by Wendy Graves –
With “World Autism Awareness Day” happening on April 2, I thought I would share my thoughts on a few things everyone could try and be aware of.
I’m autistic; I was diagnosed at age 27 after a lifetime of questions and struggles. What I want you to realize is that it’s time to accept and appreciate autistic people! It is 2021 and enough time has passed since the beginnings of deinstitutionalization that autistic adults, such as myself, are able to find a voice. Whether we can speak or not, the written word and new technology can let our needs and feelings be heard. The world is now aware that autism is a neurological difference, present from birth. Accepting that and appreciating our differences, gifts and the barriers we face, is everything I need from World Autism Awareness Day.
The fact that the world is made up of people with all sorts of different brains is called “neurodiversity.” Conditions like autism are a type of “neurodivergence.” These big words simply mean we are all different. Supporting us is the same as supporting any other type of difference or disability. We may need assistive technology, or a support worker, but we can excel and accomplish amazing things just like people who are not autistic. Did you know that in his senior years famous actor Anthony Hopkins has been recognized as being autistic? He was diagnosed late in life and had spent his whole career until recently not knowing he was on the spectrum.
After I was recognized as being autistic, life became a lot easier to navigate. There are still struggles, but mostly because the world is not made to be accessible for people on the spectrum. I had already been to university, but learning I was on the spectrum has helped me be more successful in employment. It has also enabled me to run a nonprofit serving other autistic people, and helped me reach a lifelong personal goal of having a family. I was able to recover from a lot of psychological distress I experienced growing up not knowing I was on the spectrum. Fighting against who I was for almost 30 years has definitely left a mark on my spirit, but I would not change who I am for the world.
The only things I would change about being autistic is the environment I am in. Like many other marginalized groups, there are barriers to accessing society for autistic people. Medical care, school, employment and socializing, can be harder to access for us because those systems were not created with us in mind. Luckily I am alive during the best time to be autistic. People are finally listening to our voices and the growing neurodiversity movement has helped me feel like there is a place in this world for people like me!
This April, on “World Autism Awareness Day,” most of all please be kind. We can never know why a person may be struggling. I was called spoiled, lazy, a brat, and worse by teachers and other adults. I am very lucky to have had an amazing mother who always believed me and believed in me. I do not know if I would have been so resilient against discrimination had it not been for her support. Patience, tolerance, understanding and compassion are what autistic and otherwise neurodivergent people need. Please be aware that autistic people need acceptance and appreciation too.