'Aren't you just shy?'
Greetings from Winchester - I am currently at a hotel in a different part of the country to usual for a conference. My mum and I booked tickets for 'Atwood on Autism' roughly 9 months ago after I saw it advertised, to be honest I can't remember where exactly but I thought it may be relevant to my MA (which it hopefully will be, I'll be slightly concerned if not) and also keep my brain going while I am taking things a bit slower so I don't burn myself out. It may also be another good chance to network if there is the opportunity, but certainly I will be going armed with my laptop and pen and paper ready to make notes!
As part of reading 'for fun' I have been reading 'Neurotribes' by Steve Silberman. It's a great book which is really insightful in regards to history of autism and how autistic individuals have been perceived in the past. In the first chapter, I was very intrigued about the perception of Henry Cavendish - a British chemist and physicist in the 1700s. Do give his name a google; I had never heard of him before yet after having found out who he was and what a large contribution to science he had, I was surprised not to have heard of him. One description given of him was that of a shy man'. This really struck a cord with me, as I have frequently been called shy throughout my life, more so as a child than now. The negative connotation with 'shy' has always just bothered me so much.
To me, being told I was shy was also said in such a negative manner, like I should not be this expression that was considered as 'shy' and express myself in a way that is more 'appropriate' or common place. This pressure to be chatty, bubbly, extroverted and outgoing, rather than a recognition that all personality types bring something different to the table and all have their own strengths, weaknesses and beauty in them.
I quickly googled 'shy' to see what search terms most commonly arose upon searching. The results were as follows:
- nervous or timid in the presence of other people
- less than or short of
The second usage of shy is not relevant to this discussion, however the first one most certainly is. Even with the usage of language in this definition, one can see a negative light being thrown onto people who are 'shy'. Another link slightly further down that came up was 'social anxiety'. This makes complete sense in accordance with the definitions of shy that were results on my search. This also provides an interesting link.
So where does autism come into this? I guess some of the behaviours I used to show that were categorised as 'shy' were actually autistic responses of being unsure around other people, or unsure of what to do. People can be very confusing, whether you are autistic or not. New groups of people are particularly scary as I find I often need to watch and observe to find out how I should behave and how I can complement the group. This observation period I find very necessary, to calibrate my social sat-nav and also to help me relax as I do get nervous in new situations. Some of them may have also been related to trying to figure out and process everything, leaving little space to look like I was enjoying myself; I am known for not necessarily always showing very outwardly or obviously my emotional state. This has lead in the past to confusion about how I am feeling from others and confusion from me as to why people think I am so unhappy or not bouncing off the walls with excitement, because - I don't do that. I also find my own company to be refreshing and a chance for me to recharge; when I am 'worn out' of people I can come across as nervous.
The thing that bothers me with 'how we use the word 'shy' is that we are hinting towards one way of experiencing and interacting with the world. That being that we should all be extra sociable creatures and have innate knowledge and confidence of the social world - and this is just not the case for many, autistic and non-autistic individuals alike. I think it also 'cutifies' a human reaction. Shy is a cute word. Many of these other phenomena I have described do not sound so cute or bitesize. Humans are complex beings. Reducing people to 'being shy' I do not think gives them justice.
This post may be tinted with my own personal experience and interpretation of one word in our human language, but we need to be aware of how powerful words can be and also to instil a sense of self-awareness and acceptance/love into ourselves. We are all equal, therefore we must not pose a hierarchy onto others and cherish and celebrate our unique strengths and preferences.