You’d be rather surprised as to the type of responses I get when I tell people I have Autism. They will range anywhere from “but you’re so smart” or “but you seem so normal” to stuff like “prove it”. People over the years have grown to know Autism by two common traits, people who drool, flap their arms or spaz when there are loud noises. The second common trait people look for is what we call the savant which is basically the super intelligent person much like the one in Rain Man who could count cards, do complicated math in his head and register the sound of 200 toothpicks falling to the ground.
Autism is neither of those but rather a broad spectrum of disorders where neither one person is ever the same as the other so if you’re a care taker for someone on the spectrum then cookie cutter approaches are a no no. I like to use the snowflake analogy when describing people on the spectrum, everyone is different each time and not one case is never the same.
Because people have associated Autism with the above labels, people are rather surprised to find out that someone as high functioning and intelligent as me falls on the spectrum. Because of such responses and the way certain people have talked to me after finding out (some adults have had the balls to talk to me like I’m an idiot) I feel really uncomfortable telling people I’m Autistic. It’s not that I’m ashamed or anything it’s just that any disability carries stigma, people fear what the don’t understand.
People hear “1 in 150 children have Autism” and the panic. Some look at it as and epidemic that they pray doesn’t affect their perfect child whose life they have planed out before they’re even born. When a child is diagnosed with an ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) some parents treat it like a death sentence. I’m not saying it isn’t okay to mourn what could’ve been but it certainly isn’t a death sentence.
I mentioned above that people fear what they don’t understand. Because of the many traits that go with Autism such as all the social/sensory/spatial issues, people are quick to generalize when they hear that someone has Autism. My mother will tell people she knows that I have Autism and when they finally meet me in person they’ll look at her funny like they were lied to or something and will ask the infamous “are you sure he has Autism”? It’s the constant generalizing that once again makes me really uncomfortable with telling people I’m on the spectrum.
This generalizing at times felt like it was unintentionally provoked by the media and even a few ads I saw on the train two years ago. There was a school I went to prior to kindergarten called The May Institute (formerly The May Center) ran this “What Does Autism Look Like” ad campaign to advertise the fact that they specialized in working with kids on the spectrum. Each poster consisted of a child on the spectrum that made the stereotypical gestures. It bothered me to know that people were getting a generalization of people in the spectrum based on a bunch of ads.
Why couldn’t Autism look like someone going work? Why couldn’t it look like someone shopping in a super market or taking their significant other on a date. Why couldn’t it look like someone at a bar getting a few drinks with their friends or someone salving away at the kitchen table paying bills? People are so hung up on generalizations that they miss out on a very unique individual who has more to offer than you realize.
Our society has a terrible perception of what “normal” is. On the surface I am people’s misconception of normal but when you peel away the layers I’m far more complex than any machine ever dreams to be. “But you seem so normal, how can you possibly be Autistic” said a decent amount of people whenever I told them I fell on the spectrum. But if normal isn’t what the rest of society behaves then what is normal? Normal is what YOU make of this crazy equilibrium we call life and if that’s the case then ill leave you with this, you’re all the furthest thing from normal I will ever come to know.