There exist few mysteries greater than what exists within the minds of autistic people. No matter how thoroughly the topic is studied, contemplated and researched, autism will forever remain something that is completely impossible to understand. It is an extraordinarily rare and horrifying disease that is often caused by vaccines, gluten, circumcision, and, of course, microwaves.
I hope you know I’m being sarcastic.
However, despite the sarcastic nature of my previous statement, you wouldn’t believe how many times I’ve been told such ridiculous “facts” directly to my face by so-called “autism experts” (AKA someone who’s third cousin’s mom’s aunt’s great-great-great grandfather’s three-legged pet raccoon Sparky had autism).
“I told ya’, Rob! We never should’a given ‘im that flu shot…”
I understand. Autism can be a difficult subject to fully understand, whether you’re a specialist, relative of an autistic person, or even an autistic person yourself. Despite modern advances in science, we are still unsure of what autism even is, and how the lives of autistic people can be improved.
However, the best source of information on autism isn’t always from textbooks or research essays, but rather, from autistic people ourselves. After all, statistics can only say so much compared to what genuine experiences can, and that’s why today I would like to go over some of the main things that we autistic people want you to know both to help in your own understanding of our condition, and to help you learn how to treat us in a more beneficial way, both for us and for you.
1: When you meet one autistic person…
…You’ve met one autistic person. Yes, despite the stereotypes seen in the media, every single autistic person is different, and, while we all share some similar characteristics, we are all vastly different people. In fact, not all of us get along and face conflicts and disagreements like anyone else. Some autistic people are quirky, fun-loving, and pop-culture obsessed, while others are more quiet, reserved, and logical, while others are both or neither.
2: Stimming is not scary
Stimming is a shortened version of self-stimulation, the thing that autistic people (and many others) do to calm ourselves down and express emotions. Some of the more common ones you may be familiar with are hand-flapping, running, jumping, repeating words, rocking back and forth, swaying, chewing, and fidgeting. Stimming is something that is discouraged by many special education teachers, who typically repeat the phrase, “quiet hands,” enough times to make it sound like some sort of rallying call from a totalitarian dictatorship.
“QUIET HANDS! QUIET HANDS! QUIET HANDS!”
However, it’s time to reject the unfortunate silencing of those hands, because it has been scientifically proven that hand-flapping (as well as all other non-destructive stims) are not only beneficial, but actually essential to an autistic person. Along with being calming, stimming is also one of the many diverse ways that we autistic people communicate. For example, when I am nervous, angry, upset, or happen to be focusing, I rock back and forth. When I’m excited, I flap my hands. The mentality behind “quiet hands” is one that stems from the philosophy of rendering autistic children indistinguishable from their neurotypical peers and punishing natural autistic behavior, which has fallen out of style in recent years due to the trauma that it has caused many autistic people. We autistic people are sensory people by nature. We are bound to put our hands on anything soft, sniff anything fragrant, put anything sweet in our mouths, and stare at anything pretty. When this natural function is prevented, we become uncomfortable and unable to focus. For example, when I’m writing my novels, rather than stereotypically hunching over my computer screen perfectly still, I’m actually chewing gum, rocking back and forth to the tempo of my music, and rubbing my hands together. Stimming is just another way that we autistic people function, and taking it away for the sake of making us look normal is counterproductive.
3: We don’t mean to be annoying or creepy
We promise! Unfortunately, one of the biggest, most defining symptoms of autism is difficulty socializing and interacting with others. This can manifest itself in many different ways, whether an autistic person is loud and overly talkative or silent and reserved. We also typically struggle making eye contact, which is another thing that is usually handled somewhat like “quiet hands” is; with scolding and punishment. You see, neurotypicals are born automatically understanding how social interaction is meant to work, and merely need it to be reinforced by a parent. However, we autistic people lack this natural skill, and must work at it if we wish to perfect it. Some autistic people work very hard to “look natural”, while others do not; it is merely a personal choice. I myself actually studied etiquette books as a child, which caused me to learn how people should behave, but unfortunately failed to teach me how people actually behave.
Since I taught myself these formal mannerisms at a young age, they’ve stuck with me through all these years, which makes me a pretty uncomfortable person to be around. However, I have no intention of changing my behavior, as it is simply who I am. We autistic people tend to have special interests, specific obsessions that we focus intently on, and no matter how quiet we may usually be, a conversation about a special interest will usually turn into an hour-long rant with no sign of ending. The way we behave in social situations is simply a part of us, and it is a part that cannot be changed without our own conscious effort. Just don’t make us talk on the phone, and we should be okay…
4: It’s almost never “just” autism
Unfortunately, autism is never alone. Many autistic people suffer from mental disorders such as depression, anxiety, ADHD, OCD, and bipolar disorder as well as neurological disorders such as epilepsy, Tourette’s, and dyspraxia. Physical disorders such as bowel disease and hypotonia, as well as a plethora of learning disorders, may also be included. It is unknown why autistic people may face such a wide variety of problems, but fortunately, these are all issues that can be, if not cured, helped. However, it is important for you to exercise the same tolerance that you (hopefully) show autism when it comes to other issues, co-morbid or stand-alone. I for one, suffer from depression, OCD, dissociation, and dyspraxia, which are all typically co-morbid with autism. This just goes to show how vastly different each and every autistic person is.
5: Not all of us want a cure
Almost every organization involving autism has the same motive: to find a cure for autism. While this cause may seem noble at first glance, it should be said that there are actually many autistic people who love being autistic. From the different perspective ,it gives you, to the vastly different way of thinking, to the simple joy of having a special interest, being autistic can be a lot of fun for some people despite some of the drawbacks. Of course, there are many autistic people who do wish for a cure feeling that the pros don’t outweigh the cons, and some wouldn’t care one way or another. It is incorrect, however, to assume that all autistic people suffer from autism, as many autistic people see autism as a gift. It can be hard to see the benefits of autism when you focus on all of the hardships we face, but it is essential to realize that if humans were computers we would not be broken, but simply be wired differently. As Dr. Temple Grandin, a Zoologist with Asperger’s famously said: we’re different, not less.