Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Autism Acceptance

I spent the majority of my life knowing that I was a little different and had a few quirks.  I assumed it was because I was interested in artsy things.  It wasn’t until I was 34 that I discovered it was due to a high functioning form of autism known as Asperger’s Syndrome.  I don’t look at my life as being “normal” and then discovering that I’m autistic.  My autism went undiagnosed, but it was always present.

I don’t consider myself special needs.  I went to normal classes with everybody else my age.  I didn’t receive any special treatment with tests or social activities at school.  There wasn’t a need for that.  Plus I went to school in a time when this mentality did not really exist.  I was primarily a straight A student, with the exception of a B in Geometry.  I didn’t find school challenging especially.  I spent very little time studying.  I know I could have studied harder and better, but there wasn’t really a point since not trying still earned me an A grade.  My quirks were never behavior issues.  And anytime I would start to get bullied, I was well liked enough that the girls in my class would defend me.  I didn’t have close friends or get invited to parties or sleep overs, but I got along with people and was liked, even if I wasn’t popular.

Today you will hear that autistic people have behavior issues.  I guess some do.  My quirks and oddities were not behavior against other people, but then again I grew up in a different time than today’s children.  We didn’t have FaceBook, Twitter, 24 hour children’s programming, video games, iPads, smart phones, and other technology.  It was more of a society that communicated with each other by talking to each other and interacting with each other.  Being on a phone in public, texting, or walking around with headphones on would have been considered rude.  I had problems with social interactions, but as a society, we were more capable of interacting with each other.  It’s not this way today.  Autistic children and even so called “normal” children are missing out actual social interactions and building social skills.

Having been raised “normal”, I guess I could have spent the rest of my life not getting the autism diagnosis or revealing it.  I could have continued to pass myself off as a “normal” person who works a 40 hour a week job as a manager of a convenience store that spends his free time making movies and writing books.  I mean, whenever I tell somebody that I’m autistic, the first thing to come out of their mouth is, “I’m sorry.”  It’s like they think I have somehow contracted this horrible life debilitating disease, which is kind of how the media presents autism spectrum disorders.

The truth of the matter is that autism isn’t a disease.  It’s a difference in thinking.  You can cure diseases.  And I have no problem with funding for curing diseases like AIDS or cancer.  You see, diseases make you sick and even take your life.  Autism doesn’t do that.  All it really does is cause the person to see the world differently in the way that other supposed autistics like Thomas Jefferson, Mark Twain, Beethoven, Michelangelo, Isaac Newton, Jane Austen, Henry Ford, Charles Darwin, and Albert Einstein did.  Their lives were not cut short by autism.  If anything, we remember these people for being different, but they would have been diagnosed with autism had they been born today.

I read an article today about the alarming medical costs for autism with the various special needs and treatments required.  The article also pointed out the alarming rise in autism rates.  In 2007, it was 1 in 88 people born were autistic.  It has risen to 1 in 50 this year.  And the Koreans estimate that it is probably closer to 1 in 38 in their population.  While the article applauded the fact that the diagnosing of autism has gotten better, it warned that the continual rising of the occurrence of autism must be stopped.

For the alarmists out there, I would like to propose that the increase in autism might have to do with diagnosing it better.  It could also have to do with evolution.  It’s not a disease.  It’s a difference in thinking.  Look at our society.  The Stubenville Rape case shows a group of normally socialized people who think it is okay to rape somebody while they are drunk, video tape it, and to do all of this in a public area with witnesses.  Nobody speaks up.  In the UK, there was a gay, autistic, epileptic boy that was murdered on his 18th birthday.  It seems his classmates thought it would be good natured fun to write gay slurs on him with lipstick, cover him with tanning oil, and then open a lighter near his crotch.  60% of his body was burned, and he died 2 days after his 18th birthday.  Again, this was in public with lots of witnesses.  Nobody said anything or tried to stop it.

Being autistic, I can tell you that one of the differences I have is my ability to question the rest of society.  I have never understood peer pressure.  I have never understood making fun of somebody else so that I could gain the popular opinion of another person.  I have never understood wanting to impress people that I consider idiots.  I have never followed trends.  I didn’t get a class ring.  My parents offered to buy me one like they had bought my brother and sister.  It was $300.  I would much rather have $300 to buy something that I would want than a ring that I would never wear, especially after high school.  It might have been popular, but it was a lot of money for something that only had a real value for four years of my life.

Maybe I was fortunate in that I was born when I was.  Instead of having Yo Gabba Gabba and these other children’s shows that teach social skills, I had Sesame Street, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, and The Muppet Show.  Instead of learning that I needed to fit in, I learned that it was okay to be different.  And I didn’t realize how important these lessons were until I was officially diagnosed with autism.

When everybody else was trying to feel sorry for me, I thought back to my childhood and to Kermit the Frog.  I figured being autistic was kind of like being green.   “When autistic is all there is to be it could make you wonder why.  But why wonder?  Why wonder?  I am autistic, and it’ll do fine.  It’s beautiful!  And I think it’s what I want to be.”

And then I thought of the episode of The Muppet Show where Gonzo thinks Madeline Kahn wants to marry him and then finds out that she doesn’t.  Gonzo starts to sing “Wishing Song” where he sings about all of the things he wishes he had and wishes he was somebody else.  Although Madeline doesn’t want to marry Gonzo, she tells him that she’s glad that he is who he is.  Then he finishes his song with all of the things that he does and that he is happy to be himself.  Being different is okay.
I decided to disclose my autism because I like myself the way I am.  I grew up in a time when being different wasn’t a bad thing.  I spent the first 34 years of my life being considered normal and not autistic.  The diagnosis didn’t change anything about my life.  Autism isn’t a disease.  It can’t be cured.  As a society, we would find it morally reprehensible if we tried to cure homosexuality or to say that any naturally occurring ethnicity we would find undesirable needs to be prevented and cured of their undesirable traits.  It’s the same thing with autism.  Think about it and look at human history.  Being autistic doesn’t make me less of a human being.  It means that sometimes I see things differently, interpret the world differently, think differently, and question what society accepts as the truth because they fear questioning it would make them an outcast.

One of the advantages of not caring what society thinks of me is that I can openly state my Christian beliefs.  I have a simple faith that humans were made in God’s image, and even in our fallen state, we retain an element of our Creator.  God does not make mistakes.  Autism is not a defect or an imperfection.  It’s the way I’m supposed to be.  It doesn’t mean autism will make my life easy.  Sometimes we are created different for a purpose.  There are times I question what I am supposed to do with my life or wish I was at a different place in my life.  At the end of the day, though, I am happy with who I am.  And I am happy with no other purpose in life than to tell other autistic people that it is okay to be your autistic self.  At the end of the day, you have to go home and live with yourself.  I’ve always found it is much easier to live with myself when I am true to myself instead of trying to conform to somebody else’s opinion of what I should be.

This post is a reprint. The original can be found here at Jack Gunthridge's blog:  Autism Acceptance

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