At my office, autism has been on our minds a lot since the release of Love on the Spectrum, Season 2. My friend and I can’t stop discussing it and how much we genuinely love the people on the show. However, it is somewhat hard for me to discuss from a neutral position. If you’ve read a lot of my posts, you may already know that I believe I am on the spectrum. I’ve mentioned this to my work friend, but he seemed to shrug it off as if I was mistaken. I’m one of the many people that are just starting to be diagnosed later in life who “don’t look autistic.” My friend sees the way I behave and how well I manage interactions and daily responsibilities and assumes I couldn’t possibly be autistic.
But that’s part of the problem. It’s why so many people like me go undiagnosed for so long. Autism Spectrum Disorders are just that. They’re on a spectrum. Many people with high functioning autism, formerly known as Asperger’s, are able to fly under the radar for most, if not all of their lives, especially when these individuals happen to be women. People assume we function just the same as everyone else, but no one can see or hear what goes on inside my head. Even though I am able to appear “normal,” no one knows what immense effort that takes. How much time and energy I have to invest in learning the correct social etiquette for different situations, how awkward and anxious I can be when caught off guard or placed in an unfamiliar social environment. The only reason I am able to mask my struggles so well is because I am also extremely intelligent. Even though I don’t have the natural intuition for social cues, I have worked tirelessly to teach myself throughout my life.
Autism is still a fairly new disorder, and I have faith that we will be able to understand it better as time goes on. We have already made a lot of progress. However, I find it frustrating, given my experience with autism, that it is used as an explanation for a lot of the struggles for people who are autistic and low-functioning. In my opinion, their autism isn’t necessarily what is making it so difficult for them to function in society. It plays a part, but I think there are a lot of cooccurring disorders that are also playing a role, as well as the difficulties faced by those with general intellectual disabilities and low intelligence. If you have an IQ below 70 you are going to have a lot of struggles, regardless of whether you’re autistic or not. I don’t think it’s accurate or fair to pin it all on autism, especially given that there are so many people that function so much better with the same disorder.
I think this misunderstanding and/or misdiagnosis does a lot of damage to the general public’s understanding of autism. My friend at work actually mentioned a potential “cure” for autism. I know he meant well, but I was still slightly offended. I don’t want my autism to be “cured.” I value my differences. Autism is an important part of who I am as a person. Would I be an atheist or a vegan if not for my autism allowing me to disregard social norms and societal expectations? I can’t say for sure, but I have to think it’s at least a possibility. It seems like a lot of the vegans I follow online sooner or later come out with an autism diagnosis. Of course correlation (especially anecdotal) doesn’t prove causation, but it’s an interesting theory I’ve been mulling over for awhile now.
I’ve heard a few autistic individuals refer to it as a superpower and I am inclined to agree with that description. They are certainly drawbacks and I often wish that I could “just be normal,” but if I had the choice, I doubt I would change myself to fit in better in the world. Society sees autism as a tragedy. How sad it must be to not understand these treasured social norms. But for those of us living with autism, we could care less about your social norms. You’re perplexed why we don’t understand, and we’re perplexed why you think they make sense.
I love myself for exactly who I am, autism and all. And I hope that the day comes where I can afford to be formally diagnosed. I also hope the day comes when I won’t have to fear disclosing my autism to others. I am simultaneously fearful that they will think there is something wrong with me, or that they may think I’m not really autistic. I am very selective with who I confide in about this conclusion I’ve come to. I haven’t even told my boyfriend about it. Honestly whenever I do get tested I think he should be as well. His older brother is definitely autistic, although undiagnosed, and autism does have a genetic component. God only knows if I’ll ever discuss this with him though for fear of offending him. I am equally fearful that he will look at me differently when I disclose my own autism.
The increasing number of people being diagnosed with autism and the sheer amount of it I see in my own life, leads me to believe that it is a valuable part of human evolution. And it’s nothing new. It’s just starting to be more understood and recognized. Autistic people are important. Our contributions are important. Our perspectives are important. I’m sure plenty of the eccentric, brilliant people that have made important contributions in the past would have been diagnosed as autistic if they were alive today. There is no “cure.” And there doesn’t need to be. I don’t think of it as a disorder at all. It’s just how some people are, and there is nothing inherently wrong with that.