Being Autistic Among Those Who Aren’t

During National Autism Awareness Month, Autism NOW and The Arc offer the personal stories and perspectives of people with autism to generate discussion about autism awareness and acceptance. We invite your comments here and on Facebook and Twitter using the hashtag #AutismAware.

By K. Ann Price, N. Little Rock Arkansas

A lifetime of memories, only in the last few years framed in their proper context.  I am autistic. That is part of me, and always has been, even if I didn’t know it till I was 29.

How to describe always knowing you’re different, but not why or how is beyond words. Even when you try, it somehow escapes you. Why didn’t I care about people’s names when I was a kid, chattering away to every stranger? Why did kids my own age either bore or terrify me, yet toddler’s toys and adults were fascinating? I never feared those with disabilities; I’d speak to them as equals. I knew I was different.

Now as an autistic adult, I’m still different, and I know I’ll never be “normal”. Not that I want to. “Normals” can be the most complicated, rude people I ever see. I miss an unspoken rule or don’t act like I’m supposed to? Give me looks, whisper behind my back, ignore me and hope I’ll get “the message.” When I try to explain that nonverbal communication is harder for me, they assume even more about me. “Oh, she’ll never be good with X, don’t let her be an A or B or work in the C area.” “Perhaps you’ll be happier working in (menial task) at the (minor location)” That’s when I try to volunteer, and that’s when they bother to speak to me. Mostly, I’m just ignored. Or dismissed as “not autistic, just lazy.”

At work…what work? I haven’t made livable wage or gotten or held a job in 8 years. Two attempts at my own business went nowhere. No clients, no jobs, and now I’m denied disability because I didn’t work for 8 years. No work, no volunteer work, and no treatments so I can do either of the first two. If I was considered stupid, maybe my husband could at least get help and proper treatment for me.

I’m smart, empathetic, and fiercely loyal. I’m also autistic, which means I don’t do things the same way most do. It doesn’t mean I can’t ever do the same things, just not in the same way or with the same ease. When will there be a place for autistic adults who can think and speak for ourselves, in our own way? Or even just a place where I can contribute?

It’s time to accept that we don’t all fit the “normal” mold and use the potential we’ve wasted for 60+ years. Autistics have much to contribute; let us do it.

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