April 2, National Autism Acceptance Day, not awareness day. Awareness isn't enough. Awareness means you know about it. Who isn't aware of autism these days? I'm more than "aware" I live with it. It stares back at me when I look in the mirror. It moves with me every time I run into a wall, misjudge a step, forget to pay a bill, whiff someone's strong perfume from across a large room, every time I can see an oscillation in a fluorescent light bulb, or the deafening noise of the Walmart. I am aware of it every waking moment of my life, all 54 years of it. I've heard whispering behind my back about how strange I am. I've been labeled as certifiably insane by my family of origin. I've been teased, taunted, bullied and horribly, unspeakably abused. I'm very aware of autism!
Some people are going to read this blog and say to themselves...ah! She's not autistic, she is too articulate, too educated, seems too "normal." Possibly followed by, oh she must be "high functioning." I'm here to tell you, there is no such thing as "high functioning autism." What there is, instead, is experience, those things that change with age for everyone (even we autistic folks), learned behaviors, learned and finely tuned coping strategies, courage, determination and the strength of character not to be diminished by how we've been treated, no matter how inappropriate that treatment has been. We have all had to "fake it until we make it" in this life on the false belief we will one day actually make it. On so many levels, I am still faking it and I know I won't make it. I fake it to get by, to keep my job, to preserve relationships, to do my grocery shopping, to see a doctor, to get any of a great number of things accomplished in life. I will never be "normal."
To be fair, I don't want to be normal. Being autistic has given me gifts I would not trade for the world. I can say, without irony or sarcasm, that I have never been bored a moment of my life. The ability to focus on just one thing at a time may be tested on a regular basis, but boredom has never been an issue. It gave me both intellectual and creative giftedness, and to possess both is a rare gift indeed. I have comorbid attention deficit, hyperactivity disorder with an emphasis on hyperactivity. This means that I'm creative, too smart for my own good and have enough energy to carry out anything which resides in my imagination, and that is an imagination that comes as full color pictures in my head. I'm very visually oriented and I often follow the pictures in my head rather than instructions because it is faster and easier. I make a lot of things look quite easy.
I didn't wear blue today because I'm not broken. I'm unique, special, different, challenged and trying my best, but I am not broken. Blue in the autism puzzle symbol stands for an organization called Autism Speaks. Well, Autism Speaks does not speak for me!! No one on their board of governors is on the autism spectrum. They are not after acceptance of differences, they are after prevention and "cure." They would like to find that magic bullet that would make all of us normal. They gather funding and use it to promote the idea that autistic people are broken and need to be fixed, that there is no reason to tolerate or accept our differences because they should be wiped out instead. I find this stance repugnant, just as repugnant as the idea that people should not vaccinate their children because vaccines cause autism, which they DO NOT. Out of fear, parents would rather risk their children's lives than raise a child who turns out like me, like any of us who are on the autism spectrum. It is beyond words to explain the pain hurdled at autistic people when they are told they are broken, bad, damaged, despicable, lowlife humanity and being one of them is a fate worse than death.
What I need most, what the whole community of autistic people needs, is acceptance. We accept who we are, just as we are. We don't need or even want to be like neurotypicals and we're tired of being told to act "normal" or to "snap out of it." That's awareness, not acceptance. If we can accept ourselves as we are, why can't the rest of the world?
Don't wear blue today. Don't don't wear blue next year on Autism Acceptance Day either. Rather, try accepting what you don't understand. That's what autistic people are doing everyday.