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Commentary: Authority and Autism



By: Jackson Hamilton, Guest Writer

One thing about being autistic that is more difficult than any other is how punitive people are. Minor social mistakes lead to massive consequences and it is a big, unforgiving, world out there. The politics of mental health is usually focused on access to health care, the relationship with peers and authority is typically unsaid. Next to being a racial minority, having a DSM-5 condition is the next most likely thing to get someone killed by police and Karens feel justified in snitching on minor behaviors as much on the neurodivergent as racial minorities. PTSD makes everything worse.

If people think you are strange, weird, or any other synonym, people become nervous and the authorities are never far off. That might be a cliché but it is not one that has gotten much better in the past few years and in the short years of my life has actually become worse and that because of the hypersensitivity of the up and coming generations and the feeling that everyone has a right to be comfortable. If you make people uncomfortable then they are liable to snitch. On the receiving end of that, it makes life an unending terror and excruciating self-consciousness of one’s behavior.

At the College of Charleston, I was reported to the Dean of Students for platonic harassment on, at least, five occasions. Two of those involved the campus police and the campus police were cc’d on the emails of a third. To be clear, in my life, I have never been violent, never asked anyone on a romantic date, never had an alcoholic beverage, never had a recreational drug, never had a tobacco product, never engaged in a property crime. For some reason or another, I was such a monster that platonic interactions were dangerous for me. The normative position of the College of Charleston was that to be a good person, I needed to self-segregate.

One of the reasons I spent so much time there and never, ultimately, graduated despite having over 130 credits was the hyper vigilance in my prefrontal cortex from the constant self-consciousness making the already difficult classes like language and math impossible. My autism didn’t make languages impossible, the lacking bandwidth in my prefrontal cortex did which kept me from graduating. In large part, because of the rights of people to be comfortable and it was more miserable than I can possibly convey.

At Wando, when I cut my wrists and having a depressive episode in the woods behind the stadium during a Powderpuff football game, I was tackled by administrators and dragged into public, in front of the stands and everyone, by the campus police, one of whom threatened to handcuff me if I continued to cry. My vice principal at Wando barred me from my junior prom for cutting myself and tried to block me from taking the SAT after reports of me expressing suicide ideation. My bullies urinated on me, threw rocks at me, spit in my face, claimed I was demonically possessed and performed exorcisms on me, took my phone and texted for someone to rape me from it, and more. The only person who ever got in trouble for any of this was me for the effects of it.

For the record, I am not hopelessly socially awkward with extremely poor social skills. In fact, social skills are a relatively minor part of this. Nor has this anything to do with any disturbing hobby or idiosyncrasy, I don’t have any of those. I’ll link to this article in Psychology Today  Its definition of creepiness doesn’t require anything sexual but merely being in the psychological “uncanny valley”. If someone finds you uncomfortable, things can get dark and traumatic very fast. The next item is anxieties over social capital and ideas of coolness, lameness, popularity, and unpopularity which persist through adulthood and that being unpopular can be social suicide or regarded as such by anyone associated with you.

There are far worse stories of the relationship between autism and mental health, generally, and authority. Stories that end in death or serious physical injury but the stories I related convey the daily terror of authority while on the spectrum. Being slightly uncanny can make people see you as creepy and no matter how clean of a life you live, how devoid of romance or violence or vice, that isn’t enough. They want comfort and if you make them uncomfortable then they’ll make your life a living hell.

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