November 1st is Autistics Speaking Day - an internet "event" designed to raise awareness of autism.
This is my contribution to the voices of autism.
My experience with autism is quite atypical. The standard progression through the challenges of autism starts with a diagnosis in early childhood. Therapies, special education, and a host of aggressive interventions are applied to "set free the child trapped inside" by communicative barriers and behaviors that impede learning and socialization. But some of us on the spectrum fall through the cracks. We don't fit the profile of the stereotypical autistic. We end up going it alone.
You might be thinking "Really? You expect me to believe a person with autism can go through life and no one even know it?". Not possible, you say. Someone with autism can't function in this world without assistance.
Part of answering this conundrum is knowing that some people with autism are wicked smart. As in miles above normal. But this intrinsic intelligence is imbedded in a consciousness that conspires to suppress its expression. An exquisitely active mind lies behind deficits in communication and social skills that render the outward presentation of such a person as nothing short of remarkably average.
I am one such autistic. I was not diagnosed with autism until late in life. Not until after high school. After attempts at attending university. After marriage and three children. And after many many years of frustration.
The "trick" to my survival is that even though I have perceptual difficulties; even though I have significant gaps in my capacity to understand social cues and body language; even though I have serious deficits in executive functioning; I have been able to leverage my native intelligence sufficiently to build a workable model of reality. One that gets me through life even if my life is not triumphantly successful.
But having said all that, it is often astonishing to me that, while I am outwardly "almost normal" (I'm regularly called strange, odd, weird, etc), I find that my internal states and thinking patterns resonate far more harmoniously with the descriptions by severe autistics using various forms of assisted communication. It is very disconcerting to read something written by an autistic living in an assisted living setting, someone that cannot function in "normal" society, and understand EXACTLY what they are describing. It is unnerving to find that my true compatriots are actually those that this society calls "abnormal", "dysfunctional", "impaired" and "disabled".
So what's my point?
Simply this. If you truly want to understand autism, you need to broaden your scope. You need to look beyond the Hollywood characters like Rainman. You need to look at the entire range of experiences, the full breadth and depth of the autistic spectrum. You need to talk to people like me that are in a unique position to bridge the gap between those autistics that cannot speak (but I guarantee have far more active minds than you might think) and those, like myself, that can articulate and describe the cognitive maps of the autistic mind. And after talking to people like me you need to revisit all of your assumptions about that person with autism that you think you know. If you can allow it, you will be astonished what you will find within us.
Talk to us. It is why we have Autistics Speaking Day. Choose to learn about us. Don't tell us what we are. Listen to us as we speak.