This is the first in a series of “Letters to a Younger Me,” where our autistic contributors look back at some of the experiences and ideas that shaped their younger years. Transition is exciting, but it can also be challenging. These posts let our contributors share with other students the wisdom and perspective they’ve gained through their personal, academic, and professional growth. We find them pretty powerful and inspiring. We think you’ll agree. – The STS Team
Dear Justin Robbins (2011),
Hello! It’s good to finally talk with you. I’ve wanted to do this for years now. How are you doing? You don’t have to say “good” or anything else like that unless you mean it. It’s kind of odd how we (society) ask that question but there’s only one acceptable answer.
You’re just getting into Doctor Who, right? Isn’t that show amazing?! Speaking of shows, I don’t remember if we have HBO, but Game of Thrones is just starting and trust me, you want to get on that hype train. It’s quite graphic, but it’s one of the greatest shows ever made. Remind me: how into Magic: The Gathering are we at this point? Because the new set, Innistrad, is considered the greatest set of all time. I never got to draft it, but it’s supposed to have been wonderful. Find the local gaming store and play a few rounds!
Of course, that’s not the only reason I want you to draft Innistrad.
This year wasn’t good to us. It hurt; I remember that. I remember how dark things got, like everything was collapsing in slow motion. I remember the… questioning, about who the hell we were, and whether… whether we should continue.
I wish we knew that earlier; I wish we’d been told years earlier. I wish Mom and Dad were more accepting of the possibility. I wish that psychologist they took us to in 2000 did a more thorough analysis than seeing if we could talk and smile. But we couldn’t control those things, even if we always were autistic.
Let’s break down what that means.
You’re passionate, more passionate than most people can imagine. Let me be clear: that’s a gift. Your passions will lead you to opportunities that will change your life for the better. You always had strong self-confidence; I don’t need to encourage that. You know not to surrender who you are just because it’s not normal or popular.
You’re also not good at socializing. This is the part of autism that can hurt. I know you can catch specific incidents, but it’s a systemic thing. I know how hard it is for you to make and keep friends. I know how hard it is at this point in your life. It’s something I struggle with even now. Maybe I could try to help you?
Friendships are supposed to be reciprocal; both sides are supposed to benefit. You are not obliged to be in friendships that provide no emotional benefit to you. As autistics, we’re taught, implicitly and sometimes explicitly, that our needs and wants should be wholly suppressed for the sake of others. That’s not what friendship is; you deserve to be more than tolerated. If your friendships are parasitic, you have the right to try and change things or walk away. You also have a right to emotional honesty from your friends. It’s important to note that your fellow students are still-maturing human beings just like yourself, but maybe you should sit down and calmly tell some of them how you feel.
Socializing comes in many different forms, from formal interviews to hanging out with “friends”. In all cases, it is an extremely difficult but learnable and practicable skill. The only reason this isn’t universally acknowledged is because it comes naturally to neurotypicals. You are also being held to unfair standards. Your passions are no less valid than other’s interests, but you’re the minority here. That means others’ interests are ok to talk about ad nauseum, but yours aren’t. I don’t think that’s fair. I still haven’t mastered that happy medium between my interests and others, but you’re at a social disadvantage because of your interests that’s no one’s fault, including your own.
Which leads me back to Innistrad, and why I want you to go to your local game store. If you go to a Magic: The Gathering event, the people there also really love Magic: The Gathering. Now you have something to connect over, and talking lots about it isn’t considered bad. Social norms exist in context, and you can do things to change the context.
The most important lesson I can impart is that there is no neurotypical you. There is no different, better version of you. There is only you. You are the only version that ever was, and ever will be. Self-improvement is important, especially for people like us, but we will never be another person. I know who you are, and it’s something to be proud of. High school will end; you’ll have good memories and bad ones. And while I can’t promise bliss, there’s a bright shining light at the end of that tunnel. I’ll see you then.
Justin Robbins (2018)
Readers, what would you write to your former selves? Let us know in the comments.