I want to say that when I do what I’m describing here, I actually do it sincerely. It’s a way of connecting with other people. But it’s also a survival skill I’ve learned that ensures that human connections are made and people are that much more likely to see you as a human being and not an annoying piece of flesh to kick around.
And that is, I really try to connect with people who work here. I try to find things we have in common or things we can relate to. I learned to do it after I saw my mother do it with a wide variety of people both in and out of the hospital. And it really helps create connections that allow people to think of you as real. It shouldn’t be necessary. People who can’t do this shouldn’t be treated worse. And I can’t always do this. But when I can, it’s made a huge difference both with relationships to people and with being treated well.
One thing that I always try to do is acknowledge how difficult their job is, how they are understaffed, underpaid, and overworked. When I do that they know that I’ve taken the time to think of them as a person and not a machine, and they start to think of me more as a person and a person who is pleasant to interact with. I also ask them how they are doing and how their day is going, what their job is like, and commiserate when things are going bad or chaotic and busy.
These aren’t skills that come naturally to me. I have always noticed these things about other people, but I have a hard time expressing them. I had to watch my mom do it for a long time before I could even begin to form the words and the scripts to allow me to show that I notice people’s humanity in this way. And it allows them to notice mine.
I am pretty certain that my actual survival has hinged on this at times. It shouldn’t. Survival absolutely shouldn’t depend on skills not everyone has. But if you can. Then you should try. If for no other reason than it makes you somewhat less vulnerable to abuse and neglect.
I find I get along better with nurses and LNAs here than I do doctors. They’re the ones who do the bulk of the actual care. And they appreciate it when people recognize this explicitly, because there is a hospital hierarchy and they are underneath doctors in that hierarchy just as janitors and patients are underneath them. They are the people I interact with the most. They are the people who bathe me and do the bedpans if necessary, who administer medications and tube feedings and fluids and everything else. And often they are sympathetic to my situation even when other people here are not.
Not that there aren’t problems. There are tons of problems. Sometimes you have to fight. But sometimes you have to connect on a human level and hope for the best. Because when people see you as someone who can connect to them, they are less likely to hurt you either deliberately or callously. There are always people who are impossible to get along with, people without a clue, but there are also people who are great once you make that connection even if they didn’t seem so great before.
And as I said, I never understood this or would have thought of it until my mom came with me to the hospital after surgery once. I saw her connect that way with every person who worked in the hospital as well as the cab driver who took us home and everyone else we met. And I decided to start trying the sort of conversational topics she used and it got more and more natural for me with time. So it’s also not true that being autistic means its impossible to ever learn such things. Sometimes for some people, yes. Including sometimes me. But other times I can do it and it has paid off massively in terms of both human connection and in terms of pure safety.
I also wanted to mention this because I’ve been talking about a lot of very bad experiences, but far from everyone here is as terrible as the people I’ve been talking about. There are a lot of people who are quite good at what they do, compassionate, and truly able to do their jobs without discriminating. Some of them are even more comfortable around disability than most people because many disabled people come here. Others on the other hand hide their disgust and fear and hatred of us behind a syrupy smile and sing-song voice. It all depends.