The internet is home to a vast array of forums, forums that cater for every type of group possible. There are support groups relating to particular conditions, whether that be for the individuals with the condition, or parents of children with it. Autism is no exception. Sometimes, autistics also have other conditions and will frequent the associated forums. (We do get about online!)
Being autistic, usually means being frank. Honesty is the logical approach for autistics, saying it as it is. The most “high-functioning” among us (usually the ones that mask the most – use a persona to follow social rules) will use forums, sometimes being open about our autism even where the forum is not an autism-related one. But being “high-functioning” is a curse when NTs expect you to behave exactly like they do, because they give no quarter.
Now, I have touched on this before in a previous post, the issue of being made unwelcome on forums, how sometimes it’s parents of autistic children who surprisingly, are the quickest to exclude autistic adults. This time, it’s a slightly different angle. It’s about a seeming culture of fluffiness in forums, where moderators are too quick to jump in and warn or ban members who are telling the truth, because despite it not being told in a malicious way, other members want to stay blind to the truth and are quick to report such posts. Of course it’s most likely autistics who will fall victim to this happening, precisely because we do tell the truth.
Neurotypicals will all too often take offence at the truth, they want it dressed up, if spoken at all it much be couched in apologetic terms which are mere hints, rather than a bald truth plainly spoken. But autistics don’t play those games, they aren’t the way we are wired, our brains don’t compute or lend themselves to such social games. We are intensely confused by them. Of course, when you are “high-functioning” and analytical, you can recognise behaviours and patterns of behaviour. But that doesn’t mean you can take part in that – or if you can, it’s an exhausting process of going through the rules in your head and calculating the desired response. And we may not always get it “right” even then. I use quote marks there of course, because it might be right for NTs but who says you guys have the prerogative on communication-style?
Don’t forget, an autistic trait is a protected trait according to equality laws, so warning or banning an autistic who is not acting with malicious intent, is discrimination, plain and simple. Would a moderator take such an action against someone with dyslexia for mis-typing their posts? If it was possible to display a physical disability into online communication, would they say that wasn’t acceptable?
The line many moderators often draw as to what is considered unacceptable behaviour has been drawn in an unrealistic and discriminatory way. For instance “be nice” is a seemingly pervasive (and entirely arbitrary!) criterion. But if autistics speak honestly, they are usually defined as not having been nice, because they didn’t use the fluffy approach. I have myself, had posts removed, been banned and felt obliged to leave forums due to this problem – and I’m no trouble-maker! (We can’t have an autistic ruffling the fluff!) Of course I am generalising, there are NTs who do appreciate the honest approach…so this post is of course not aimed at them. It’s more aimed at the culture allowed and encouraged to pervade by the forum owners.
It also begs the question, if forums are for people to pretend, for people to avoid the truth and to merely seek sycophantic assurances, how useful really are they? The image at the top of this post intends to represent the point in hand, a fluffy and cute dog, but it has been bred to look like that (nature likely wouldn’t have been so stupid!) and is effectively blinded by it’s facial fluff. So what use is it’s cute and fluffy fur? It’s mere decoration.
And this leads me to the fact that NTs are so quick taking offence at the autistic’s lack of fluffiness, that they are missing the fact that an autistic replying to their post is trying to help them with practical solutions, telling them why something is the way it is, so they can recognise the issue and resolve or work on it. Most autistics want to spread awareness, most autistics offer solutions by default. Autistics often excel in a particular area (which can be anything!) and we have analytical minds, a tendency to think outside the box. Why wouldn’t NTs appreciate that type of input and welcome it?
So if fluffy forums have a use, is it not just to have a warm, cuddly environment where people just go for reassurance and similar tales? I’d rather have forums where you could also obtain practical advice and knowledge, where truth was the main aim. Who wants misinformation after all. Isn’t denial a form of misinformation? And as for dressing up the truth, if an autistic is the person seeking that truth they might miss the hint if it’s couched in fluff, so that again, is a form of discrimination against them, a lack of reasonable adjustment they need to access the service on an equal basis. Would an able-bodied person expect a person hobbling on crutches to use the stairs the same way they did? Invisible disability is no less deserving of adjustments.
Of course, some of what is behind this fluffiness is the “PC Brigade“. Rules have become more and more overbearing, control ever-present and it can feel like the “thought police“are out in force, pervading everything we do. Maybe there is a fear of forum members taking legal action (for the truth?!) and forum owners are busy covering their collective asses at the cost of discriminating against the minority. But the minute people stop having empathy for people with communication differences, being appreciative of genuine efforts to help, of making forums as inclusive as society is supposed to be…is the moment humankind has lost it’s humanity.