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Hi I'm Leonie, Collector of feathers, pebbles and words, with ink-stained hands, an overactive mind, and a sunshine-filled heart.

This blog is all about: ART > FOOD > LOVE > RUNNING > NAVEL-GAZING > ASPERGERS > SELF-DISCOVERY


Social coping strategies and labels



There is a lot written in the autistic community about labels - there's those who like them, those who don't, those who highlight labels as a welcome alternative to negative slurs, those who believe functioning labels (ie high or low functioning) are a bit defunct and only serve to further divide autistics into ever smaller 'us and them' groups. There are people who have strong opinions on their preference for referring to themselves as autistic, or a person with autism (person-first), or an autistic person (autism is not an accessory), or neurodivergent, or aspie, or aspergirl, just a plain ol' person.

These points of view get me thinking about labels in a wider context, independent of autism but interrelated all the same.

My brain, of course, is constantly analysing all these points of view; my own opinion shifting and morphing till it settles somewhere that's moderately comfortable. Without the supporting opinions and thoughts of others, my own views on things are transparent; ghostly - my sense of self is not yet well developed enough to feel that many of my thoughts are solid and heavy. I may well re-read this post in six months and completely disagree with myself. More often than not, everything is a grey area. My opinions are changeable; they flicker like sequins in the sun, their bright sparkling only a reflection of something else.

Labels, however, are one of the few things I do feel I have a pretty solid stance on. I like them. They are important to me because they help me understand my environment, help other people understand me, and allow me to find others like myself. I'm not talking simply about autism - but about any labels used in a social environment. To me they are a big fat Sharpie marker, outlining the edges of what is expected. They illuminate the goalposts of life in an otherwise ethereal, confusing and shape-shifting social landscape. They create a starting point, open a door, signify a stance.

Labels to me are not just words. Labels are pieced together from social cues and nuances. My social skills suck a bit, but not because I miss these cues altogether; but because I misinterpret them when they are not obvious enough. Labels, identifiers, style, attitude, brands: these are obvious. These are helpful. All these things help me discern the margins of an otherwise invisible playing field. When I have to interact with people I'm constantly scanning for these identifiers. And likewise: I use my own labels to communicate, hopefully making up for my deficiencies in normal verbal communication.

For example: what I wear in new social situations is extremely important to me. Not because I love fashion or want to look cool or hot (ha!) or whatever - but because I assign all sorts of anthropomorphic qualities to clothes. Why? Because my verbal communication is so bad that I need other things to speak for me. I need my clothes, my haircut, my Chuck Taylors to scream for me, 'THIS IS WHO I AM', when I am unable to form the words that I so desperately want to. Make these assumptions about me before you open your mouth, please. Meet me where I am.

Anxiety strikes at the crucial moment and I falter, yet I can't bear to be misunderstood, misjudged, written off as something I am not. My words fail so my clothes need to speak. My body language is awkward and disjointed, I am mumbling something inappropriate, but how I look? I got that ready ahead of time. Organised, baby! That part of my is set, controlled and usually (I think) appropriate for the situation. I hope it speaks for me, even just a little. I hope it somehow eloquently conveys so much that my voice cannot.

Does any of this actually work, in practice? Maybe... but probably not like I imagine. It's not the kind of thing you ask people, is it? 'So, do you understand by virtue of the fact that I'm wearing a leather cuff and a funky tooth necklace and sneakers and although I am gagging on this weird little mushroom hors d'oeuvre and don't know what to do with my hands and am mumbling something irrelevant and ill-timed that I'm actually a very interesting and awesome person who listens to NOFX and makes  art and can be amazingly funny at times? Do you? DO YOU SEE ME?'

These things I cling to make up my identity... in the absence of any real sense of self I cling to one word answers; representations, totems, poster children, tribes: the non-speaking things say so much.

This is what I think of when I think of labels.

You want to label me? You want to label yourself? Hell yeah, slap them on there. At least a couple might hit the mark. Mis-labelling is frustrating, but being invisible is soul destroying.



PS - Bloggers - If I've linked to you here and taken you out of context or you'd rather I just remove the link anyway please let me know. :)


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