Advice to Younger Self
Dr Dinah Murray, Independent Researcher and Campaigner
About Dr Dinah Murray
Dinah Murray is an independent researcher and campaigner, former tutor for Birmingham University’s distance learning courses on autism (adults) and former support worker for people with varied learning disabilities, including autism. Her work has been published in journals, in books and online; she has presented at numerous conferences (world-wide), including several years of Autscape, an annual conference-cum-retreat run by and for autistic people. She contributed to Autism and Intellectual Disability in Adults Volume 1: Author(s): Ed Milton, D and Martin Dr N pub. Pavilion 2016 and is currently working on a partnership app development project with ARGH and another ‘NownThen’ picture sharing android app with autistic app engineer, James Bayliss. Her autism-related research interests have included: medication and its impact on quality of life; information technology for people who don’t use speech; the ethics of autism research; the nature of the human being, with a particular focus on interests. Dr Murray has been assessed as on the autism spectrum, and if growing up today would certainly have attracted an autism diagnosis.
Dr Murray contributed to the Scottish Autism Right Click programme for women and girls; video recordings of her interviews are available through the programme. One of them was on the subject of what advice she would give to her younger self if she was able to, on which theme she writes here.
Try acting as if what other people see as important matters to you too...
…or better, work at understanding why they seem to find it so important and recognise its point. For example, people do not automatically know how you feel. So making the gestures which seem trivial and unnecessary to you can be vital in a way that means they are actively hurt by their absence. If you care about someone, then train yourself to give and receive hugs with them if that is their desire; maybe you can learn to enjoy that and also to regulate the strength and length of the hug so it is minimally challenging for you.
People do not know that you are glad or sad unless you send out certain signals.
They do not know, for example, if you have appreciated them; all people like to feel our efforts are appreciated (universal). So, learn the value of sending out signals that will be picked up by others, i.e. will secure some understanding. Without these, we cannot begin to work each other out. Everybody has ‘mind myopia’ - only charlatans pretend they can ‘read’ other people’s minds: they cannot, they are just working on clues and filling in gaps, often wrongly.
Everybody has highly personal context selection - it is automatic and follows from the current play of interests in each person.
It is an adaptive selection for each individual and it rarely perfectly overlaps - watching sport or performing art, singing and dancing together, appreciating beauty and shared pleasure may come closest. Therefore, complete understanding of people by each other is not an option except moment by moment.
So when misunderstandings inevitably occur remember it is not as though the whole world has turned upside down... put constant readiness for incomplete mutual understanding into your processing kit and learn to work with it.
Learn to surf the turbulence instead of being thrown off balance and instantly opting out; when thrown off balance, climb back and try again.
Face the need for painful and difficult discussions, do not always try to avoid these. This is where the deep learning happens, in this difficult, dangerous zone. Don’t let cowardice stop you although the pain of failure is acute. That’s not a good reason, there will always be a potential for pain and there are no effective ways to avoid it completely. Learn to fail gracefully.
What is more, one actually can get used to things.
To take some quotidian examples: one day you will like rice pudding and porridge, one day you will be able to enjoy them; one day you will be able to reach into tepid greasy water with bits swirling through, without retching; one day you may even learn to like figs or eat a peach without peeling it.
Other examples could be about other sorts of feeling, including purely physical sensations and what we experience as emotions. These tend towards the all or nothing for us, as do all features of our personality.
Some negative emotions can be so extreme that they ‘freeze’ one with terror: remember, no feelings last, “everything passes, everything changes” (so said Bob Dylan, Buddha) and feelings change faster than almost anything. A requirement also follows from that to actively appreciate what you love experiencing, to relish it as a blessing, be surprised by joy, over and over again.
Do not be afraid to speak out or speak up. It’s good to learn to ponder your words and get a feel for their impact before you speak but much pain is inadvertently caused, however hard anyone tries. Other people’s emotional state, though it may briefly tune in with yours, is usually more affected by what’s been happening for them personally than by any feeling they may have about how you are feeling; it’s guesswork deeply coloured by their personal immediate history that you do not know and probably cannot guess.
Society really does need stroppy people. We are all embedded in massive and pervasive power structures they don’t explain in school. All except for a few, usually very rich, people, have little or no power over large questions about how to lead their lives. In our society, people are not encouraged necessarily to be orientated towards cooperation. There are all sorts of things, such as market forces, that influence and sometimes warp people’s values or interact with them. Not all people feel the same duties to each other as you do; don’t be surprised.
Go on expecting the best from people, but with a trace of caution: they will almost never do exactly what they say, and their memories are almost always patchy and unreliable. We each just have to carry on doing our faulty best.
Remember: nobody’s perfect! – including you.
Before writing this homily, in my 30s, social difficulties had forced me into a crisis which required me to become capable of duplicity, and discovering this capacity in myself was horrifying and fascinating in equal parts. Did I become more ‘normal’ as a result? Yes, I think so.
Ask ‘Is that so?’ of every claim you make
Prefer the grimmest truth to glittering fake
If you imagine you’re the centre of the show,
Forget it! No-one else thinks so.
Control the urge to say and see and do
Exclusively what pleases you.
Don’t laud the beauty of a good intent,
Unless it’s turned to deeds by effort spent.
Don’t say, Oh Yes it must be done, and mop your brow.
If something’s to be done, then do it now
And now you’ve made these sentiments so neat,
Why not go off and have a little treat?