather when you don’t really give a damn about it.  Or if you do, talking about it in vague terms and not showing off your meteorological insight.

Let that sink in.

People hate know-it-alls, yet everyone is supposed to go to college now.


So, if college is about work, not learning, and about trying to become the “right kind of person” this is going to be a problem for Autistics.  We can’t pick up those “soft skills” like people skills in an automatic way.  Instead, we have to work at it far harder.  In that way college can help, such as if we take a class in child and adolescent development and suddenly learn all the things we didn’t understand while going through that phase ourselves.  Or maybe we take a course in law and it helps us to understand our rights, which can make us the “helpful” friend, if not the charismatic one (yes, sometimes we have to double- triple- and quadruple-down on our knowledgebase).

But it doesn’t mean anything by itself.  And no, except for a few (like us) who may keep the dream alive that education means something, it really means nothing except as a barrier to prevent some people from being able to achieve their dreams since they don’t know the rules about which degree combinations bring power.  (Hint: it’s not the degree; it’s the people you meet in the degree and how much they like you.)

Refined Rule: Do the College (or Graduate Study) Path or Not; It Does Not Guarantee Success. If you like advanced study, go for it.  If you don’t see the point, quit.  In the end, we’re less likely to learn those soft skills that translate into success in our studies.  Look to Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg, who are both famous college drop-outs who likely think very differently than the neurotypical population.  Look also to Dr. Temple Grandin, whose passion about HER subject made graduate study make perfect sense.  But also remember what Grandin has said about Autistics: we need to develop portfolios to show what we can DO.  If businesses see that you’re useful, as in, they couldn’t find a dozen more as good as you that they actually like to talk to, you’re in.  So for US, it’s not what you know or even who you know, but what you can DO.

People Will Someday See What You’re Like Inside

This brings us to the next thing.  For years I really believed that someday, someone would see what I was like on the inside and care about me.  I’d like to say my husband does, but honestly, we’re both Autistic, so what’s “typical” for us is different from the norm.  On the whole, though, the only people who “get” me are other misfits.  I’m increasingly okay with this, as I get older because I’m learning that everyone doesn’t have to like you and, for most people, at a certain point, it’s no longer fun to pick on others for sport, so they just stop doing it.

Unfortunately, this revelation brings with it a hard truth: no, you aren’t that likeable.

I think this is why many of us do better online.  If you think about it, being online was, historically, a Neurodivergent thing.  “Weird” people went online, so we became Kings and Queens of the Internet.  Now, everyone’s HERE, so it’s not just us, but since we came first, we know how to make the interwebs work for us.  This is our country, and people had to learn how to work within our world to join in.

So, yeah, online, we can build a charisma that works, to some extent.  People ignore a lot of our quirks because they cannot see them.  But sometimes we remain intense people online and that weirds neurotypicals out.  But it’s our place, so we’re more likely to find others who don’t mind at all.

Refined Rule: People will most likely get bored of picking on you someday, and if you select your own society, you’ll be happier.  Not everyone will like you, but neurotypicals have this same problem, too.  They have social skills to teach them how to get along with people they don’t like.  We can be too honest for that.  As such, the best plan for us is to stick to people who are either like us or get us.   Then, when we want to socialize more widely, we’ll have the spoons to do it.  We’ll be okay with weird looks and possibly overhearing something unflattering because we’re ready.  But if we know we have people who like us (online, offline, wherever), we can weather the storm.

Given the Opportunity, Everyone is Having an Affair

This last one is a puzzle to me.  According to most television shows, if someone is married, he or she will likely cheat and we’re supposed to understand why they did/support this.  It’s rather strange because one of the basic rules of marriage is that you no longer have to date other people and you’re pretty much set so there’s no more executive function and/or worry spent on that stuff.  But television tells us that neurotypicals are always finding other people.

I have no idea if this is true or not.

You could, I suppose, research surveys to see if people report marital infidelity, but honestly, I wonder if it’s the tail wagging the dog.  Did people cheat (if they do) so often before television and movies told them that “anyone” can cheat (not just bad people)?  Are people honest on these surveys?

For this one…I have no alternative rule.  I really don’t know.  Any ideas about this one?

Any other rules you’ve seen?  I’ll blog about this again as I think of more.



2 thoughts on “The Rules as Written By Hallmark, the Media, and Children’s and YA Media

  1. I love this!! Especially the bit about people having affairs, I’m so lucky that my husband just trusts me and that’s great! Strange though because if I spend too much time with a male friend, the friend will start to assume I’m interested in them! Maybe I’m just naive about the signals I give off?

    1. Yeah, I do not get the whole affair thing at all. Who DOES this? I mean, aside from television? Then you hear all these stories from friends or extended parts of the family or whatever and go…no, really? You took vows and stuff and then flagrantly disregarded them?

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