In honor of the annual airing of Rudolph the Rednosed Reindeer this coming Tuesday.
When I was in elementary school, I was fascinated by the Island of Misfit Toys.
If you have no idea what I’m talking about, here’s an outtake from Rudolph the Rednosed Reindeer. Rudolph and his friends have just found themselves on the Island of Misfit Toys and the toys are describing their problems:
The Island of Misfit Toys is like aspie heaven–a place where no one measures up to conventional expectations and you’re not even allowed to stay if you might be the least bit “normal.” A place where it’s okay to be a bird that swims or a cowboy who rides an ostrich.
Because that’s the real issue with living in a neurotypical world, isn’t it? Conventional expectations. If 99% of people had aspie brains instead of neurotypical brains, then aspies would be the baseline. Imagine a world where making small talk was considered dysfunctional and hugging someone you’ve just met was frowned upon.
But we aspies live in a world filled with norms and expectations that we often don’t understand or that we find ridiculous. A world that isn’t going to conform to our standards. So the question becomes: move to the island of misfit toys or give up swimming and learn to fly like the other birds?
Much of the self-help information out there for adults on the spectrum is focused on learning to fly in formation. Learning to assimilate, to pass, to appear less autistic.
To a certain degree, assimilating is beneficial. If you’re the train with square wheels or the boat that sinks, learning basic life skills is necessary. We live in an NT world and refusing to acknowledge that fact is going to result in frustration and bitterness. A certain amount of assimilation makes life easier. Given all of the challenges aspies face, that doesn’t seem like a bad thing.
But what if you’re the cowboy riding the ostrich?
Well, does the ostrich make you happy? Can you ignore the strange looks and snide comments from some of the other cowboys? If you’re like me, you’ve probably developed a certain capacity for ignoring what other people think about you. Maybe you even like defying conventional expectations.
As adaptive strategies go, flying your freak flag sounds like a pretty good one to me.
Let’s Be Independent Together
Early on in Rudolph the Rednosed Reindeer, Rudolph and Hermey decide they’re going to fly their freak flags. They’ve had it with conventional expectations. Their efforts at assimilation have failed and they’re tired of being ridiculed for being different.
They come up with a solution that’s wonderfully Aspergerian: they decide to be “independent together.” It’s meant to be a silly play on words, but there’s a lot of wisdom in that phrase.
To be independent together is to accept our differences, to celebrate what makes us uniquely autistic, each in our own way.
To be independent together is to walk our paths, side-by-side, but not in lockstep.
To be independent together is something we can each do, right now, today.
Just look around until you find one of those unconventional cowboys. When you do, give ’em a smile and say, “Hey, that’s a cool ostrich you’ve got there.”
It’s that simple.