The Phillip G,. Cochran Memorial United Methodist Church in Dawson, Fayette County, PA

Understanding Norms During Independence

As I have discussed over time, being independent comes with responsibilities. Many of the responsibilities are just that, a responsibility. However autistics that are independent, myself included struggle with understanding many of the norms that many expect of us. Because many times this is not instilled as a norm in the years prior to being independent, it can continue to be a struggle to realize the need to perform what can be mundane or silly gestures as a way that others expect us.

Take the holidays for example. I am not simply talking about the ones that benefit ourselves as individuals. It can be the ones that we just can have no interest in such as birthdays, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, etc. To many of us, it can be just another day. Even my birthday anymore in my mid-30s just seems to be another day that just is part of the motions of life. Likewise with these subtle days that can have little care or regard in our mindset. It can be understood that a gift must be purchased, but to “dress it up” in a gift bag and a card just seems like a senseless step to autistics and we see no use in putting that effort for it to be over in just a few minutes.

Another instance is the regard for the need of caring for your own living habitat. The realization of this needing to be done oftentimes doesn’t strike in our mindset to the absolute last minute. There are intervals throughout the course of the year in which I will take the deep dive and make a genuine effort to complete the task of deep-cleaning my small home. This last time involved me doing some spring cleaning of my clothing, tossing out what no longer had a use to me or anyone else for that matter, while separating the things I truly want to keep, yet have to work on getting my weight down in order to fit into them. (I put them in one section of my closet and dresser to remind me that I need to keep doing what I need to do.) Regardless, after spending a few days taking care of what needed to be done, it gave me a sense of pride and as such in the week after I attempted (to the best of my ability) to maintain the problem areas from those traits happening again.

These are just a handful of the examples of what is expected of us in our world of independence. Sometimes, for me, I need to be prompted to do these things. Nothing hurts more than hearing from your own mother that you have to produce a card for her on Mother’s Day for her enjoyment. Then replying in disgust doesn’t make the situation easier to tolerate. To many autistics, myself included, these small gestures of kindness mean very little to us and sometimes seem mundane and silly. 

We often show our love in other ways that those near and dear to us receive in our own unique way, but to validate the reason for the receiver of the card, it means something. I have begun to realize that of the Birthday Card of my supervisor that I gifted to her a few months ago. The card had a humorous point related to the work we do. Once I saw it in the store, I knew it was the card for her. She proudly displays it in her office and each time I visit I am reminded of that card and how much she enjoyed that small gesture.

While it can be hard for autistics to understand the importance of unexpected norms, it may not have an effect on us or specifically benefit us. We must continue to think of the receiver of that norm, even if it may be in our own environment and the energy it can produce in doing so and how we all feel as a benefit of sometimes going the extra step when we may not even want to. In the end, many can be satisfied and once we get the norms we need to know instilled in our mindset, it will be like second nature.

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