Why Autistic People May Be Happier Around Other Autistic People
By guest writer Jackson McMahan
Imagine a world where fitting in and being successful requires you to "mask" or suppress your natural behaviors. This hypothetical world may be a fantasy for lots of people, but for many autistic individuals, this world is often their reality. Autistic individuals spend much of their lives in a world dominated by neurotypical norms, so they adjust their behaviors to fit a societal standard they often don’t meet naturally.
However, when surrounded by others who understand and share these experiences, the need for masking decreases. In its place is a comfort derived from being around those who "get you" without judgment or expectation. In autistic communities, the societal pressures and expectations that often weigh heavily on autistic individuals in neurotypical settings seem to disappear. The ease of communication, the shared language, and the mutual understanding all contribute to a more harmonious and relatable interaction.
Beyond these immediate benefits, there's a deeper layer of support, acceptance, and mental well-being that comes from being part of such communities. It’s a layer that’s worth exploring to better understand how autistic individuals act in social situations, even if those experiences can vary widely, and to explain why joining these communities would be worthwhile for them.
Reduced Social Pressure and Expectations
Navigating the intricate maze of societal norms and expectations is a challenge for many, but for autistic individuals, it can often be an uphill battle. Societal norms and expectations don’t always align with an autistic individual’s intrinsic nature, which can be a massive burden for them; however, within autistic communities, many of these pressures disappear and are replaced by an atmosphere of acceptance and understanding.
In mainstream society, there's a pervasive set of norms and behaviors deemed "acceptable" or "normal." For autistic individuals, these norms can sometimes be restrictive or unnatural. From making eye contact during conversations to understanding unspoken social cues, the expectations can be overwhelming. The constant effort to adapt and "fit in" can lead to feelings of isolation and anxiety.
By contrast, autistic communities offer a haven from these pressures. Here, the emphasis is not on conforming but on celebrating individuality. It's a place where stimming is understood, where deep dives into specific interests are encouraged, and where the rhythm of communication is more attuned to the participants. It creates a relief from being constantly judged or expected to adapt.
One of the most profound benefits of being in an autistic community is the freedom to be oneself. Without the weight of societal expectations, people can explore their interests, communicate in ways that are natural to them, and engage with the world on their terms. The resulting freedom creates a sense of self-worth and confidence that allows people to thrive and flourish.
Enhanced Communication and Relatability
Communication is the bridge that connects people. It allows them to share ideas, emotions, and experiences. For autistic individuals, communication can sometimes be a complex dance filled with nuances that might not always align with neurotypical expectations. However, within autistic communities, there's a unique rhythm to communication that resonates with clarity and understanding.
When two autistic individuals converse, there's often a distinct flow to their interaction. Freed from the constraints of neurotypical social cues, their conversations can be direct, honest, and insightful. Whether it's a discussion about a shared interest or an exchange of personal experiences, there's a depth and authenticity not present in other conversations.
Every community develops its own language, a set of terms and expressions that capture its essence. In autistic communities, this shared language goes beyond words. It covers gestures, expressions, and even silences. This shared language reduces the chances of misinterpretations and creates a sense of belonging. It’s the result of autistic individuals being able to talk without having to constantly explain themselves or fear being misunderstood.
One of the joys of being in an autistic community is the opportunity to engage in relatable conversations. You can find yourself discussing niche interests, sharing sensory experiences, or simply reveling in the joy of a shared joke. These conversations reinforce the idea that you're not alone in your experiences and that there are others who understand and appreciate your perspective.
Support and Acceptance
At the heart of every community lies the foundational pillars of support and acceptance. For autistic individuals, these pillars are not just essential; they are transformative. Within the embrace of a community that understands and values them, autistic individuals find more than just camaraderie; they discover a sense of belonging that profoundly impacts their well-being.
Support within autistic communities goes beyond mere words of encouragement. It's about understanding the unique challenges that each member faces and offering resonant solutions. Whether it's sharing coping strategies for sensory overloads, offering insights into managing social interactions, or simply being there as a listening ear, the support is genuine and impactful. This mutual support system acts as a safety net where no one feels isolated or overwhelmed.
