[UPDATED 8-12-13, @ 09:58am]
- Definition of shibboleth (n)*
[ shíbbə lèth ]
- catchword or slogan: a word or phrase frequently used, or a belief strongly held, by members of a group that is usually regarded by outsiders as meaningless, unimportant, or misguided
- common saying or belief: a saying that is widely used or a belief that is widely held, especially one that interferes with somebody’s ability to speak or think about things without preconception
- identifying word or custom: a unique pronunciation, word, behavior, or practice used to distinguish one group of people from another and to identify somebody as either a member of the group or an outsider
The origin of Shibboleth is actually biblical. [It can be found in the Book of Judges, Chapter 12, verses 1-15.] In layperson terms, it was a code word to prove your identity in gaining passage across the Jordan River. If a person was asked for and responded with its incorrect pronunciation, that person was slain as an enemy. For it was believed that only those who held the true faith and protection of God, would pronounce the Shibboleth correctly.
So I ask. What is the Shibboleth for Autistics in our world today?
What is the correct word, or symbol, or advertising slogan we must use to correctly identify ourselves in this world without fear of persecution or rejection? Because ribbons and puzzle pieces just do not seem to be the Shibboleth we are looking for. Lest we forget that the DSM-V is not our Shibboleth.
Who gets to decide if I am representing the Autistic Shibboleth correctly? What is the punishment if I don’t? How many friends need to turn their backs to me before I can correctly communicate Shibboleth? Will there be a ceremony like in “Animal House”? Thank you, Sir, may I have another?
Am I expected as a high-functioning adult with Aspergers to throw my HIPPA rights out the window and fork over my diagnosis to the public? To include the part from the interview about being molested by a relative because I clearly didn’t understand at the time what was going on? How about my issues with sexuality and gender? Should we just begin an open dialogue now of how I was nearly killed by domestic violence in my early 20′s? Or should we have tea first?
Exactly what is the Autistic Shibboleth that I can shout from the rooftop so that the non-Autistics in the Autism community can verify my credentials and the Neurotypicals on the outside of A-town can go ahead and believe that I am an Other? Because I have to tell you, not one of My People has yet to say, “Are you really sure you have Asperger’s?”
Here is what I consider my Shibboleth:
Because on my very first outing as an official Aspie, I was honored to spend an evening in New York with two amazing families and their friends – The Paris-Carter Family and The Robisons, Ms. Kirsten Lindsmith, and Mr. Alex Plank – at a play entitled “The Laramie Project”. I was the first to arrive in the lobby of the theatre. I was terrified. New place. New people. All by myself. So I went up to the ticket window and politely asked the woman there if she could spare a rubber band. She looked a little puzzled and I am sure there was some snarky giggling, but when I explained that I had Asperger’s and was waiting to meet several new people and I was nervous, the rubber band would help calm me, she smiled and the rest of the folks in the lobby all smiled, too. I put the band on my wrist and began to fidget away. A short time later, sitting with my new friends, we talked about my rubber band. It was my Shibboleth that day. A pile of rubber bands later, all agreed it was fabulous that something so small could be so transformative. And for the first time in my life, I felt like I was with My People.
So I ask.
When will there not be a need for an Autistic Shibboleth and when the hell can we just get on with it?
When might we stop needing hour-long PBS specials to share as our Shibboleth just to convince loved ones we’re seriously on the spectrum and not just looking for a cool new label. (Because the label I would have preferred would have been “F-350” and it would be sitting in my driveway.)
As Popeye so eloquently said: I yam what I yam.
Good Sunday to you all, My Friends.
Peace be with you.
[***UPDATE*** 8-12-13 @09:58am. It seems sometimes when I write and seek to make a point that generalizes what can happen within this community, some worry for me that I am writing in anger or sadness. That is not necessarily the case. As with this post, I just wanted to paint a picture for those who may think the diagnosis itself or the label is more important than the person. That reaction, a demand for *proof* or the disclosure of details that the individual may not and should not feel they have to share is dehumanizing. Most especially when it comes from those closest to us.
Learning that I was born with, and have lived with, a completely different neurology than assumed for the first 37 years is a very lengthy process. There was the initial suspicion. Then the exploding light bulb when it all instantly became clear in a flood of emotions and tears. There was talking, lots and lots of talking, with my husband and my parents. There was anger. Then depression. Then acceptance. And now, my friends - joy. I am so grateful to know me, the real me, better than I ever could have had I dismissed the possibility. When I was ready, I sought confirmation from professionals in psychology and autism. It's been almost a year now. Slowly, I am piecing together my past in a whole new light, a brighter light, a light that shines where darkness once blinded me.
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep. - Robert Frost
I'm just fine, by the way, thanks for asking. Cheers!]
[ADDITIONAL THOUGHTS 8-13-13 @08:32pm. Inspiration for this post was from The West Wing, Season 2, Episode 8 "Shibboleth" and my inability to follow written and verbal directions when attempting to swipe my Visitor's Pass to gain access upon my visit to the White House in May, 2012. Quite literally, I thought the uniformed gentleman standing before me was going to put me out of our misery.]