What is perceived progress? Perceived progress is simply a term (I made up!) for a societal understanding of progress in Autistic children- often following the ideology that Autistic people must be seen, not heard; or be made to be as ‘normal’ as they can be, to be less of a ‘burden’ on carers or society.
I don’t agree with the ideology or the perspective that Autism is a burden - and oddly many parents or carers who follow this ideology don’t consciously believe it either - rather they’ve been taught to believe that the perceived progress born from this ideology is the only hope available to help. There’s no shame because they were vulnerable and needed support and help - and it’s not their fault they were preyed on by society.
Perceived progress can look like a mask... In this way this ideology includes, but is not limited to, teaching an Autistic person to hide their Autistic traits or mask who they are: forced eye contact, pushing through overwhelm or overloads instead of resting or recovering how they need to, not reacting to trauma or pain and not validating or allowing stimming. What ever it is, it takes away a fundamental part of who we are as Autistic people. People see us no longer acting 'Autistic' and see progress - but it’s perceived progress only because it doesn’t help us - it can’t. It only looks like it helps us because society sees diversity and Autism as such an awful, inferior way of being (unless we are savants of course and then they worship us and see us as worthy to support even through our ‘quirks’ - even though they'll gatekeep the support too).
Perceived progress in this way also buys into the fact that society deems us Autistics as lesser worthy of support or true help.
True, healthy progress can only come from acceptance support and love. You can’t easily accept yourself if you’re constantly taught by everyone around you - even your loved ones- that you’re wrong for everything you do and that you must change to be better, no matter how it impacts you? It’s heart breaking, and it’s teaching us our consent and needs don’t matter because no one likes us for who we are - so we MUST change. Is that change good for us? Nope!
From a base of acceptance and support, real progress can be made - self love, life skills and independence training. As a society we REALLY need to learn the difference between “good” “helpful” “progress” and “convenient” “perceived progress”. Perceiving progress in a child who no longer stims, who makes forced eye contact, or forces themselves to hug or touch people or do things they aren’t comfortable with as ‘making progress’, is NOT making progress - it’s counterproductive and further harming the child. Likewise, teaching your child to obey authority figures / any people without question no matter how uncomfortable the task or person makes them, is not only “counter productive” but actually UNBELIEVABLY DANGEROUS. It’s complicated because encouraging a mask to hide autism, in return of conditional love, care and respect, starts with - “you must make eye contact and hug and shake hands, even if you don’t want to, even if it hurts, even if it doing so will deplete your capabilities - you have to do it” “you must never stim, or do your defence mechanisms that help you" "you must not act Autistic”. this stuff is taught because social norms dictate we must - and nothing else matters, so long as we look like we are ‘making progress’. Perceived progress, is not progress.
But how easy is it then to turn that to, “you must touch me and I must touch you because I want to. Your consent doesn’t matter because I want you to”. If you’re taught your whole life your consent doesn’t matter because you’re being taught that you must abide by social norms that harm you, regardless of your consent then it’s very easy to cross the line into abuse and makes us super vulnerable to anyone at all who could wish us harm. It teaches us that anyone who isn’t us, needs to be listened to and their rules abided to, because they are not us and therefore not wrong. Kids, like all people, are allowed to say "NO" - we can teach them how to do so politely and respectfully, but ultimately if adults don not respect their boundaries - the fault is with the adult, not the kids. Consent matters Our consent never matters and our coping mechanisms and rules are always trampled in order to selflessly abide to the rules and norms of other people that actively harm us in the present and our future lives, we are even taught to abide to the rules of the people who mean us harm. Where’s the long term societal safe guarding in any of this? It’s all done so we can appear ‘normal’ because normal is perceived as progress. What else do we say yes to when we don’t want to? What else do we ‘consent’ when under normal circumstances, given the choice, we wouldn’t have?
Consent made in fear of punishment or phycological harm or in-acceptance is not consent. Taught consent over a life time, is not consent. Our children are not consenting to this mask of ‘normalcy’ and they’re not benefiting from the perceived progress. Society is. Valuing Autistic boundaries and perceived progress... Too many adults do not value autistic boundaries because they do not understand them, and therefore so many people and professionals view autistic boundaries as manipulation or attentions seeking or just flat out lies: How can a hug or shaking hand burn our skin or overwhelm us to the point of shutting down our future capabilities? How can standing up in class to write our answer on the whiteboard, cause us to suddenly not be able to write or remember anything we previously knew? How can making eye contact cause us such distress that we need time out, or our capabilities shutdown? How can a flickering light stop us from learning at our best in that moment? How can supressing stimming, turn into such a huge meltdown? How can forcing us to process information at the same speed as everyone else, cause us to become overwhelmed, shutdown or otherwise unable to be at our best? Our needs are misunderstood and often judged as us being naughty or manipulative but this isn't true. Due to this lack of understanding and stigma, people then perceive progress in autistic children masking their autism, because they never respected their boundaries to begin with - we cannot respect boundaries, and validate Autistic needs to allow us to say "no", if we do not believe the boundaries and needs are legit and valid to begin with. Good intentions to help, and perceived progress Even with all the best intentions to empower an autistic person in the world, good intention alone cannot save you from disrespecting an autistic persons boundaries and consent, if you do not also believe that their needs are valid and not rooted in manipulation for bad reasons. Autistic people are allowed to have boundaries, and those boundaries should be respected. Always. The truth is, these good intentions to help autistic people, and perceiving progress in a mask that hides autism, and disrespects consent, can only set our autistic loved ones up for potential future abuse from people who want to harm them. That's the last things any of us want! and that's why there is no shame if you have been perceiving progress - its not your fault you were not taught how to best help autistic people, when you needed support. Besides, the other truth is that like you, searching for help, and only finding abusive tactics from an ableist misunderstanding society, Autistic people are less able to distinguish between healthy and unhealthy relationships if neither respect their needs, consent or wellbeing - especially if they are chronically exhausted and shutdown or burnout and overwhelmed from masking their autism and their needs, not only from view, but from themselves too. Encouraging a mask, against all other priorities of progress that harm an autistic person, is merely convenient for a neurotypical ableist SOCIETY. encouraging a mask for the convenience and acceptance of a society that won’t support us or aid us to make true progress, will not improve until WE ALL try to take a stand and say “NO more!”
I’m saying “no more!” Are you? As a society we REALLY need to learn the difference between “perceived progress” and “true progress”. The question is, are YOU ready to do your best to support real progress? Yes. Me too. Let’s make change together. Together, everyone achieves more. x <3 x