Imagine this: you are going about your day and a person comes up to you. You can’t make eye contact with them and you feel uncomfortable even facing them. You mean no disrespect but it is mentally hard to do so. You are trying to understand what they mean in terms of their tone and you are unable to decipher the tone. You start to feel overwhelmed and this interaction starts to make your mind boggled, your heart rate increases and you just feel lost in a way. Sounds scary right? Surprisingly enough, this is how I feel as a person with autism, whenever I meet a person who I have never met or even those I haven’t seen in a while.
So before I go into what Autism Acceptance Month is, we must discuss what autism is. According to the Autism Speaks organization, autism refers to a broad range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication. There are many subtypes of autism and it is a spectrum disorder, which means that each person with autism has a different set of strengths and challenges. For example, I have Asperger’s, which is a part of the autism spectrum, and my symptoms tend to be on the more independent side, where I can do most tasks independently with minimum help from others. I can also verbally and physically communicate with ease. My autism shows up when I speak however, as I can be a bit blunt and not as noticeable of other people’s tones and word connotations, which makes me confused sometimes. Not everyone with autism has these traits, so these are just mine.
Part of accepting autism is realizing that autism is a spectrum, but more importantly it is not a disease or something people should fear. Some of the more common stereotypes revolving around autism is that it is hindering, something to hide. I believe it is not. Autism is a different way of thinking; while it may not be the norm, it is not something to fear or hide. People with autism are not hindered by their “disability”, but rather strengthened by it. In fact, there are tons of people who have had autism and are quite successful. Albert Einstein, Hans Christian Andersen, Emily Dickinson, Susan Boyle, do their names ring a bell? All of these amazing individuals did incredible work in their respective field and they all had autism.
However, I can only really talk about my journey to acceptance of my autism. It didn’t come easy, as I struggled a lot during my childhood years, trying to understand why I couldn't understand people and was expected to understand. It wasn’t even until I came to college that I realized that my autism wasn’t something to be ashamed of, rather something to celebrate. I realized that if I think of autism as normal, then the stigma surrounding autism goes away. Thus, to me, the true acceptance was me accepting it for myself, more than having others accept me with all of my uniqueness.
Therefore, this Autism Acceptance Month, I stand proudly alongside the statement that I have autism, because it is not a disability, just another way of thinking.
If you want more resources to learn more about autism and how you can be an ally or even the first hand perspective of a person with autsim, here is a list of a few of them.