I'm often asked by members of the autism community to talk about my life. While I don't mind doing this, it can be somewhat embarrassing for me. I got to thinking about this recently, and I not only thought of explanations for it, but I realized that it probably isn't that uncommon for people to feel uncomfortable sharing their life stories. I thought it might be fun to explore that here.
The first embarrassment that comes to mind is when people tell me that I inspire them. I often feel that people see my story as one of overcoming adversity, of not letting autism hold me back. I guess some parts of my story are about overcoming adversity, but I've never considered autism to be the adversity I've overcome. I just have different experiences that others aren't used to hearing about.
So maybe people are inspired by the amount of adversity I've faced in my life. After all, I've dealt with bullying and some forms, often subtle, of discrimination. Well, the truth is that there are some forms of adversity that I've never dealt with. I've never felt the pressure to do something stupid just to keep from not being cool. The threat of being a social outcast was almost meaningless to me, since I already spent most of my childhood there. It's true that I grew up in poverty with a single mother, but the fact that my mom did so much to keep that from holding me back makes that her story, not mine. The extent to which autism has been an adversity to me was that I had to go out of my way to learn social norms. Even that is offset by my ability to absorb things like math and science.
Perhaps people are just attracted to stories that are different from what they're used to. When I look back on my life, it seems pretty mundane for the most part. I suspect this is common. We live our own lives, so why should your life seem interesting to you? My audience almost always disagrees with me. They haven't lived my life. Ultimately, it matters more what the listener finds interesting than the teller.
I also notice a tendency to choose to share certain details that are relevant to the audience's interests. When I talk to the autism community, I tend to talk more about how being autistic has affected my life. I think most people tend to do this. I don't think it's a conscious effort, most of the time. However, it is more likely to captivate an audience.
That brings me to my next point. People also tend to take interest in unusual similarities to their own lives. There is a reason I, as an autistic person, am often asked to speak to members of the autism community. People like to know that they aren't alone in the world, that there are others who share the same differences that they experience. Even without the need for support, people like to compare notes and see how others have dealt with similar experiences.
One of the reasons I wanted to write about this was to encourage others to share their life stories. I feel that it's a good way to promote the appreciation of diversity in all of it's forms. It can be an eye opening experience to find out how much you share in common with those who are clearly different, or how different you are from someone you would have considered one of your own. The more we learn about each other, the easier it is to see each other as equals.
Telling your life story is also a fun way to learn about yourself. We all have interesting stories. You don't have to have traveled the world or wrestled a crocodile. All you have to do is be honest about your experiences. It still amazes me when I find people enthralled by things that are just facts of life for me.
Even though people like to hear from me, there's nothing special about me. I just know things people want to learn about, I live in a time when people are willing to hear my perspective, and I'm willing to get in front of people and say it. We all have the first two qualities, whether you know it or not. The third is up to you.