As a person with Autism I often encounter ignorance and profoundly unhelpful attitudes from others about my Autism. Comments like ‘oh, but you don’t look Autistic’, ‘You could pass for normal you know. You don’t really need to say you have Aspergers’ or ‘Your autism can’t be very serious if you can speak. I mean you’ve got a job. Are you sure you’ve got Asperger’s?” These kinds of things certainly serve to annoy me and guarantee that the person saying them is off the Christmas list (or my Facebook). However, in the past, these sorts of thoughts and attitudes made me challenge and question my diagnosis and whether or not I was a ‘proper’ Autie. They eld to confusion and self-doubt. This post is all about myself and my fellow Autistic people being proud of who we are and debunking the concept that there is any such thing as a ‘proper’ Autistic person.
I received my Asperger’s diagnosis when I was twenty by the amazing psychologist Vikki Bitsika who nows heads up the Autism unit at a major Australian university. For various reasons I denied or questioned its validity. A few years after my diagnosis I found myself in a psychiatric hospital which was ruled by an arrogant and unpleasant chief psychiatrist in much the same way as Mordor is ruled by the Dark Lord Sauron (in Lord of the Rings). This chief psychiatrist told me and my parents that I did not have Asperger’s as I was diagnosed by a clinical psychologist and apparently only psychiatrists are capable of giving diagnoses (which I later learned was utter crap, incidentally). So once more I was questioning my Autism diagnosis.
As I moved through life, I met lots of people who all seemed to have an opinion on my Autism. Here’s a list of unhelpful things they said which led me to question whether or not I was a ‘proper’ Autie:
- You have empathy. Autistic people don’t care about others
- You have a sense of style. Autistic people don’t care what they wear
- You don’t have any savant skills do you?
- You don’t like maths, computers, trains, engineering, space, etc etc
- Hardly any women have Asperger’s. You’ve probably got borderline personality disorder
- You’re too cool to have Autism
- But you have a sense of humour
- You don’t look Autistic
- Oh, that would just be your mental illness.
- Everyone’s on the spectrum somewhere, You’re not special
- You’re such a good friend, Autistic people are terrible friends
- I saw that TED talk Temple Grandin did. You’re nothing like her. Do you like cows?
All of these statements are somewhat unhelpful to say the least. I can attest that I am a good friend, empathetic, have a sense of humour, am extremely ‘cool’ an am rather different from Dr Temple Grandin. However, I am still Autistic. These sorts of statements come from a place of ignorance. It took me years to work out that I really was on the Autism spectrum and not to be fazed by these sorts of comments.
One thing I learned over the years is that there is no such thing as a ‘proper’ Autie. We are all ‘proper’ but also different. In fact Autism is a condition which does not determine or affect every element of a person’s life. There is a saying that ‘If you have met one Autistic person you have met one Autistic person’. We are all individuals and all distinctly, beautifully, amazingly different. No person – Autistic or non-Autsitic – has the right to deny someone on the spectrum their Autistic identity. The only person who can say whether or not a person is on the spectrum (other that the Autie themselves of course) is the clinician who diagnosed them. People saying that we are ‘not Autistic enough’ (or whatever) are being ignorant and insulting. Given that many of us put on our ‘game face’ to the world, people other than our immediate families of partner may not see the impact of Autism on our lives, so to claim that someone is ‘not Autistic enough’ is inappropriate and invalidating to ay the least! I feel that the solution is building acceptance and understanding around Autism and for those of us on the spectrum to promote inclusion an challenge such ignorance.
For me, I have no doubt that I am on the spectrum now. Most people in the Autism world who have met me say that I am quite an ‘obvious’ Aspie. This makes me happy. when others make ignorant statements like the the ones listed above, I try to gently explain how what they say is not furthering any positive agendas and should be challenged. I value my own Autistic identity and try to share my experience with the world to hopefully make a little difference where I can.
Me inadvertently challenging some stereotypes by daring to work! 🙂