Thursday, December 18, 2014

Helping a Friend Come Out of the Autism Closet

For months I have wished to support a friend I have known for over two years
who may need to “come out of the autism closet,”
and who is also one of the kindest, bravest, strongest, most selfless human being,
more than any neurotypical person I have known;
someone whose selflessness I could only compare to some of my friends and allies at the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network or the Autism Women’s Network.
This may be a shock for her, and if she is upset with me for that, I understand.
Autistic people naturally feel low self-esteem and self-loathing, not because there is something wrong with autism,
but because of years of discrimination and inequality. 
If she is upset for me for breaking the news, I understand.
It is a lot to ask of anyone, and something you should be able to expect someone you trust not to hoist upon you.
Now when I say help her come out of the autism closet, let me explain what I mean:

I do not mean that I plan to gain recognition for letting her know she is diseased or needs to be fixed. 
I do not mean that I wish to have her read books by professionals who call her emotions or character flat or immature or treat her like some person who can’t “get it together.”
I do not mean to treat her as if she or her chances of getting where she was in life can be measured by some autistic who I consider to be a basket case.
I do not mean that I need to treat her like someone whose unique idiosyncrasies I need to constantly remind her of or patronize her for.
I do not mean treat her like she is a punching bag for me as a person who is against things like vaccines, Monsanto, lead poisoning, non-organic milk, abortion, or homosexuality.
I do not mean that she is someone I have to consistently point out or blame for her past struggles with going to Burger King, keeping up in school, following teacher’s instructions, or tolerating fluorescent lights.
I do not mean that I am going to strut around wearing autism awareness on my sleeve, making her feel like some complete freak show or charity case. 

I mean to treat her like someone who has the same right as any other person to have their individual needs to grow to her greatest potential met without debating over whether it is due to being diseased or treating her like I’m doing her a favor, no ifs, and, or buts, and no excuses, hidden agendas, whatsoever.
I mean to treat her as a member of a group of people who frequently don’t need to use small talk about weather or the price of gas to avoid topics I am too uncomfortable to honestly talk about,
who don’t need someone with a grocery cart to make more room between themselves and the sliding doors to get through when there’s ten times as much room in the gap on the other side,
as someone who doesn’t need to hear or see something at the next table and automatically assume it involves them,
who does not let themselves be judged by the presence or the state of her things,
who have the courage and tenacity to follow their dreams into fruition whatever the cost,
and probably included the cofounder of the Constitution, the United States, and one of the best Universities in the world and the smartest man who ever lived.
I mean to treat her as someone whose shortcomings are not more severe rather than more tolerated.
If anyone wants to help a friend come out of the autism closet, I suggest you follow my lead.