Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Free as a bird

What is more beautiful than absolute freedom? The endless possibilities without restraints or shackles, the World at your feet and dreams coming true… Unfortunately absolute freedom is a utopia. It is said that someone’s freedom ends where someone else’s begins, and rightfully so because we are all entitled to our own little place, both physically and in our world of thought. Therefore we humans have created rules and laws in order to safeguard everybody’s freedom to the maximum extent and to set clear boundaries. As such it is guaranteed – at least in theory – that everyone enjoys exactly the same amount of freedom. But there’s the rub for people with autism, because we often demand more from our environment than we are entitled to by the written or unwritten rules. Let me illustrate this with a small example. When I was still in the Air Force, I shared the same room with about ten other blokes and this was a disaster to me. After these tiring days I absolutely needed rest in order to be able to process the events of the day. But I wasn’t allowed that and in the room the law of the strongest prevailed, meaning that those who had the least need for sleep decided when the lights went out and when everything would be quiet. Not seldom this was way past midnight and since we had to be up on our feet again by six, there was not a lot of sleep in it for me. Not only are six ours way too few for me, but the constant frustration because of the incessant noise in the room drove me som ad that I couldn’t sleep anyway anymore when things eventually settled down. When I asked for a bit of understanding (obviously in those days I couldn’t think of anything else than arguing that I just needed more sleep) I was scorned at and my motion for silence was outvoted all against one. “Democracy”, they used to call that and I was to respect it.

Now I realise that if we want to take the need for more “breathing space” into account in our society for people with autism, or people with a different condition, that this has its consequences for the others, who’ll hence have to give in on their freedom. Like in my example not being allowed to talk anymore or put on the lights after let’s say ten, even if they’re all still wide awake and still have so many things to say. This will undoubtedly lead to frictions, directed at the “privileged person”. Frankly, I don’t think that any autistic person would actually want to be “privileged”. We attach to much value to fairness for everyone so this would most certainly make us feel bad.

But what is the solution then? A solution which doesn’t take away any freedom from anyone and yet will satisfy everyone? Honestly, I don’t know. What I can say is that we, the autistic people, claim the freedom which we can’t get in this harsh world in another, more cunning way: we create our own world in our thoughts and dreams. It’s the perfect catalyst to undo all the frustrations which we are subject to on a daily basis, the impenetrable defence mechanism which protects us from an overdose of stimuli and at the same time becomes our image of a better world, a world which is tailored to our needs and which we desire so much to become reality one day. Alas, also that is a utopia. But this will not stop me from growing wings and fly off into the deep blue sky, far away to a place where nothing or nobody can still touch me. And there I find peace, while I see the mountains and forest slide past below me. I understand that I’ve been very lucky so far because I can get pretty close to my dream. Like I described in my previous post, whenever things get too hectic for me, I can run away to a high and nearby mountain top. A place where you truly don’t hear anything anymore and the infinite grandness of this World stares you in the face. Mountains and valleys… yes, even the Mediterranean you can see from up there and if the weather’s cooperating, you can even make out Corsica on the horizon. Deep below me I see the tiny little villages, and the little winding roads on which cars the size of ants crawl on. That part of the World that makes my senses go berserk. And I look down upon it, from my mountain top, so far away from it all, and I can feel all of my worries slide off my shoulders. I wish so hard that also all of the other people with autism could find such a place of their own. Is that too much to ask for? I don’t thinks so. What if we started right now with that project? Let’s vote, us, the autistic people, and let us claim this right. The right for one place for each and every autistic person, especially chosen by him or her, where we can finally find peace and where we – at least in our thoughts – can truly be free.

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