April is Autism Awareness Month, and there’s nothing wrong with being aware of something. The question is how, though, are we celebrating autistic April: the way we would Women’s History or Black History Month? Or are we mourning the loss of the children we thought we had before diagnosis, wishing things could be different? A little of both, maybe? Maybe.
Do we talk about the accomplishments of famous and everyday autistic people in April? Do we list the strategies autistic people have used successfully so that parents of younger autistic children can learn from real experts what works for us? Or do we highlight scientific or pseudoscientific interventions that have been experienced as traumatic or dehumanizing by those who were once autistic children?
Do we seek out success stories – and not the big names, but the small-scale, people in your neighbourhood successes, or do we look only at the tragic family breakdowns that we blame so often on autism?
Here. I’ll start with an everyday success. Hi. I’m 40. I was diagnosed at 38 with Asperger’s Syndrome. It took a long time for me to know for sure in part because of my age, in part my gender. Believe me, though. It fits. So, here I am. I’m an extreme introvert, but that hasn’t stopped me from being successful in caring professions. I’m also really good at retail, for what it’s worth. Right now, I’m a teacher, and I think I’m pretty good at it. I’ve managed to have had effective enough social skills to make two humans. I have a few close friends, several casual friends, and a strong complex romantic relationship. I’m raising two children by myself. I pay the rent. I sometimes have three or four jobs at a time, and generally manage to stay on top of things. I’m starting a PhD program in the fall.
That all sounds pretty successful for anyone, really. I have a good life, as an autistic adult. My friends and partner are understanding, and when something doesn’t make sense, they ask.
Do my words sometimes stop coming when I’m stressed or overwhelmed? Yep. Do I say the wrong thing and make people really angry with me? It happens. Do my special interests sometimes take over my life? Um, see the above PhD reference. Do my sensory impairments make things harder? They make things hard, yes. But I figure it out, and I keep going.
Parents of autistic kids, please listen to autistic adults. A lot of us are also parents of autistic kids, and we have a lot to offer you in terms of support and understanding. We can also be remarkably practical. And we want to celebrate the kid(s) you have, with you.