Autism Awareness: Be Aware of Our Existence


I spy with my little eye, something beginning with AA.

Not Alcoholics Anonymous. No, not the Automobile Association. I’m talking Autism Awareness.

In the run up to Autism Awareness Week and Day and Month and Millennia, I’ve been thinking about what I really want the world to be aware of.

Most people have heard the word “autism.” They’re aware it exists, but that might be about it.

Even those who have autistic family members might not recognize the adults in their midst. No, I don’t look like your child, for much the same reason you don’t look like my 3-year-old. Autistics grow up, too. An adult autistic — no matter how verbal or not — has still had a lifetime of acquiring skills and learning and developing, that a child has not.

When experts talk about autism — trainers at work, speakers at conferences  — they often seem to forget there will be autistic people in the audience. We become “they.” We are “othered” by the very people who are supposed to know the most about us.

I don’t want you to just be aware that autism exists; I want you to be aware of our existence. We are the mothers at the school gate, the co-worker in your office, the woman who sits at the same seat on your bus, the man walking his dogs.

We are not an alien species; we live among you.

We’re your friend who speaks passionately about the things she loves and might be terrible at keeping in touch regularly. We’re the coach who is obsessed with bringing the best out in everyone. We’re the paramedic who solved your issue. We’re the doctor who worked out what was wrong.

We’re here. Everyday and permanently here.

Every day we meet the world more than halfway. We do our best to do things your way. We let ourselves get swept along by your rituals, and then behind closed doors we recover.

There is no one type of autistic. Some of us are caring and lovely and kind, some of us are selfish and mean. In other words, we’re people.

People who happen to have a processor that provides them with questions, while other people’s processors might give them answers. That’s the only difference to me. That is my definition of autism.

On Autism Awareness Day, be aware. When you speak about autism we are listening. We love it when you get it right, and we love it even more when you hand the platform to us and let us speak for ourselves.

Be inclusive. Be actively inclusive. Look at spaces critically, ask yourself how you already meet people’s sensory needs.

We need the world and the world needs us. We are your problem-solvers, your repetitive-routine lovers, your I-would-rather-get-on-with-work-than-chat workers.

If you think you’ve never met an autistic adult, you’re wrong. You just were not aware.

We are here, planning our quiet, unsociable revolutions. Waiting for the world to accept us and to see that “autistic” is not a pejorative term, it’s just factual, it just is. It doesn’t mean “problematic” or “stupid” or “un-empathetic.” It’s just a social-processing issue. No more, no less.

My art teacher once told me I was a cat in a world of dogs — that I didn’t need people the way others do. Did you know that Catsuit is an anagram for autistic? Coincidence? Well… yes, but that doesn’t mean I can’t raise my eyebrows suggestively and make it sound meaningful.

Oh, and autistic has two i’s. If you noticed that small detail, then perhaps you’re closer to autism than you think!

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