This morning I wrote a post about adult autism. I came to the keyboard armed with statistics. I hashed out arguments. I agonized over the wording. I framed my life in terms of the grim numbers I’d found in the research.
When I was finished, I walked away from the computer feeling unsatisfied and restless. Does knowing that 14% of adults with ASD are married or 25% have at least one friend really mean anything? We can create a composite of averages, saying this or that about adults with autism, but that composite person doesn’t exist.
The average American family has 1.86 children. Do you know anyone who has 1.86 children? Of course not. The averages are just that. Fictional composites created by aggregating data and finding the mean. Ironically, that mean often doesn’t exist.
We can’t define autistic adults using averages any more than we can have 1.86 children in our family.
Tonight, I did what writers do. I deleted four hours worth of work and started over.
I decided to leave the statistics to the people who really need them, the advocates and policy makers, for whom they are tools of the trade.
Through the lens of humanity, quantifying something so complex and varied is a futile undertaking. The minute we divide ourselves into those with friends and those without, those with jobs and those without, those with partners and those without, we set up a false dichotomy.
Life is a journey, not a snapshot. We may shift in and out of those categories on our journey. We may intentionally choose not to join one side or the other. We may choose not to be quantified according to another’s standards of functionality.
We are individuals and as such we can only be understood as individuals, one at a time.
As I so often do, I went to the opposite extreme in search of inspiration. I abandoned statistics in favor of Tibetan Buddhism.
If I could explain in words how I got from one to the other, I would, but the closest I can come is this: I found myself standing so close to this subject that I felt blind to the shape of it and as I struggled for a solution, shuffling through bits of ideas and images and memories in my head, puzzling out how to describe something that refuses to take a single shape, I came upon a fragment of the quote below, stored up from some long ago reading or lecture:
Like the mountain, our lives need to be observed at a distance. To take any one moment and say it defines who I am is to diminish the whole of me, the greatness and complexity of all that I’ve been and will become.
Like the mountain, the form of our lives can only be understood fully by taking stock from all sides. Look at my life from one side and it looks dull, flat, unformed. Look from another angle and you’ll find texture and depth, hidden crevices jagged with fallen rocks and outcroppings worn smooth from the battering winds.
Like the mountain, experience reveals us to ourselves. Walking through rain and snow, basking in the sun, weathering the storms, we find our strength and frailty, we form bonds with others and choose which paths to walk alone.
With each passing season, I feel myself growing and changing, sometimes subtly, sometimes violently, but changing, always changing.
To see, to understand, to experience.
Instead of the statistics I’d planned to leave you with, I’ll give you people, others on the spectrum who are sharing their stories in their own words:
Amy Sequenzia (@ ollibean)
Aspects of Aspergers
The Asperger Cafe
Autism Raising Autism
E (The Third Glance)
Elizabeth J. (Ibby) Grace
Quirky and Laughing
The Caffeinated Aspie
Yes, That Too
If I’ve linked to you above and you’d like to be listed differently (or not listed), please let me know via twitter (@aspiemusings) or in the comments.