Friday, November 25, 2005

Sometimes it's hard to find good help...

Sometimes I wonder how many problems society creates for itself by segregating out each non-mainstream element of the wider community into it's own little niche. We have the "Queer" community, which is in turn made up of the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersexed communities. Then we have communities for various conditions... blind, deaf, autistic, and so on.

And there's the support for alcoholics, drug addicts, survivors of sexual abuse, and the list goes on. The problem becomes when you add REAL people into the equation. Real people do not fit neatly into boxes, and frequently belong to many of the abovementioned communities. This can mean that sometimes finding support, and even friendship can be difficult.

Using myself as an example... The gay community's most public face is a highly social, party oriented culture. While the gay community is increasingly recognising its diversity, that's still the most dominant facet. I'm not one for big parties. I prefer small intimite gatherings of friends and sharing deep conversation or common interests. The gay community also has some excellent support services (but a caveat below). The autism community is in a mess. This is actually at least two separate communities. The first (to develop) was the community made up of parents, carers, spouses and professionals. This community has driven almost all autism polict to date. The other, as I call it, the _autistic_ community is in its infancy, and has only become possible since the advent of the Internet. However, the autistic community is rapidly developing, both online and now in face to face meetings. Like the gay community, the autistic community is extremely diverse, with a wide array of people. The dominant face tends to be the so called "higher functioning" people, simply because these people are the ones with the resources to connect to the Internet and get out with minimal intervention by parents or carers.

Then we have the support groups. While my experience with support groups has been mostly positive, with GROW being one of the things that helped me to appreciate myself, there are still issues. The unique aspects of an autistic mind - highly retentive long term memory, strong associations, and a lifetime of living "blindly" in a subtle, social world take their toll. This damage accumulates over time, and can be particularly hard to address for a number of reasons (conventional counselling has very limted benefits for me because of the way I deal with contexts). Some of the mainstram support groups can also be a bit gay unfriendly, though the gay community (at least here in Melbourne) has its own comprehensive array of support services. The autism community, OTOH, would rather that I did not exist. Very few outside of specific circles such as gay autistic Internet groups or groups that know me personally want to even acknowledge the issue. Try getting an openly gay speaker into an autism conference to talk about their experiences, for example. In fact, even sexuality of any form among autistics is something that seems to have only recently been acknowledged.

This blinkered thinking is damaging people. I ran into an old personal problem which seriously affects some aspects of my relationships. After decades, I have just come to the realisation that this likely stems back to an incident during childhood. Given that this is adversely affecting my current relationship, I would like to deal with the issue and put it behind me, but who do I go to? Most professionals aren't equipped to handle the quirks of an autistic mind. The autism community would rather not know I existed, and aren't equipped to handle a gay man. The only possibility is a very busy professional who is not covered by the public health system, so that means a very expensive punt with no certain outcome, and one that I can't afford at this time, despite being well off compared to most. :-(

In the meantime, this lack of acceptance is damaging more gay autistics. It's time society faced up to the reality that some percentage of their auitistic kids are going to be something other than heterosexual, whether they like it or not. Best that these kids (when they're old enough) be equipped to survive in a community that can often be superficial, especially when it comes to sex and sexuality. I've seen so many people damaged to the point that even social relationships can get strained, because of anxiety caused by a innocent misunderstandings, which are trigged by a lifetime of bad experiences. I know I for one have some damage, though I do my best to recognise and minimise its impact, and I do my best to prevent new damage. But I'm lucky, I have a strong survival instinct and a very stubborn streak. ;-)

So where does a gay autistic go for counselling about childhood trauma? And where do young gay autistics and their parents, who ultimately should help guide them, go to learn to be "street wise" in a world where some people take advantage of easy prey?

Well, one day, I'd really like to be able to post here to say "I know just the right places to go for help, it's listed in both the gay and autism resource directories".

In the meantime, it's back to picking myself apart to see if I can face those demons.... alone.