Lately, a quote that has been floating around in my mind comes from You Don't Know Jack, the HBO biopic about Dr. Jack Kevorkian. Okay, I know I have mentioned him a lot on this blog, but I am an Aspie, am I not? Anyway, the quote comes from a scene in which Dr. Kevorkian wins in court after being tried (again) for murder. A reporter asks Kevorkian how it feels to be victorious. He replies, "Victorious? I never feel victorious. I just go ahead and do what I do. This isn't a victory to me; it [the right to die]'s just common sense!" Lately, I've found myself using a modified version of that quote, usually in the form of, "This isn't a brilliant insight; it's just common sense!" I find myself saying it after I point out to friends and family what I think ought to be common sense in understanding people with Asperger's Syndrome, or just people in general (quirky or not). And just in case people assume that I'm making this assertion with 20/20 hindsight, ALL of the following examples were based on situations I analyzed as a kid, in some cases as young as eleven:
- When I was eleven, I was diagnosed with scoliosis. I remember the doctor being cold and clinical and that this poor bedside manner made me cry. What I don't remember was that he said that I had a "deformity." Apparently that was "the end" for me. I don't remember it, but I'm sure it happened. My mother seemed to think that my reaction was a bit on the hypersensitive side. Well, let me say this. If you're an eleven-year-old kid who already feels like a freak and next you are told you have a deformity, how could you possibly let that roll off your back? When do you hear the word "deformity?" In medical shows about conjoined twins, or about people with extra fingers or missing limbs, what is colloquially known as a freak. A child who already feels like a freak getting upset about being told she has a deformity? How can that be surprising? This isn't a brilliant insight; it's just common sense!
- My mother and grandmother often reacted to my off-color jokes and even my drawings by telling me that such things weren't ladylike. After a while, I began confiding in my cousin (with whom I'm close) that I hated being a girl.By the time I was twelve, I analyzed this and saw very clearly how absurd it was that a child's genitals, which she does not ask for, apparently ought to determine her behavior instead of her brain. This isn't a brilliant insight; it's just common sense!
- My parents told me that I wouldn't be bullied as much and would have more friends if I only dressed and acted more feminine. I thought this was absurd, not just because such fakery would have made me uncomfortable but also because such friendships would have been phony. At age fifteen I saw this with great clarity. This isn't a brilliant insight; it's just common sense!
- I hugged the dog and told her that I loved her but I never behaved this way around other people. My mom thought it was odd and was concerned. My dad commented, "I don't see what's so hard to understand. The dog's soft, furry, and cute, and people aren't." This isn't a brilliant insight; it's just common sense!
- I ignored my shrink, Dr. Klein, at the synagogue because I was worried that if I said, "hello" to him, other kids would know I was in psychotherapy, which was taboo in the early '90s. Dr. Klein often expressed bewilderment at this behavior, as if it were so unusual (I have told my friends this story, and they said they probably would have done the same thing when they were kids). A kid feels like a freak, and the last thing she wants is for her peers to know she's seeing a shrink. This isn't a brilliant insight; it's just common sense!
- At age fifteen I saw the hypocrisy of my being sent to guidance for "help" after kids bullied me relentlessly. Kids who cannot stop themselves from bullying others are not sent to guidance. Why not? Bullying is a destructive behavior. Shouldn't the teachers be concerned? This isn't a brilliant insight; it's just common sense!
- I drew very deranged drawings in early adolescence (as alluded to in my "They don't have meetings about rainbows," remark). My dad was concerned; Mom was freaked out. Kids who draw rainbows won't draw the concern of their parents, but they also generally aren't nearly as creative as I was. I understood this to be the case by the time I was about thirteen. This isn't a brilliant insight; it's just common sense!
- My parents couldn't understand why I got so upset when they offered me "advice" after I came home from school. Well, think about it. I spent seven hours in school being criticized only to be criticized again when I got home. The fact that my parents' motives were different from those of my peers is irrelevant. At age fifteen I understood that this was why "advice" was upsetting to me. This isn't a brillant insight; it's just common sense!
- The "advice" my parents gave me was painful to hear because it often started with phrases like, "If you would just..." I stopped telling them about the bullying in school and did my best to pretend that everything was okay. They couldn't understand why I wouldn't come to them any longer. I think it's pretty obvious that I didn't need to hear yet another round of criticisms. This isn't a brilliant insight; it's just common sense!
- Everybody told me to "just ignore" the bullies, even when physical violence-- such as throwing clay-- was involved. Nobody would tell an adult to "just ignore" someone throwing things at her as she walked down the street each day. It would be called assault. I knew that ignoring wouldn't work because it would just make kids try that much harder to get a rise out of me. Only now is the conventional wisdom of "just ignore them" being overturned. Really? How could anybody think that this is an effective way to deal with bullies? This isn't a brilliant insight; it's just common sense!
Parents, caregivers, teachers, friends, etc. of Aspies... please use your common sense!