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When I was 9 years old I was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome. A few years later, a psychologist explained to me that I had, “High Functioning Autism.” I looked up what that meant and according to Wikipedia, it’s a term applied to ‘people with Autism who don’t have an intellectual disability (an IQ of 70 or less). Those with High Functioning Autism may exhibit deficits in areas of communication, emotion recognition and expression, and social interaction.’
As I got older and continued working with my psychologist, I was able to learn how to express my emotions, read facial expressions, and social activities like watching movies, dancing, going to Hershey Park, even sometimes doing group activities for school projects.
But that’s not all I learned. I also learned how I like to be identified. I’m not just a person with Autism – I’m someone who’s a lot like everyone else, really. I like to dance, spend time with family, and go to museums. I read, I crochet, I swim in the ocean, and a lot more. There’s a lot more to a person than a diagnosis or medical condition.
Did you know that it is widely speculated (though not confirmed) that Robin Williams wasn’t just a great actor, but was also autistic? Either way, he embraced his unique qualities. Robin Williams wasn’t just a man with quirky personality traits. He was an amazing actor who starred in many of my favorite movies and a great stand-up comedian!
A person with autism isn’t just a person with autism. Sometimes, when I go to a doctor’s appointment for a med-check, Jeanne says things like, “Let’s talk about your anxiety.” She doesn’t say, “Let’s talk about your Autistic anxiety.” She sees me as a young adult, who is treated for some anxiety and ADD, which for me, are symptoms of autism.
It would bother me to overhear someone say something like, ‘Don’t say anything that may upset that girl over there, she has autism,’ or, ‘Be careful around her, she has a disability.’
I would feel very uncomfortable. To be fair, it does also show concern… It’s hidden in there with ‘don’t say anything that may upset her’. I love it when the conversation is more like, ‘Hey Sarah, how are you doing?’
Simply asking, ‘Hey Sarah, how you doing?’ shows concern for my overall well-being (autism and all!) in an accepting and friendly way.
Sometimes people say things without knowing that it may offend someone else, but they can’t help it. I myself don’t mind people knowing I’m autistic, but I don’t want it to be the only thing people see in me. There’s always more to a person.
To be fair, others who also have autism may have a different perspective and preference for identifying with a disability.
Well, that’s all I have for today. I hope you all found this topic as interesting as I do!
How I See It is a new series on PAAutism and ASDNext. In each installment, we ask people in the Pennsylvania autism community – individuals, family members, professionals and more – to share their thoughts on a particular topic.
This month’s topic is identity – specifically, identity-first vs. person-first language. Is someone autistic? Are they a person with autism? That’s what these writers will discuss.