Monday, April 7, 2014

Coming Out of the Autism Closet: the Joys and Benefits of Revealing One’s Condition to the World

For this blog post, let’s imagine that you are autistic or that you know someone who is and want to make them acknowledge their conditions.  At the day where many gay celebrities are becoming openly gay and gay awareness and freedom is increasing, I thought this month of April, designated by the autistic community as Autism Acceptance Month, should be a time for autistic people to “come out.”  If you have autism and disclose it to your social network, you may find greater comfort and ease with them, in addition to helping foster understanding of autism.  Now chances are that if you are autistic and maybe around age sixteen or older (I typically view people, often times males, in their twenties like me), you may not need any special help or treatment, you may not need someone to help you to communicate, live independently, or develop interpersonal relationships, perhaps because you’ve have early childhood support or the right education, as I was lucky to have beginning at age twelve, or maybe you haven’t but you are still extremely independent and are not a pity or a charity case.  So why reveal your condition?  Before I get to that please also note that perhaps with your condition, you feel alone, isolated, or misunderstood by others, even though you are in fact, a fully able human being.  Moreover, there are times that you like to be alone, perhaps to think over and get adjusted to the world, or like to engage in activities suited to your interest, which not everyone shares but is in fact acceptable and does not make you a victim of anything, autism or otherwise. 
Like I said, I was lucky enough in my youth to get the right educational and support services early enough to where I barely need any supports, except perhaps to take my tests in the testing center, though I can still pass all of my tests taking them in a regular classroom.  I can live on my own, maintain relationships, take care of my hygiene, have conversations with people, be in large crowds in public and in parties, and hold down a job with no special assistance whatsoever.  Yet despite that I still feel myself searching for acceptance from everyone I meet, including friends, coworkers, potential dates, professors, CAs, and others, even though I know these people often times respect me perfectly well, and maybe even think very fondly of me, yet to live in this world and process the way I do I need to do things such as engage in particular activities or find time alone to recharge my life’s energy from all that is going around me, and worry, irrespective of the person I am speaking to at the time, how to excuse myself from their presence or explain what I in fact need to do.  Now I am only one person, but perhaps if you revealed your condition to your friends, significant others, bosses, coworkers, and peers, they might be more accepting and understanding of the things you do and think, and will show you they care about you and respect your needs, both sensory and social as a person and someone with autism.  Yet maybe you perhaps want to deny, or avoid speaking of your condition to these people.  If so, maybe ask yourself, who are you trying to get approval from: them or you?  While we might disagree, part of us as human beings do sometimes care about what others think about us.  We are social creatures and we were made to live together, yet some people are in fact bigoted, ignorant, or don’t understand the various forms of human beings.  Many, maybe even most of us, have been bullied sometime or another (when younger) due to our condition or perhaps been a victim of workplace bullying, not to mention faced segregated education or the use of improper behavioral interventions from schools and treatment centers.  Naturally, we would be cautious of disclosing our condition to our friends, teachers, and coworkers.  Or maybe you’ve had therapists and counselors with a negative attitude to your condition, or who, despite wanting to help, neither knew or cared to learn enough about autism or about you when it was important.  For me however, sharing my condition with people is something that makes a difference in my ability to trust and relate to them.  I like them to know I am autistic just as I would like them to know if I lost a parent or got married.  Friends of mine who I have connected with on Facebook have by now seen my post several autism posts, and by now they must know of my condition.  They have also seen much of my autistic pride paraphenilia or heard me talk to groups about my condition and work with it yet we remained friends.  Maybe some people won’t be able to accept my condition, but my rule is if they don’t need me, I don’t need them. 
As I was fortunate enough to realize when  I came to college as a regular student living with other regular and predominantly neurotypical students, I had reservations about people, which were not entirely my fault, and perhaps partly due to my childhood, advice from therapists, and my parents, even as they have done all they could for me.  When I first went to college as a regular student, I, perhaps due in part to the boyish charm my parents and family have pointed out in me, found myself the center of attention of many college girls, who were overwhelmingly neurotypical, with perhaps a very slight number of people with other cognitive disabilities.  I would see them stare at me, play with twirl their hair like a punch drunk ballerina, or run their hands along their thighs, smile as they passed while looking over in my direction.  Yet one class period, as I watched a movie on Native American prejudices seen in the use of mascots, I realized I had the desire not to be judged for my autism by some girl who did not share it, thinking she could never understand when we became so close together.  Today I realize that I was wrong and that many neurotypical girls can understand me far better than many girls who are autistic, and now face certain challenges which are not insurmountable to dating many girls who I wish I'd been more open to as a result of my ignorance.  I did not have the worries of finding acceptance in a relationship while I was in high school and a self-loathing autistic, as I had my autistic ex-girlfriend on and off from my sophomore year until our relationship finally towards the end of my senior year, with a complete Ferris Bueller conviction that we would get married.  Yet for others, this is indeed a problem.  A former social worker I know talked about his work seeing couples where the husbands had Asperger syndrome.  These women often found their husbands behaviors offensive, but perhaps had they known of or understood their husband’s condition, things might have been different.  I’ve learned though that you can wait months, even years, before finding an autistic girl who is right for you (the vast majority of autistic girls are believed by some professionals to be undiagnosed), and in that time plenty of non-autistic people may show up into your life who can be great partners. 
The key, I think is to know how to disclose your condition.  For me, I had the natural born quality of autistic advocacy.  I cared for everyone in the autistic community and it showed.  I was interviewed on NBC in the summer of 2011 by Chris Hernandez about being an adult with autism, and remained confident and true to myself, which I think allowed people to take me seriously, despite the overwhelming misconceptions about autism.  The trick I think for people with autism is to disclose your condition to your friends, employers, and social network in a way that speaks to your character.  If you are normally a very shy and timid person, perhaps let your friends know that you want them to understand you and not judge you for things you do, which are neurological.  If you are a normally very proactive employee, let your employer know that you are telling them you are autistic because you sometimes need help with certain functions and want them to understand that.  If you usually go to the quiet corners at parties, let your girlfriend know you do it because of your autism.  You let anyone know that you are autistic for your own reasons, and be sure to let them know so they will know that telling them is important to you and you are in fact serious about it, not strange or eccentric.  If you in fact refer to yourself as autistic, rather than a person with autism, let the people you tell know that perhaps you are doing it because autism is an integral part of you are, and in case they might not understand, let them know that you cannot be the same person without your autism and that you, nor anybody else, can get rid of it. 
Do not get me wrong: some people you should not tell about your autism, particularly if they are in power and letting them know will only create problems for you.  In that case, you should go to their supervisor or a human resources associate and talk to them.  You are a person and should be able to say you are autistic without any fear of repercussions.  But in most cases, you may find that being able to say that you are autistic creates a feeling of greater closeness and ease between you to, and it may very well better let the world truly understand autism. 

No comments:

Post a Comment