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Q: You mentioned that it is beneficial for people with autism to be in contact with other autistic people. Can you share your reasoning for this and how it is helpful to you? You are an inspiration, no doubt you will soon come to realize just how many lives you have touched with your story.
Marion Belanger, Chatham, Ontario
BAGGS: Autistic and non-autistic people perceive different kinds and amounts of information about the world around us, and we respond in different ways to the information we do perceive. Much of the information perceived by autistic people is not perceived by non-autistic people at all, and many of our responses to our environment are incomprehensible to non-autistic people for that reason.
Being exposed to a wide variety of autistic people -- and I emphasize wide variety because we're not all alike, and some of us "click" with each other and others don't -- is important because then we are around people perceiving closer to the same things as we are. We may pick up on things about each other, including each other's body language and what each other are responding to, that are invisible to non-autistic people. Not because we have any amazing superpowers, but for the same reason that non-autistic people have at least a basic instinctual understanding of each other's body language and responses.
Donna Williams, an autistic woman, once said that normal is being in the company of those like yourself. Being around other autistic people, particularly the ones you "click" with, can feel like being normal. I feel totally normal when I am talking to my friend Laura or many of my other autistic friends. I always find it amazing how we communicate so well among ourselves yet our conversations with non-autistic people are fraught with extremes of misinterpretation in both directions.
I don't want to imply that there is only one kind of autistic communication.
There are autistic people I communicate easily with, and autistic people whose communication is totally alien and overloading to me even if they technically speak the same language. Which is why being exposed to a variety of autistic people is so crucial.
So we can learn things from each other, and it also can give us the experience of being understood, of communicating with more ease than we normally do, and so forth. Imagine being the only non-autistic person you knew, and you can see why you might seek out other non-autistic people for all kinds of reasons.
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