April is Autism Acceptance Month.
There’s a saying, “If you’ve met one person on the spectrum, you’ve met one person on the spectrum.” I am not on the autism spectrum, but I direct a program to support college students who are. I believe in the philosophy of “nothing about us without us” and handed my blog over to one of my students, Sean Carter, a freshman journalism major.
“One of the strange things about growing up on the autism spectrum is that for the majority of my life, I didn’t know I WAS on the spectrum. As a kid, I was diagnosed with ADHD, which to my knowledge from Percy Jackson meant that you couldn’t sit still, you couldn’t pay attention in class, and you had an unusual propensity for fighting mythical monsters (though the last was more wishful thinking on my part). And of course, as a kid, I wasn’t self-aware at all, so I didn’t know that how I was acting was way out of character, even for a kid with ADHD. I didn’t realize that my abrasive personality, my random fixations, and my ability to never study for a spelling test were out of the ordinary. At the end of the day, I was just being me. When I was in elementary school, I really didn’t care about what anyone thought. Why would I? The only thing I was concerned with was what time the Yankees game was on that night. But then, when I hit middle school and moved from central Florida to midwestern Illinois, the culture shift was really jarring for me. Throughout middle school, I struggled with falling grades, social difficulties, and conflicts with my family as I declined academically. But still, I was content with being who I was, and I genuinely didn’t care if my social life wasn’t great. I had a few close friends, and that was all I needed.
However, soon enough, high school came around, and that’s where my world changed. At the beginning of my freshman year, my parents got me tested by a psychologist, who diagnosed me with Asperger’s Syndrome. This didn’t really mean much to me on the surface, as the most I knew about the term “Asperger’s Syndrome” is that it was something me and my brother would say in my basement to get ourselves laughing madly at. Still, there was one word associated with it that caught my eye: autism. Now I didn’t know much, but to my 14-year-old brain, I had experienced the stigma around it, and I knew that you didn’t want to be associated with it, at least at my age. I became angry because I didn’t understand why I was the way that I was. As I read up on its symptoms, I saw myself in the words of the diagnoses, but instead of it giving me clarity, I found only resentment. There was no reason for it. Neither of my parents had it, there was no history of it in my family, but I still ended up autistic, which in my mind, meant I was mentally different.
At this point, I felt like I was a spectator to my own life. I would act certain ways in certain scenarios in life that I would look at retrospectively and realize that I was every word my psychologist said I was. Around the time I got diagnosed, the results of an interpersonal test given to me in middle school revealed that I was terrible socially, citing a lack of understanding of others’ emotions. This made me feel even worse, as I now felt like I was mentally scripted to be something I didn’t want to be, but I was forced into anyway. I wanted to be able to empathize with people, to comprehend how they felt, but for some reason, I just couldn’t. I could only understand what I had personally experienced, and if someone else were to feel that way, then I could get that, but anything else I was hopelessly foreign to. This sent me into a spiral with my grades as I felt completely lost for the majority of my high school career.
Over time, as I grew and came to understand my mental state and my emotions, I not only came to terms with my Asperger’s but began to love it. I recognized that Asperger’s is called a disorder because it’s exactly that: it’s out of order from the conventional mental functions. And as someone who wanted to be my own person, I figured that the best way to do that was to, at minimum, be mentally different.
Living with autism isn’t easy. Anyone could tell you that. Whether high or low functioning, the surface level to what people see in those on the spectrum does not come close to revealing the struggles we deal with. But what the surface also doesn’t show is that people on the spectrum are probably going to be the most genuine people you ever meet. Whether you like them or not, those on the spectrum will be honest about their thoughts, emotions, anything. And that’s why I appreciate my Asperger’s now: because I realized that I’d like to be the realest version of myself as opposed to any version of me that wasn’t exactly who I am today. Do I work to make improvements? Sure. But it’s not about what’s wrong with you that defines you. It’s how you can better yourself based upon your differences. Asperger’s was a challenge life threw at me from the get-go, and I’m so thankful every day that it did.”
April is Autism Acceptance Month
For more than 50 years, The Autism Society has been pursuing a nationwide effort to all assure that all who are affected by autism are able to achieve the highest quality of life possible via autism acceptance month, observed each April. Learn more at www.autism-society.org.