[TW: everything in the title.]
“Pattern recognition” has become a keyphrase in the autistic advocacy circles in which I travel. It’s a reference to the many studies and resulting popular articles claiming that our pattern recognition is superior to that of non-autistics. But it’s also a reference to the fact that cycles of abuse are recognizable by their patterns – and that people who tell you they aren’t are almost certainly attempting to gaslight you into accepting more of their abuse.
I was raised to believe that the mere acknowledgment of patterns in the way people treated me was not only wrong, but shameful. That there was something akin to sinfulness in doing it. That it worked as a “refusal to forgive.” That by doing it I was “wallowing” or “playing the martyr.” That it was cruel to assume that if people consistently treated you a certain way, they were likely to continue.
Naturally, this screwed me up for years, not just around people who treated me badly, but around people who treated me well, too. Around bullies, “you’re bad if you trust patterns” taught me to roll over and keep taking the abuse – because it would be just as mean to them to trust the pattern as they were being to me by shoving me, calling me names, rubbing messes into my hair and breaking my possessions. Around people who were actually kind, it taught me to run away – because the kindness was certainly a fluke, a fad, or a passing fancy.
For years after I disentangled myself from a long-term abusive romantic relationship, I had no idea how to respond to people who didn’t understand how one gets enmeshed with an abuser. “Why would you stay with someone who treated you so bad?” they’d ask. “Why did you put up with that?” Why didn’t you acknowledge the pattern, is the question being asked there. Why didn’t you trust the pattern?
Well, because abusers know that if you trust the pattern, you’ll escape their abuse. That’s why. I didn’t trust the pattern because I was trained not to trust patterns by the very people whose continued power over me depended on their ability to keep me from trusting patterns.
Ironically, exhortations not to trust the pattern are rife in “autism paaaarent” disputes as well. The same parents who will, say, take the side of a parent who kills their autistic child or who insist autistic adults are “not like my child” will, invariably, retreat to insults and whimpering when called on the destructive patterns in their speech and behavior. “You can’t judge me! You don’t know what’s in my heart!”
No, but I see what’s in your words. And I acknowledge the pattern.
Multiple times at this year’s AutCom I heard Neurodivergent K say the words “I don’t trust people, only patterns.” I’ve come to trust these words. I trust them because the very people who tell me not to trust them invariably demonstrate a pattern of behavior that seeks to destroy me, one way or another. I trust them because the very people who live by them are the ones who have saved my life – including K.
I trust patterns because I have fantastic pattern recognition, so I might as well use it.