What being autistic taught me about people’s obsession with resilience – Sarah E Boon

Something we see a lot of in today’s society is an obsession of resilience and demands from people to ‘be more resilience’; particularly so from people with power over others. E.g. a school teacher telling a child’s parents that ‘they need more resilience in the classroom’ without considering why a child may be struggling at first. Although many people both in real life and online would agree with the general narrative around people not being ‘resilient’ enough nowadays, to me all this talk about ‘resilience’ is bullshit.

Why you may ask? Well because I have been that person that is seen as not having enough ‘resilience’ on more than one occasion, and have been woefully misjudged as a result (and not in a positive way). Being autistic means things that are often straight forward for most people are either more difficult for myself or drains a lot more of my energy due to how my brain processes information. Sensory overload is one good example of this, where receiving too much sensory information leads to a meltdown as our brains can’t cope. This is not a choice to experience or a lack of will power, it is simply that my brain cannot cope in these situations due to my disability. The amount of resilience it takes for an autistic person to stay in an environment where their brain responds in this way is far more than a neurotypical person would need to be in the same space. Yet, if we express our internal struggle, even in the slightest negative light, we are often accused of ‘not being resilient enough’ by those who do not understand or care.

I took to both twitter and threads to ask other autistic people there thoughts on this matter, and I am glad to say they did not hold back! With @e.j.leonard sharing similar views to myself when it comes to sensory overwhelm, and @christienursing that we have to be more resilient in the first place to exist in the same environments as others (It’s just that being forced into this type of resilience often can’t be seen by an outsider!).

However, sensory overload isn’t the only example! ‘Being resilient’ can also be used against us when expressing our emotions or experiencing distress. As @theautisticbookclub points out with their experience.

Responses like this are at best dismissive, and at worst can cause harm to us. Often when we ask for accommodations or challenge ableism we’ve experience, we again often receive the response of ‘you need to be more resilient’, rather than working with us to resolve the issue. Included in the many responses to the question I posed to autistic people on twitter and threads, more than one person responded how the ‘be more resilient’ response is often used as a get out clause for when people/organisations are being ableist. With @mitchmogsanddogs @AutisticGr3mlin and @SophieLongley4 sharing their views on when ‘be more resilient’ is used against autistic people in this way.

As you can see, if ‘not being resilient’ enough is thrown at you constantly when the same people fail to consider how resilient you are already being, or the fact you have to be more resilient to exist in the same places as them, then it is understandable why many autistic people are wary about people’s obsessing about resilience (including myself).

A question you may be asking that if not resilience, then what?

Empathy. You may not 100% know what autistic people are experiencing when they are being told to be more resilient, but rather than judge us with not being resilient enough, being empathetic to when we experience barriers or going through a hard time would do a whole lot more good! I also recommend reading Catherine Londero’s blog post about neurotypical people needing to work on empathy rather than autistic children needing  more resilience at school.

‘Autistic Children Don’t Need To Work On Resilience; Neurotypical People May Need To Work On Empathy’

A lot more empathy is needed in schools for autistic children, but the same can be said for autistic adults too, and all autistic people in many different environments. Addressing the barriers, inequality and ableism autistic people face won’t change with forcing us to be more resilient, but the desire to change and create a better world for autistic people comes from being empathetic.

Rather than all autistic people lacking empathy (a misleading stereotype), could it be that people who are obsessed with ‘ being resilient’ are the ones who need to be more empathetic?

If you enjoyed this post and like to support my writing, I would be forever grateful if you could buy me a coffee (or tea in my case).


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