I live with a neurological condition that affects every aspect of my life. I am disabled, and in many ways, I feel disabled, which sucks. Now, there is nothing wrong with being disabled–like having blue eyes or brown eyes, it is what it is. It’s neither good nor bad. It just… is. It’s a part of me, and I can’t change it, so I’ve learned to accept it, but I do have days when I wish I could just be “normal” like everybody else, if only so “normal” people would “get me,” if only so “normal” people would remember that I am in fact a full-fledged adult.
I am autistic, and there is no denying it. I am thirty-six years old, and out of necessity, I live with my parents. I am disabled, but I am not five years old, and under no circumstances do I appreciate being treated like a child–neurodivergence does not negate adulthood. Ever.
You may not always understand why I act the way I do, and that’s okay. I don’t always understand it, so I definitely don’t expect anybody else to figure me out. Sometimes, I react to things that might upset or bother me in a manner that might seem, well, childish to you. I can’t help it. I can’t help it any more than a paralyzed person can help their need for a wheelchair. My brain functions differently from the brain of a neurotypical individual, and there is not a damn thing that you–or I–can do about it. I’ve had to accept it, so guess what? The people in my life have to accept it, too. If you can’t do that… kindly screw off. I shouldn’t have to apologize for something over which I have no control.
So we’ve established that I can be a little (or a lot) immature at times. I am aware of that, and I do my best to acknowledge it. I do my best to act like a “real” grown-up, but it doesn’t always work. I was never able to acquire certain social skills–skills that sometimes seem almost innate to neurotypical people–and on many occasions, I mask. That is, I try to mimic the behavior of a neurotypical person. I try to disguise the fact that I am autistic. Every so often, I am successful, and people are stunned to learn that yes, I really am autistic. I never would have guessed, they say. Or even, You don’t even look autistic, as if we all have I’M AUTISTIC tattooed on our freaking foreheads.
Anyway, masking is hard. It’s fucking exhausting. So why bother at all?
Probably because I am a human being, and like any human being, I want to be accepted. I want to be accorded the same respect and dignity that any neurotypical, gainfully employed, homeowning thirtysomething would receive. I am disabled, sure. I’m autistic. But no matter how “childish” you might think I am, no matter how “immature” you might view my behavior and reactions, I am not a child, so do NOT treat me like one.
It’s degrading, and it’s insulting.
I don’t like being infantilized any more than you do. I don’t like being talked down to or talked over. I don’t like when my feelings and opinions are not taken into account, but when people perceive me as a child, I can see where it would be easy for them to treat me like one–and for the record, even children are deserving of basic respect, folks. Even children deserve to know that their feelings really are valid, regardless of whether you understand why they feel how they are feeling!
Its hard, though, because I do live with my parents–while I haven’t been an actual child for quite some time now, I am their child, and that is never going to change. It’s easy for them to see me as immature, and sometimes, in some ways, they aren’t wrong. I get it–I do–but at the end of the day, I am an adult.
My arrangement with my parents is one of interdependence. I don’t work, and I live in their house, but I do 99 percent of the housework, and I do all of the physically demanding farm-related stuff–anything that involves heavy lifting–so it isn’t like I contribute nothing to the household. I couldn’t hack it without them and I know it, but at this point, they couldn’t hack it without me, either, so like I said, it’s an interdependent relationship. We rely on each other.
I’m picking on my parents here, so I feel the need to emphasize that they are, generally speaking, wonderful, supportive people. They are far from the only ones who occasionally treat me like an inferior or a subordinate, but for these purposes, I am using them as an example. I do the best I can. I do whatever chores they ask of me, and they usually don’t even have to ask. But still–I just live here. I don’t pay the bills, so I don’t get a say in much, and at times, it does feel like my wants and needs don’t matter. My opinions may be taken into account, sure, but they don’t carry all that much weight, and I am definitely not treated as an equal around here.
Why is that?
I can’t help but feel that things might be different if I were physically disabled, or able to go out into the world and earn some money. The nature of my disability shouldn’t matter–disabled is disabled, right? So I let my admittedly volatile emotions run away with me sometimes. So neurotypical people (like my parents) don’–or can’t–understand why this happens, or why I can be so damn immature. I know I have to cut them some slack, because like I said, even I don’t always understand it, but I am guilty of losing my patience with that.
My life looks very different from that of the average neurotypical person of the same age. I know this better than anyone. Neurotypical people are “normal,” so they are able to act “normal,” but I am not like them–my autistic brain processes literally everything differently, from sensory input to deeply felt emotions that might seem “irrational” to other people, including my parents. I do not expect them, or anyone else, to understand this, but I absolutely demand to be treated with respect.
Like an adult.
I do need some things in my world to be modified, and I do need certain accommodations. For instance, I want others to be aware that loud noise and commotion make me lose my shit every single time (sensory overload issues), not because I am immature, but because I have a disability. I categorically refuse to be treated as “less than” because I happen to be autistic. I’m done. I won’t tolerate it anymore, not from anyone, and that includes my own parents. This attitude causes friction every now and again, but I make no apologies, nor should I be expected to apologize.
I want–no, I demand–to be treated with the same respect with which you would treat anyone else. I demand that you do not talk down to me. I am neurodivergent, but I am not a baby. While I am disabled, while there are undeniably things that I just can’t do, I’m still a goddamned adult, every bit as much as you are, so do us a all favor and quit walking around like you’re my superior, because you’re not.
It’s condescending, and I am so over it.