Monday, April 2, 2012

Happy World Autism Awareness Day!

Today is World Autism Awareness Day - my second one on the spectrum (my diagnosis came on 7/4/09). Since my diagnosis, which is sneaking up on three years ago on me, I've discovered a wonderful community of advocates online - they advocate for themselves, their siblings, their children, their friends. It's truly beautiful.

When I got my diagnosis, I was relieved. I had a name for the reason I couldn't get along with people. People in my real life were fairly understanding, but there weren't too many of those people, so it was a quick adjustment. It was the bigger world I was worried about - would people like me be supported out there? You don't see autism and Asperger's in girls as often (although part of that is that girls tend to be missed). Would people be accommodating of me?

It turns out that they are nowadays. I'm able to go out in the real world, mention that I have Asperger's, and not be frowned upon or assumed to be incompetent. In fact, some people are even accommodating enough that they know to not touch me in certain ways and don't overload me with noise. It's wonderful.

Acceptance on the internet, however, is a whole different matter, as I wrote in this article some time back. There's a growing misinterpretation of Asperger's in particular in certain online circles, and that's something I constantly combat and fear. Then I started feeling around on Twitter...and found a huge network of autism and Asperger's support. I became friends with fellow Aspergians, shared blog posts back and forth, and was able to feel loved despite not ever actually meeting anyone in real life. Yet. I'd love to someday have an autism/Asperger's Twitter conference so we can all meet up.

I just wanted to say thank you today. I should be saying thank you every day, but today's a special day for us so I figured today would be the best time to write this post. It seems all convoluted and emotional, and I apologize for that, but I just had to let all of you know how much you mean to me.

Here are a few tips for the neurotypicals reading this on how you can better support people with ASDs today:
  • Don't buy into the fear machine. Autism is a lifelong condition, but it's also a gift - it does make living in the real world hard sometimes, but look at all the amazing things autistic people create and do. Don't tell us you want to give us a 'cure.' That would change who we are completely, and we don't want to be changed. We want to be accepted. (Also, most of us self-advocates would prefer that you gave money to an organization that isn't Autism Speaks since they tend to shout us out and use fear to take people's money.)
  • Make an effort to listen. Today's a day for us to be heard, but we'd really like it if you listened all the time and learned to understand us. We're not all that different from you - we're just socially different. Intellectually, we can keep up with you, but we just struggle socially, so be patient with us if we don't get how to interact right away. 
  • Be judgement-free. Before I was diagnosed, I was treated horribly by my peers, who just thought I was an annoying intellectual. I'm very sensitive to negative judgement as a result, and I imagine many other people with ASDs are, as well. We're very sensitive to the general emotional state of a room, so make sure you bring some calm energy into our interactions and be gentle with us. Don't judge, just listen.
We just want to be accepted like you are. That's all we ask for - acceptance and proper treatment. Today - and every day - we advocate to gain these things. Please help us even just a little bit by accepting us for who we are and celebrating differences. 


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