Autistic folks deserve acceptance in addition to awareness


Illustration by Rashad Thomas/The Runner

Natalie Page, Opinions Writer

  Most are aware that autistic people exist. Fewer people, however, know how to accept them and their differences.  

  Some will say they never bully anyone for being autistic, but proceed to bully people for fidgeting, picky eating, “awkward” behavior, unusual voices, not getting jokes/sarcasm, and having obscure or “cringy” interests. In other words, they’re bullying people for having autistic traits – essentially bullying them for being autistic.  

  The problem with traditional autism discourse is that most of it comes from folks who are neurotypical – in this case, not autistic. We often hear about autism from psychologists, family members, and charities, but rarely from the folks who have something they don’t: first-hand experience with an autistic brain. Autistic people themselves are the forgotten side of their own journey, which can lead to meaningless mistreatment, medical malpractice, and malicious murder. 

  The National Autism Association’s website lists actual communication problems alongside harmless behavior like “lin[ing] up toys and objects” and “not play[ing] ‘pretend’ games.” Even positive traits, like unique passions and dedication, get written off as “unusual” or “obsessive interests.” 

  The neurodiversity movement seeks to change all of the above. Wake Forest University’s counseling site states that neurodiversity is that some are born with brains that think, learn and process information differently than others,” and that neurodiversity is “to de-stigmatize different kinds of brain functionality, offering a framework for celebrating variations in how children think, learn and process information. 

  But as an unashamed autistic woman, I can give a simpler firstperson take on neurodiversity: “We are different, not lesser.”  

  Listen to us; we are individuals with our own paths and yearnings, just like you. All of us have our own story, our own lifelong path of development, and above all, our own goals and aspirations. Some of us are human calculators, and others are modern-day music maestros. Some of us were in the gifted program, while others were in remedial classes (or both!). Some of us love to be cuddled, and others wouldn’t even want a high five (I wouldn’t recommend either in the midst of this pandemic). 

  Of course, autistic people can be introverts, but many of us are extroverts with large hearts – and both walks of life are valid! I’m not the best at meeting new people, but I value all my friends and family. I don’t lack empathy; I just need a bit of insight first.  

  The empathy problem can honestly be two-way – when we’re among fellow autistic folks, our communication is solid and effortless. Researchers have caught on fortunately and name this the double-empathy problem – Dr. Melanie Heyworth of writes that autistic people don’t lack empathy. Instead, we express it differently than neurotypicals, which can lead to a communication breakdown between neurotypicals and autistics. Just as autistics don’t always understand neurotypicals, neurotypicals don’t always understand autistics. Overcoming this culture shock can require patience of both parties. It’s not fair that only one is considered flawed by mental health professionals. 

  People like me exist in every shape, size, and color. We exist in every race, gender, culture, age, and nation. We don’t cease to be autistic when we turn 18; we were born this way, and we will die this way. 

   If you want total insight into the autistic mind, consider learning about it from someone who owns one. As an autistic woman, I look up to my autistic elders, many of whom were diagnosed late in life. Many of them are psychologists, “autism moms,” and charity founders themselves.  

  I view my special interests in music and photography as friends. I view my brain wiring as my operating system. I am not ashamed of my brain; I am proudly autistic. More importantly, I am proudly human in my own way. So are you.