One of the most profound human desires is to be accepted for being ourselves. In autistic communities, this acceptance is a given. Members are not judged based on their behaviors, communication styles, or interests. Instead, they are celebrated for their uniqueness and individuality. This unconditional acceptance creates a sense of belonging, a feeling that one is part of a larger whole that values and understands them.
There's an undeniable power in being part of a community that shares your experiences, challenges, and joys. For autistic individuals, this community becomes a sanctuary, a place where they can be themselves without fear of judgment. These communities can create bonds that are deep and lasting, built on a foundation of mutual respect and understanding.
Benefits for Mental Health
The mental well-being of a person is intricately linked to their environment, relationships, and sense of belonging. For autistic individuals, the benefits of being part of a supportive and understanding community can have profound implications for their mental health.
If you have autism, then living your life in a world that often doesn't understand or accommodate your needs can be anxiety-inducing. From sensory overloads to misinterpretations in social interactions, the challenges are numerous. However, within the embrace of an autistic community, many of these stressors are reduced. The understanding and shared experiences reduce feelings of anxiety and provide a safe space where individuals can relax and be themselves.
Reduced Need to Mask
Constantly feeling the need to mask one's true self or adapt to fit into societal norms can erode self-esteem over time. By contrast, being part of a community that celebrates individuality and uniqueness can bolster self-worth. Recognizing that one's differences are not just tolerated but valued can have a transformative effect on how someone perceives oneself.
The power of validation cannot be understated. Having one's feelings, experiences, and challenges acknowledged and validated provides invaluable emotional support. In autistic communities, members find this validation thanks to them knowing their experiences are shared and understood by others.
Challenges and Considerations
While the benefits of autistic communities are numerous and profound, it's essential to approach the topic with a balanced perspective. Like any community or group, there are challenges and considerations to be aware of with autistic communities.
Communities Aren’t One Size Fits All
The autism spectrum covers various experiences, challenges, and needs. What works for one person might not work with another. While many find solace and understanding within these communities, others might feel that their specific challenges or experiences aren't addressed.
Misunderstandings Between Members
Even within communities of shared experience, misunderstandings can arise. Differences in communication styles, sensory sensitivities, or personal boundaries can lead to conflicts or feelings of being misunderstood.
Overreliance on the Communities
While autistic communities offer invaluable support and understanding, there's a potential risk of becoming overly reliant on them. It's important for individuals to also develop coping mechanisms and strategies that allow them to navigate broader society.
Miscommunication Within the Group
Every person has unique needs, preferences, and boundaries. Balancing these individual requirements with the dynamics of a community can sometimes be challenging. It's important for members to communicate their needs clearly and for the community to be flexible and accommodating.
Autistic communities offer a haven of understanding, support, and shared experiences; however, it's important to recognize and address the challenges that might arise. By doing so, these communities can continue to evolve and ensure that they remain inclusive, supportive, and helpful for all members.
The journey of understanding and exploring the dynamics of autistic communities brings to light the profound impact of shared experiences, understanding, and mutual support. These communities are beacons of acceptance that offer their members somewhere they can truly be themselves.
The potential benefits of creating and nurturing autistic communities are plentiful. From enhanced mental well-being to the joy of genuine connections, the positive impacts touch the lives of countless individuals. However, as with any community, it's important to recognize the challenges and continuously strive for inclusivity, understanding, and growth.
Furthermore, these insights underscore the importance of broader societal understanding. The more we understand the dynamics, challenges, and joys of autistic communities, the better equipped we are to support and celebrate the diverse tapestry of the autism spectrum. In closing, the exploration of autistic communities is not just an academic or sociological endeavor. It's a journey into the heart of human connection, understanding, and the profound impact of finding one's tribe.
‘I never realised everybody felt as happy as I do when I am around autistic people’: A thematic analysis of autistic adults’ relationships with autistic and neurotypical friends and family, Crompton, Hallet, Ropar, et. al Sage Journals. March 7, 2020