Xander’s Journey Following an Autism Diagnosis, are-able SLES Participant

A piece by Xander:

If you’re neurotypical – or even if you’re not – you’ve probably met dozens of autistic people without even knowing it. To me, my autism is glaringly obvious, but a lot of people I meet don’t seem to notice it unless I bring it up because I don’t ‘seem’ autistic. I have no idea what that’s even supposed to mean. Autistic people are everywhere if you know what to look for. 

I’ve had an autism diagnosis since I was 11, but I didn’t miraculously become autistic then and there. Before then I had an eighth grade reading level and did well academically, but I was clumsy and asocial and weirdly fixated on anime. I was bullied for as long as I was in the education system. I couldn’t read social cues, I would flinch at loud noises, and I had very strong emotional reactions, so it didn’t take much to get a rise out of me. My point is autism affects me way more behaviourally than intellectually. 

The word ‘autism’ itself seems to have a really heavy stigma around it. I see it used way too often as a synonym for stupid or crazy, especially online. So many of the people in my life are autistic and they’re so intelligent and well-spoken, but all it takes for some pillock to discredit them in an argument is ‘Oh, don’t listen to them, they’re autistic,’ and it seriously grinds my gears. Autistic people aren’t inherently stupid – we just march to a different beat. If the average human being was a computer running on Google Chrome, autistic people are the exact same type of computer, but using Firefox instead. It’s that simple. 

I think there’s a problem with how people see autism generally. It’s a spectrum, yes (it’s called Autism Spectrum Disorder for a reason,) but it’s not just a scale between the two extremes of ‘not autistic’ and ‘debilitatingly autistic’. It’s more like an ice cream bar. Say for the sake of this metaphor that ice cream is autism; my ice cream could be topped with chocolate fudge, biscuit crumbs and rainbow sprinkles, and the guy next to me could have ice cream topped with raspberry syrup, peanuts, marshmallows, and chocolate sprinkles. We’ve got different toppings, but we still both have ice cream. No two autistic people are going to have exactly the same toppings: or more specifically, the same symptoms and experiences. 

Autism doesn’t have any inherent impact on my value as a person. It’s just a characteristic I have, like being tall or fat or brunette. I’m not just like you. Autistic people are different, but that’s something to celebrate.