“We all live with the objective of being happy; our lives are all different and yet the same.”
April is Autism Acceptance Month. Most places still recognize it as “Autism Awareness Month.”
That’s fine for now, but I think this is one of the last years that will be the case. Between 1-2%
of the world’s population has autism. You more than likely know someone who has it. More
and more individuals on the autism spectrum are being identified and are becoming adults,
growing a self-starter movement for acceptance of them as they are, instead of looking for a
“cure”… Or, I guess I should say, an acceptance of us.
My autism spectrum disorder (ASD) was not diagnosed until adulthood. As such, I didn’t receive
any of the supports that children on the spectrum are usually supplied with. Fortunately, I did
fairly well without them. At the age of 24, I have graduated college, started a career, and have
high hopes for the future. However, 35% of individuals with ASD don’t go to college or hold a
job after graduating high school. While I cannot speak to the experiences of all individuals on
the spectrum, I do feel that more of our stories should be heard.
When I was diagnosed a few years ago, it initiated an inner turmoil and, ultimately, denial. ASD
did not become part of my identity – how I saw MYSELF – until my last year of college, during
an internship. A publishing company in Lenexa, KS, specializing in books and materials related
to ASD, was looking for an intern to help write their catalog. Publishing was a field I long
considered as a perfect fit; as a child, I devoured books and gained an admiration for the
written word. As part of the internship, I was able to attend the Autism Society of America’s
national conference in Denver. I found a community of individuals on the spectrum, people I
had never come into contact with, and seeing them helped me accept myself.
Growing up, I was completely aware of the stigma surrounding mental illnesses and disorders.
That is what our children are learning: if you don’t fit in, especially in middle school and high
school, you won’t be happy. If your differences stand out, then you stand out and you become
a target. Bullying (and cyberbullying) is a huge topic in schools, but when it comes to children
with mental differences, that conversation gets complicated. If teachers aren’t prepared to
include children of ALL backgrounds in their lessons, then how can these children ever be truly
accepted by their peers?
All individuals with ASD want to be accepted, not just acknowledged. The slogan, “Nothing
about us without us,” establishes the idea that decisions regarding treatment and lifestyle
should not be made without taking into account what the person with ASD wants (which,
surprisingly, does often happen). In my opinion, ASD is a different way of thinking and
communicating that, rather than needing to be “fixed” to match what others are used to, is
worthy of being included and even appreciated.
A number of influential historical figures have exhibited characteristics of ASD, including Albert
Einstein, Isaac Newton, Thomas Jefferson, and Nikola Tesla. If these men were able to effect
significant change in their lifetimes because of their unique perspectives, how many more of us
can have a similar impact?
Margaret Utz is the managing editor at AAPC Publishing in Lenexa, KS. She has a degree in
Communication Studies and is a member of ASAN (Autism Self-Advocacy Network).