How are autistic people meant to negotiate boundaries when they spend the vast majority of their lives having their own boundaries ignored, trampled, or ridiculed?
Content warning: sexual abuse
Last year, Safe Kids, Thriving Families—a child abuse protection charity—introduced a campaign encouraging parents to not force their children to kiss or hug adults in their lives. The charity posted on Facebook:
“Just to be clear to everyone — WE LOVE HUGS AND KISSES. However, we are VERY MUCH against FORCING kids to kiss and hug. We are a child abuse protection charity who work in our community with victims and families and it is well established in this field that ONE of the ways to protect our children is to change our cultural attitudes towards consent and body autonomy.”
As silly as it may initially sound, I wonder if we could have a similar campaign by adults, for adults. As someone on the autistic spectrum, my life is constantly punctuated by moments where my consent is not prioritized and my personal boundaries are considered too obscure. The irony is that I am the one described as stubborn and unyielding — all while I organize my entire life around meeting the rigid societal norms created by allistic (non-autistic) people. Every day I walk on eggshells to avoid offending others. I make eye contact; I shake hands; I make awkward small talk — all done solely to make allistic people feel better. Meanwhile, my boundaries are considered both too unimportant and too “weird” to be accommodated.
How are autistic people meant to negotiate boundaries and provide consent when they spend the vast majority of their lives having their own boundaries ignored, trampled, or ridiculed?
From an early age, I took things very literally and never enjoyed breaking the rules. The mounting anxiety and the crushing guilt I felt afterwards never seemed to outweigh whatever rewards were promised; I liked doing what I was told. And, especially as a kid on the autistic spectrum, there were some basic rules I understood about life. One of them was that adults were always right and should always be listened to.