I Am Autistic and Yes, I Am Social
There are so many myths about autism out there, so many that are still fully believed and spread around. Even during Autism Awareness Month, these myths spread like wildfire with well-meaning posts describing us as something we are not, grouping us all together with stereotypes and perpetuating harmful stigmas.
Since I first went for my diagnosis as a young girl, I was told I must not be autistic because I wanted to make friends. That reflects something so many people believe — that Autistic people aren’t social. We are all meant to be introverted recluses that hate people and have no friends. This myth isn’t just wrong, it’s hurtful — not just to Autistic adults like me, but to brave mums and dads of newly diagnosed children. It strikes fear into their hearts that their beautiful child might not have friends. That fear is not a reality we all live.
While many of my friends joke that I am anti-social and even I joke that I would much rather stay home with my cat and a bottle of wine than go out to a party, in terms of how autism is portrayed, I am a social woman. As a child, I was told that little girls don’t have autism, and even if they do, they certainly don’t try to make friends. The key word in that sentence is try. I was the weirdest, loudest and quirkiest child you can imagine and I take great pride in that. I would talk to anyone and I was chatty as all hell, so chatty it often got me in trouble in school. The only person half as chatty as me was one of my best friends who was also autistic. I was always trying to make friends with those around me, but that was a skill I didn’t quite develop until my teen years.
And although I didn’t make friends very successfully, I was trying. I tried my little heart out and kept on trying right to my teen years. I struggle with social situations to this day, but not as much as I did back then, luckily. I was able to develop skills that allow me to be socially functional today through lots and lots of practice. Though I am not perfect by any means, if you saw me at a social gathering you would most likely be able to tell I wasn’t the best at using those skills, but you would still call me social. I go out, I see friends, I talk to friends online, yet there are people out there who doubt my autism purely because I have those friends.
Now I know pretty much all of us with autism struggle to some extent with social settings, with socializing and making and keeping friends. And it’s a struggle many of us often spend years upon years trying to work through to make friends. We go through so many friendships, so many people, desperately trying to find just a few who will like us for who we are. We aren’t born with the natural skills typical children manage more easily than us; we don’t have that privilege. But imagine putting all that work in, and then just when you think you have it together, just when you think you finally managed to make it work, people use your success to doubt your autism. To invalidate that struggle.
It’s not easy by any means, but I am social. I do have friends. I go to the pub, I have a laugh, and I wouldn’t trade my friends for the world. And I am still a valid and proud Autistic woman. Spreading the myth that we are all anti-social and have no friends is hurtful and rude, and while those of us with autism are able to brush this off for the most part, parents of newly diagnosed children don’t have that. They often don’t know that this is a myth.
So to my fellow Autistic adults out there, you are valid even if you are social. Even if you go out every weekend and laugh and smile with friends, your own social struggles are valid. I see your success and I know how much work it took to get there. And to the parents of a newly diagnosed child with autism, remember we are all different. We all present differently, and many of us are not anti-social. Socializing may be more difficult for us, but we can still engage socially and we can still make friends. We just take the more scenic route to get there.
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