Autism Awareness Month is a time when a necessary spotlight is shown on a particular but wide-ranging spectrum of neurodivergence. The narrative regarding autism has come a long way. I can recall my first instance hearing about autism in mainstream media and it was from a celebrity mom who partnered with a now disgraced and disavowed doctor that touted, vaccines cause autism, which has no basis in truth, and his test results were fabricated. While we still do have pockets of misinformation and there are problems with providing services to autistic adults who graduate high school, I see a path of progress. And I also see voices like myself leading the way. Many research studies of autism don’t have the input of those who are autistic adults, and hopefully, that continues to change and our opinions and life experiences are valued with an opportunity to give input.
I was diagnosed with autism in my 20’s, before that my mental health care dealt with my major depression and anxiety. “I could have autism” wasn’t something that I considered, and it was through the observations of my psychiatrist who advised me to get formal testing. Rather than just medication, he sought an exploration of other factors. So after a lengthy process, I got the testing results back, I had autism. And unlike many adults who get a diagnosis late in life, I was able to get set up with services right after, which was really helpful. Of course, I’ve always had autism, but the ability to look back at my childhood and say “Oh so that’s why!” was really validating after my diagnosis, because I always felt othered.
As a kid, I was called a picky eater. While other children ate waffles from a toaster, I had them heated in a microwave. I didn’t care for crunchy cereal either, preferring oatmeal. Sound sensitivity was an issue. I could always tell when the big tv was turned on in my house even while outside on my family’s porch. Interacting with kids at school was hard, so many factors, engaging with peers, changing classes, balancing all those with school work, I often froze up, because I was overstimulated. I mention these experiences because I think, If I had the opportunity to be tested for autism as a kid, how things would have changed, would I’ve had better accommodations? I was a quiet kid, and in many schools, if you aren’t causing an outward commotion, you get ignored. So we do need a wider net to pay attention to students that are having difficulties and may be on the autism spectrum.
I remember watching a PBSnews hour clip, that talked about African Americans who were autistic. The account was enlightening because I watched someone who looked like me struggle to get the services he needed because they weren’t available on his side of town. Doing the further research, I learned that autism is diagnosed later in children of color, which makes life more difficult because of a lack of resources. So with this month especially, I really want to stress that autism can affect those of all backgrounds and we need to do the best we can for everyone, regardless of where they live and who they are.
I would like to thank ASDnext for providing me with a venue for writing. I would like to thank other co-writers on this site with their varying experiences and thoughts, all of them valuable. I would like to point out the strength of the autistic community. Looking forward my hope is that autistic adults are sought after to give much-needed input in studies. That supports are continued after school. And that everyone, from all walks of life, have access to resources to assist with life’s challenges as autistic adults. A month is too short to talk about autism, but it does give an opportunity to highlight various experiences, raise awareness and open a dialogue.
To view the PBS News hour clip, click here