Sunday, November 1, 2015

Autism Does Speak, But Who Exactly Is Talking?

I'm relatively new to the autism world. Having only recently begun to accept my diagnosis, I can't claim a long history of sharing my autistic life story let alone advocating for myself on a large scale. And sharing my diagnosis with people is still somewhat tough for me - I don't know whether or not they'll A) believe me, B) not believe me, or C) judge me harshly for it. I'm playing a brave but dangerous game in disclosing my autism because I don't know what the outcome will be. And if there's anything I fear most in the world, it's uncertainty.

I should feel like this is a baseless fear. Life has taught me that when I tell someone I'm autistic, they tend to take me at my word. I'm not entirely sure why this is - is it because I come off just quirky enough for someone to think something's up with me? Is it because I've developed enough language skills to pinpoint my condition? Am I perpetually surrounded by liberally-minded people? Or is it because I've come up with a basic script for explaining my autism:

"I'm autistic. This basically means I have trouble socializing, looking people in the eye, and can be an overall socially awkward penguin."

Whatever it may be, it's seemed to work out well for me. My entire family knows and has been supportive of me and my efforts. My friends are all eager to learn from me about autism and show complete understanding. And most remarkably, I've gotten opportunities at work because of my open disclosure of my diagnosis - I write for my workplace's blog, participate in community meetings around laws and services affecting autistic people, and have recently joined and publicly presented on behalf of my local regional center's Board of Directors. To say I've gotten extremely lucky is an understatement - I've largely been met with nothing but support for being autistic. And I'm forever grateful that people in my day-to-day life presume that I know what I'm talking about when I talk about autism.

So why is this generally not the case in public conversation about autism?