Pardon the occasional swearing in this article but it’s one I felt I had to share:
Emotional Labor, Gender, and the Erasure of Autistic Women by Autistic Academic
Feel free to read the post first or my thoughts first (I think it works either way). Here goes my thoughts anyway:
I don’t share a lot of my life with John. Even less than what I share about my kids. Not because my life is the most important – quite the opposite – my kids and my husband are the most important things on Earth to me. But rather I believe their lives are their story, to choose to share or not share as they wish, if and when they want to.
Plus, I try to avoid sharing anything that portrays anything about their autism or any other condition, in a negative light. Of course there are downsides to having autism – I know that first hand! But I don’t want people to see the tiny negative fraction of what having autism includes.
Anyway, the reason I want to share this article is because of the one frustration I have with John, and the link it has to one of the devastating misconceptions society has about autism.
From the article (about missed diagnoses in girls):
“One answer that has been floated in several circles is that we “miss” autistic girls and women in diagnosis because girls are taught and socialized, from birth, to perform emotional labor. When the diagnostic criteria for autism spectrum disorder still emphasize deficits in emotional labor, clinicians are looking for lack – not for difference, which is more likely to appear in girls who have been socialized to perform emotional-labor rituals without being given any insight as to their meaning or purpose.
(This, by the way, has nothing to do with whether girls are “innately better” at emotional labor than boys. It has everything to do with how both girls and boys are raised. Girls are expected to at least make the effort; boys are not. Girls, therefore, show up in clinicians’ offices making the effort; boys do not. While no studies exist yet, I suspect that a study of boys who are raised in households that demand more emotional labor from them also “fly under the radar” of diagnosis more easily than boys who are raised without such demands.)”
Even though I adore John, one of the frustrations I have is that he does meet the male autistic stereotype when it comes to deficits in “emotional labor” (see the article for the definition of that term), and that deficit is there not just when comparing him to a neurotypical man, but even when being compared to other autistic men.
It can be very frustrating. But while many women in autism partner support groups (groups for partners of autistic people) blame autism for these deficits in their spouse, I do not. For two reasons – it’s insulting to other people with autism, male and female, who choose to take on the equal or majority share of the emotional labour in a relationship. And it also gives these men an excuse to continue with refusing to take on a fair of the emotional labour – ie “oh they can’t help it, it’s just their autism”. It gives these men an excuse to never bother to start doing their fair share of the emotional labour.
It’s damaging to autistic people in general, and it’s damaging to both the autistic person and their partner (NT or AS) in these marriage.
So while I adore John, it can be tough at time doing the lion’s share of the emotional labour. While I don’t blame autism for it, I don’t even blame John much for it, but what I do blame is a society that tells autistic men that this kind of behaviour is acceptable. And sadly it’s not just society as a whole, but well meaning family, friends and non-autism-specialist professionals who buy into the whole “it’s not their fault, it’s autism’s fault” and tell these men their choice of emotional labour division in their relationships is “normal” for autistic men.
So I am sharing the link to this article, despite this post going against my general beliefs about sharing negatives about autism and my family. But I am very passionate about anything that sells aspies short. The belief that anyone with autism/aspergers/ASD/ASC/ whatever you want to call it, can not learn and grow and be a healthy equal partner in every way (including emotionally) in a relationship, damages us all – every aspie/autie, and every person (neurotypical or AS) who has been, is and will ever be in a relationship with an AS person.
Yes us aspies/auties might need to learn about emotional development and relationship “rules” in an explicit way (ie we may need some things put to us really bluntly), preferably as children (but sometimes as adults for those that were never taught bluntly as children), but every single one of us are capable of pulling our fair emotional share in a relationship. Of course, like any relationship, there may be times where one person is doing more emotionally than the other. There may even be relationships where due to other conditions, one person ends up doing more of the emotional workload (the only example I can think of at the moment is like when something bad happens, like a death of someone close to one member of the couple, or loss of a job, or a diagnosis of a serious health condition etc), but the point is, over the whole time of a relationship, emotional contributions should be roughly equal – and autism, and gender too, are never reasons for one person to opt out of their fair share of the emotional labour.
So every time a family, friend or “professional” excuses John’s deficits in emotional labour, they sell him short and they sell all AS people short. As I said, I love John and my occasional frustration with him slipping into the stereotype of the “asperger male” doesn’t mean I don’t love him. But when reading this article tonight, all my frustrations at the people who have failed both him and I and our children by discouraging him from growing out of that aspie male stereotype, have come to a head.
It’s because of my love for him, and because I have seen his mind and soul, I think he has nearly infinite capacity for growth as a human being. I actually think most people (AS or NT) have nearly infinite capacity for emotional growth if given the right support and encouragement. And all too often AS people are discouraged from growing emotionally.
I want Sammie to grow up in a world where her nearly infinite capacity for growth emotionally is recognised, where she doesn’t get told “oh you have autism, you’ll never grow emotionally beyond the emotional age of a neurotypical toddler” which is basically what people are saying when they are saying about AS men “oh he can’t help it, it’s just his autism”.
So it’s something I’m very passionate about changing about how autism is viewed in society, both by general society and by professionals. All of us aspies and auties have just as much capacity for emotional growth as a neurotypical person. For some of us, it may take longer, for others of us, it may require being very blunt and direct (but for some of us, it actually may not take longer, I should add), but ALL of us have the capacity to grow emotionally throughout our life, same as any neurotypical has the same capacity to grow emotionally. Ongoing emotional growth is a choice available to everyone, AS or NT.
Ultimately, I just want to say to society… stop selling us aspies and auties short!
Until next time….