So it’s easy enough to understand in an abstract sense what Maintainers do. But on a day-to-day basis, in the course of an Aspie’s real life, what does a network of Maintainers look like, and what sorts of things might they be responsible for?
Well, let me show you, using me as an example.
My first Maintainers and, for a long time, my only Maintainers. They’ve been in charge of a lot of different shit over the years. Right now they’re the only people in charge of my finances, which is a little terrifying, because if anything happened to them I would be truly fucked. Most of the time I know a little bit about whatever it is that people are helping me with, but money is the main exception. I am so retarded with math it’s not even funny. My parents will also occasionally give me feedback concerning social protocol and whether or not an e-mail is well-written and socially appropriate.
Out of all the Maintainers I’ve ever had, she’s probably been put through the most shit. I’ve done all the normal big brother stuff where I mock her and emotionally terrorize her at every opportunity, but in addition to that- and this is totally not my fault- her childhood was basically a psych experiment gone wrong.
My parents were under the impression that I was a normal child, so when my sister came along they used all the same parenting techniques and discipline strategies that they used on me. My sister is very much not autistic, and so all of this stuff backfired horribly. We’re still assessing the damage.
Because she was raised thinking that autistic behaviour- from myself and my father- was normal, she has a unique perspective which is halfway autistic and halfway neurotypical. I ask her for advice on social protocol a lot, and also to explain different aspects of neurotypical culture that I don’t understand. She also provides a lot of feedback on fashion, and is the only reason I don’t look like a bum.
He’s been my friend for two years, and knows more about autism than most non-autistics I know. Foster is basically a golden retriever disguised as a person. He’s very loyal, very friendly, and his emotional intelligence is through the roof. I don’t often use him as a Maintainer, because his life is excessively complicated and the last thing he needs to worry about is one more thing to worry about. When I do ask him for advice, it’s generally to get a read on someone or ask for an interpretation of a specific social situation. He is keenly observant of human behaviour and deeply insightful. However, he is also a megalomaniacal neurotic, and so I have to take some of his advice with a grain of salt.
She manages to be logical and emotionally aware at the same time, which is a unique and useful balance. Originally I planned to ease her into her role as Maintainer gradually, because unlike Foster, she had no experience with the autistic culture. But a few months into our relationship Hannah told me it was important for her to be a key part of my support circle, so I started lobbing increasingly difficult stuff at her. This included social translation, questions about protocol, explaining interpersonal rituals, assessing e-mails, and even some crisis management. She handled everything with aplomb. Hannah also encouraged me to start eating healthier, and has given me plenty of advice along those lines. Most of the time an Aspie will ask their Maintainer for what they need, but from time to time a Maintainer will come up with their own work if they think something important is being overlooked. Obviously the Aspie has to be receptive to this sort of intervention, and I don’t think I’d accept it from anyone but Hannah. She figured out a way to fly under my radar, and that’s where she’s done some of her best work.
I’m not sure how many Aspies use themselves as a Maintainer, but I’ve found it quite useful. Sometimes when a crisis comes along, nobody else is around to help me manage, so I have to talk myself through it. And I literally talk myself through it, interacting with what I guess is my superego. Not out loud, because I’m not a maniac, but I have very involved conversations in my head.
I consider myself to be sort of the central Maintainer. I’m the one who decides who to induct as a Maintainer, and I also decide which Maintainer to use in any given situation. This occasionally causes tension, because my Maintainers like to help me, and if they’re not given information about something important they might take it personally. But it’s not personal. Stuff needs to get done, that’s all, and some people are good at some things, and other people are good at others, and everyone has other stuff going on in their lives. All of this needs to be taken into account when I’m figuring out who to ask for help. There’s no-one who can manage these factors better than me.