I am fortunate to have been born into an era where the dominant caricature of autistic people is switching from drooling, non-communicative eternal children to slightly psychopathic geniuses who can’t stop talking every second they aren’t reprogramming things. As stereotypes go, it’s certainly improving. But they are stereotypes, nonetheless.
Autism, at its very basic, is about thinking differently. It’s not about being observant, it’s about observing different things. It’s not about studying subjects that your teachers tell you will get you good grades to go to college, it’s about finding a subject so fascinating you just can’t help but spend hours learning facts about it that fully deepen your appreciation of this amazing, intriguing thing that you want to show everyone.
Being autistic is a very powerful experience. I wouldn’t change it for the world. It means that what I focus on in life is different from non-autistic people. I *like* paperwork. I like sorting things. I like solving problems, both mine and other people’s. I don’t enjoy sitting around. I don’t like mindlessly obeying rules that have no purpose.
None of that make me sound like a vegetable. The reason autism is disabling is not because all autistic people are inherently incapable of functioning, it’s because we do things differently, and many people can’t tolerate that. So the autistic child who won’t sit at their desk quietly reading because the teacher has a headache is considered a problem. The autistic co-worker who won’t go for a drink with you is considered weird. The autistic partner who insists on having separate bedrooms is considered cold and stand offish. None of those actions are in themselves strange other than they are deemed so by people who can’t tolerate not being “normal”.
And *that* is the problem. Not being autistic. In societies where people just do their own thing and accept other people doing so, autism is not disabling, odd, or even noticeable. Autistic people are disproportionately present in niche subcultures where it’s ok to not worry about fitting in.
This isn’t to say that being autistic comes with challenges. Autistic people blurt out things they shouldn’t. They can struggle to hold more than one train of thought at the same time. They can obsessively eat the same food, play the same games, or sponsor the same projects over and over again until everyone around them is sick of it. But everything I just listed as the downside of autism can be a plus. You aren’t afraid of saying things that need to be said. You can’t be distracted from your work. Relentless practice makes you very, very good at what you do, whether that’s piano or first aid.
Being autistic in this society is hard – being autistic generally is awesome. I don’t believe that autistic people should be given special treatment. I think that all people should be forgiven when they mess up, that all children should be loved and appreciated for what they are rather than squashed into boxes.
Until that day comes, autistic people are going to stand out. I think that every autistic person has to wrestle with how to deal with that reality. What I am seeking to do here, then, is to produce resources which can explain autism to people who don’t realise they have it, to help autistic adults access support, and make everyone else realise that being autistic doesn’t make you Rainman, it doesn’t mean you’re mentally retarded, and it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re weird. It means you’re different, and that is absolutely fine.
* The Reality of an Autistic Person – an indepth article I wrote for a friend to explain what it is like to live with autism.
* Autism Provision by NHS Primary Care Trust – A list of FOI requests made to every Primary Care Trust in the country regarding services for autistic people.
* Autism Quiz – coming soon!