Let’s Talk: Autism

For today’s post I wanted to write my first Autism focused article and explain some of my views on the topic. For most of the factual information, I have sourced it from AsIAm, Ireland’s National Autism charity. I will include a link to their website, along with the rest of my sources at the bottom of the article.

The simplest place to start when discussing Autism is language. Autistic individuals, such as myself, prefer to use identity-first language instead of person-first language. This can sound complicated, it essentially means instead of saying “I have Autism”, we say, “I am Autistic.” This may seem like a small detail; however, it really is a key part to understanding an Autistic person’s view of Autism itself. I see myself as Autistic, the same way a gay person sees themselves as gay or an Irish person sees themselves as Irish. It is not something we have, it is something we are. I also tend to refer to it sometimes as “My Autism” which is just shorthand for “My experience of being Autistic.” The word Autism on its own is a noun, encompassing the entire Autistic Spectrum. People who are not Autistic are commonly referred to in the Autistic community as Neurotypical.

The portrayal of Autism in mainstream media has often been negative. With films like Rain Man displaying a largely innaccurate view of an Autistic man with genius ability at Maths, due to his Savant Syndrome, who also has a heart-breaking inability to connect with others. In reality, despite popular depictions such as this, few Autistic people also have Savant Syndrome. We are a diverse group, with varying levels of intelligence. Although many of us have a ‘specialist subject’, the range of subjects is broad and varied. Personally, although I appreciate it, I hate Maths. I find it boring and frustrating and it does not come naturally to me. Having a debate about the characters in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice is far more interesting to me and I can argue to death that Shylock is a sympathetic villain. Aside from this ‘genius’ ability in a certain topic, the media focuses on how Autism is a problem or a sort of disease.

Before I continue, I want to make this completely clear. There is no known cause of Autism. Whilst many scientists suspect that they are a handful of environmental and genetic factors at play, no one will probably ever know for sure. Personally, I don’t care what makes me the way I am. It doesn’t change my present situation. Nor do I want to change my present situation. I am proud to be Autistic, I am proud to be who I am. There are many, (mostly) Neurotypical people, who feel that Autism should be cured. But why should we be cured to comply with the rules of their world, when they have never tried to comply with the rules of ours.

I don’t want to go down a rabbit hole, but like any Autistic person, I have had numerous bad experiences. Yet I have found that in the vast majority of these experiences, they could have been solved by other people simply showing a little bit of kindness and compassion. It is as simple as teaching a child not to call their classmate names that might upset them. It is as simple as shopping centres not playing stupid ‘musak’ that everyone hates anyway and that can lead to sensory overload. It is as simple as walking past or offering help when an Autistic person is having a public meltdown rather than staring and whispering nasty comments to your friends. It is as simple as the government conducting a proper study into the lives of Autistic people and discovering the best way to assist them. If people stopped seeing Autism as a disease to be cured, these real issues might finally be resolved. The world doesn’t have to completely change unrecognisably but with a little more awareness and compassion the lives of Autistic people would be significantly improved.

Some Autistic people don’t agree with my point of view. Some say they have Autism, some say they want to be ‘cured’ and some even say that the MMR vaccine gave them Autism. Yet as the criteria for diagnoses increase, the Autistic community includes a more diverse group of people not just the stereotypical ‘male children’. My views are starting to become more mainstream. There will be those who say that my views are more prominent in the ‘high functioning’ end of the spectrum. To that I say that some members of the community don’t agree with functioning labels at all, they feel it does not accurately reflect their experiences. Something that must be considered is the fact that the main thing that separates ‘high-functioning’ and ‘low-functioning’ Autistic people is their ability to communicate with others. As technology continues to improve all the time, this is becoming less and less of an issue. What is really serious is the recent study that found Autistic people are more likely to commit suicide than Neurotypical people. This is a direct result of the lack of care and understanding the community has received. Autism is unique, complicated and has certain nuances. With the rights of so many minorites finally starting to gain recoginition, maybe it is time to recognise the Autistic community too.

The opinions in this article are purely my own, I understand others might not share them. There are numerous other issues that Autistic people face that I intend to share my opinions on in this blog. This article today is very much a starting point. Below I have included the links to my sources, including the aforementioned AsIAm.

AsIAm’s Website: https://asiam.ie

Other Sources: https://extra.ie/2020/04/27/lifestyle/health/as-i-am-national-strategy-suicide-rate-autistic-people

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