It’s a good day when someone acknowledges my struggles.

While it was brief, somewhat in passing, and part of a much longer and substantial conversation, recently someone acknowledged that I had more physical and mental health challenges than most people. Furthermore, he acknowledged that I’d been working on doing the best I could with them for many years.

It’s not like I’m looking for pity; that’s demeaning. I’m also not looking for complete understanding; that’s unreasonable. But, to be seen and acknowledged as having real—not imagined—problems, is considerable.

When people seem to just be complaining, try to understand what is really happening. And, when they are trying to tell you why they are upset from the outset, perhaps even preemptively apologizing because they have no clue if they’ve done anything wrong, listen carefully. If they go on and on, make sure they know you have heard them, and remind them, write it down, do anything to help them know you are not forgetting their pain. This particular person had done that in the past with some notes, and I made a note to myself to “read these on bad days.”

I’m tired of people saying, “Just get over it,” “Move on,” “It’s no big deal,” to things they do not comprehend. If you don’t understand, you still have a choice about being dismissive. You still can listen, if not a lot, then a little. You still can acknowledge there is a problem and pause ten seconds to ponder how you might reasonably help, especially if you have a responsibility or connection to the person.

This seems like the perfect time for an Oprah quote!

Oprah Winfrey said, “I’ve talked to nearly 30,000 people . . . and all 30,000 had one thing in common. They all wanted validation.” Put another way, she said, “arguments come down to three things: Did you hear me? Did you see me? Did what I say mean anything to you?”

Surely, not all 30,000 people on Oprah’s show were autistic. I’ll go further and posit her guests were less likely to be on the spectrum than the general population. It would be a bit overwhelming to most of us.

This seems similar to what marginalized people sometimes communicate, whether proclaiming loudly and eloquently in front of a reflecting pool, kneeling quietly and introspectively on stadium grass, or breathing heavily on pavement. For them, it’s more than interpersonal, it’s inter-societal. It’s a need for validation on a macro level.

Validation is not an autism issue, but a people issue. However, like most things relating to interactions with people, autism typically multiplies the difficulty. If you are autistic and feel alienated from your “group,” where do you go? The autistic experience of invalidation comes more from a micro level. It doesn’t really matter how validated your “group” is if you don’t get it yourself. For those who are both autistic and in a marginalized group, it’s especially difficult, and I acknowledge the struggles they likely have beyond my experience. Often, the autistic experience becomes more powerful than any other, as we have been isolated from our own “group,” and we tend not to like how society groups people to begin with.

Thank you, then, to this person for supporting me recently, perhaps so quickly and intuitively, you didn’t realize it. And, to anyone who is not afraid to see beyond the surface of autism and many other conditions, thank you.

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