Charles McIntyre of Mattapoisett is like most 25-year-olds – he has a job, interests, appreciates the art of sarcasm, spends time online networking, and still maintains a healthy degree of idealism when it comes to social issues.
In other words, Chuck strives to make a difference in the world, to be his authentic self, and find happiness and fulfillment in life.
But unlike others, McIntyre has had his own unique challenges along the way. After all, for 25 years now he has been navigating a world that is constructed around the concept of ‘normal,’ of ‘neurotypicalness.’
On November 15 during a presentation at the Mattapoisett Library, McIntyre let us all in on a little secret – surprise! He is autistic, he is amazing, and you might as well get used to it because, according to him, he’s not the weird one – it’s we ‘neurotypicals’ who are weird. (Neurotypicals are humans born with typical brains who perceive and behave in ways that are considered ‘normal’ – NT for short.)
McIntyre made it all the way to junior high before he was introduced to the NT world of exclusion of others who are ‘different.’
“My view of myself and autism … changed from being different like needing extra help … to junior high where I felt less and less,” he said. “I felt more and more judged. I felt really down on myself and developed an inferiority complex all the way to college.”
It was in college during his early childhood education class for learners with disabilities when his view of himself began to change, McIntyre said. For the first time ever he was led to start researching “strengths of autism,” of which there are plenty, he assures us.
With this paradigm shift, he developed a positive perspective of autism and of his own self image, and soon he was online connecting with other autistics.
“And I developed this sense of community,” he said, which may seem odd to NTs, since it is a common misconception that autistics dislike interacting with people, he added.
These new friends, like him, experienced similar hardships and struggled with life in an NT society.
“How they felt judged, abused, mistreated, how they struggled at work,” he said.
But times are changing, said McIntyre, and he and other autistics and NT allies have adopted a pro-autistic viewpoint and are spreading the message of acceptance and advocacy.
“Different, not less,” spoken by famous autistic Dr. Temple Grandin, is their shared battle cry, he said, “as we go through life everyday conquering the obstacles and misunderstanding.”
“We are not walking tragedies,” he emphasized. “We are amazing individuals.” We don’t need to be cured, said McIntyre, and autism happens so you might as well accept it and get used to it.
The paradigm for decades has been that doctors and NT therapists know what is best in terms of ‘treating’ autistics – the medical model – normalizing their behaviors, finding a cure, “because ‘different’ is bad.”
A more evolved approach – the social model – is more agreeable to autistics, he says, as autistics and the NTs eliminate the stigma of autism.
“The social model … changed my perspective permanently and for the better.” McIntyre is talking about inclusion, giving a voice back to autistics to self advocate and say ‘no’ when they feel mistreated.
The media often portrays autistics in a way that annoys a lot of autistics, he added. Take Sheldon Copper from The Big Bang Theory. He’s funny, says McIntyre, but, “The only problem with him is we don’t like being compared to [that]. We don’t like being known as the ‘annoying smart guy.’”
So no stereotypes, please.
Autistics don’t want to be thought of as anti-social, and don’t even think for one second that autistics lack empathy.
“That one stabs me deeply in the heart,” he said, because what he experiences is more like an overabundance of empathy for the world.
Describing what he meant, he said, “If you ever toss and turn in the night, think about all the world’s gross problems … all the people who are suffering, and you think to yourself, ‘I wish I could eat the world’s cancer and then come back for seconds,’ then maybe you would know the empathy of autistics.”
Another ableist idea is that autism can be defined by “mild” or “severe” – “low-functioning” and “high-functioning.”
Carly Fleischmann is a famous autistic, author, and advocate who was considered low-functioning because of her behaviors, “stims” (self-stimulating repetitive activities a person does that gives them additional sensory and neurological input), and lack of speech.
“She can read at a superhuman speed and she’s a brilliant writer,” said McIntyre, calling Fleischmann one of his top ten famous autistics that he’s heard of.
We have now entered a time when non-verbal and seemingly “low-functioning” autistics have access to more advanced technology, allowing them to communicate with the world, giving the NT world a peek into what it’s like to be autistic. Read books by autistic people, McIntyre says, to really know what autism is like.
McIntyre is spreading the message of pro-autistic thinking, which focuses on the strengths of autistic people, using language like ‘different, not less,’ and ‘differently-abled’ instead of disabled. It celebrates accomplishments and doesn’t view autistics as hopeless figures with no future and, most importantly, he said, “Pro-autistic thinkers never mutter or clamor for a cure.”
Autistics do have empathy, and they are loyal, honest, and curious. They have special interests, passions, highly active imaginations, and are determined to make sense of the world, he said. We aren’t judgmental. We are awkward yet endearing, have a knack for recognizing patterns, and can think often think in pictures and have killer memories, he said.
On the flip side, said McIntyre, “Autism is not a bowl of cherries.”
There are some tough aspects to autism. Take eye contact, for example. “The eyes are the window of the soul,” he said. “We can hear you too much, your emotions are too loud – they’re over-stimulating.”
And meltdowns. They’re terrible, he said. Different from the typical “tantrum,” meltdowns happen when there’s sensory overload due to a sensory processing disorder. Sometimes emotions can be overwhelming, said McIntyre, causing him to lose control.
“It’s like the breaking of a dam,” he said. “…You cry, sometimes you run. I still have those, adults have them too, they just happen. Sensory overload, emotional overload, or we have trouble understanding the neurotypical world.”
Things overheat, he said. “Things melt.”
Autistics also face discrimination, have a hard time finding and keeping jobs, are often the targets of predators, have a hard time relating with NTs, especially socially, and experience anxiety, among other difficulties.
“But you get the good with the bad, right Mom?” said McIntyre to his mother, Miranda, seated in the audience.
Be an autism ally, he suggested. Be patient. Ask about their interests. Listen. Speak last. Stand up when someone’s rights are violated. Encourage their talents. Accept their quirks. Don’t mock them. And never assume an autistic cannot live a worthwhile life.
And if you are an autistic, said McIntyre, practice self advocacy. Get the formal diagnosis if you haven’t yet. “See what you can accomplish yourself or individually with technology,” he said.
“You know yourself, you know what you need. Never feel bad or weak,” he said. “You need accommodations because the world isn’t built around you.”
And never, ever let anyone push you around.
“Go do what needs to be done and never give up.”
McIntyre ended his presentation with the International Charter of Autists’ Rights: the rights to life, humanity, parity, identity, safety, support, reputation, accuracy, and equality.
‘Like’ the Facebook page “Intelligent Autistic Media” to learn more from McIntyre and his colleagues. To join the pro-autistic conversation, ask to join the Facebook group “Pro-Autism Allies of Intelligent Autistic Media.”
By Jean Perry