Autism can be a dirty word when it comes to niche interests and smaller communities. Ableism should be the actual dirty word, but unfortunately we live in a society that devalues autistic brains and mocks communities that attract high numbers of autistic folk.
I believe Puppy attracts people on the spectrum for many reasons that I’ll try to simplify:
- It has protocol. Autistic brains thrive on structure and order.
- Pupspace encourages you to communicate in a primal manner. Socializing in this way is much easier for autistic people who experience awkwardness and anxiety with typical verbal communication.
- The gear, wrestling, and scritches are fantastic for autistic people who need to stim a lot in order to self-regulate.
- Pup play can become an autistic person’s special interest, and having a large amount of knowledge about Puppy is welcomed rather than made fun of in the community.
- If you require a support person, you won’t get the side-eyes and infantilizing phrases thrown at you in this community because support people look a lot like Handlers. Other pups will better understand your need for your support person, because honestly and truly a Handler is indistinguishable from your SP in an event setting.
Human beings need regular socialization and friendships to be mentally healthy. You could argue this, and I’m sure at least one guy is standing up out of his chair ready to yell that he’s a perfectly well-adjusted forest hermit. But for at least the majority of people, an active social life means the difference between depressing stagnation and fulfilled energy. I am my happiest and my most productive when I see friends more than once a week. My autism means my brain processes social interaction differently than is typical, but it does not mean I want to shut myself off from the world. Very sadly, the latter is what often happens with autistic people. We lock ourselves away because there’s nowhere we fit in. Nowhere that people don’t view us as mockable and/or burdensome. Puppy is different. Puppy works so amazingly with the autistic brain that it still shocks me even after nearly a decade of involvement.
I am low-key about being on the spectrum because of stigma, and because I don’t think people believe me when I do tell them. People don’t believe that I was non-verbal as a young child, and that I spent most of my days spinning in circles and obsessively lining up objects. I am gregarious, confident, and dare I say charismatic without making it sound like I’m so far up my own butt I can feel my brain stem. Puppy, Leather, and Furry had a lot to do with the dramatic change and I’m tired of people putting down autistic folks for being out and about in their communities supposedly “making them look bad.” I don’t make you look bad. We don’t make you look bad. We’re here, we’re thriving, and I think that’s a big ol’ positive.