Although my Photoshop skills are pretty rusty, I did manage to configure that headline photo to match my experience with autism in the best way I can. The foggy background is not intended to evoke any negative connotations, rather it is represented as something that is mysterious if not strangely soothing.
Considering how last month was Autism Awareness Month, I was thinking about how best to write about it, as though I was being asked "What is it like being autistic?" I do not usually talk about myself in terms of my Asperger's Syndrome, not because of being judged (at least not just) but also because I do not want anyone I know personally to think differently about me and let that fact overshadow every other component about me. I have been thinking for a long time about how to write an article like this, which involved retrospectively thinking about my experience with this mental disorder.
What I am about to say will offend a lot of people regardless of who you are on the political spectrum, for I just want to be as real as possible. I am not writing this to please anyone, because I do not want well-meaning people to continue having the sappy, Hallmark movie view of us, because it does not help me; nor does it help to find only articles that have the words in the title "My [insert relation] With Autism." Unless you yourself have been diagnosed and spent an entire life of social ostracization, do not ever come to me with your self-righteous posturing, because you will not get a validating thumbs-up on your social media post from me.
Spreading autism awareness all over social media also does not help me. If anything, telling people to be aware of autism and naming individuals with autism just creates easier targets for bullying. You cannot stop people from engaging in bullying or judgment especially if they are willfully narrow-minded and insipid to look beyond their own perspectives. Let autistic people speak out of their own mouths before you start doing it for them. It is more authentic and when you take that away you are removing all the other parts of their own identities and giving them only one label. For all of the times that my family has told me that I should just accept who I am, it's not that I can't accept who I am, I just don't want it to overshadow everything else about me.
I am also aware of the political correctness that has become dominant in popular culture. Last thing I would want is to be lectured about not being a "good" representative of "my community" because I do not agree with the PC police opinions or choices. I do not agree with Candace Owens nor am I a Trump supporter, but the negativity that she had been getting from her own African-American community is proof that the PC police are less concerned with finding allies and more about finding client states.
While the PC agenda would not be problematic if it focused on real issues, its propagators spend more time language-policing people who use the word "retard" than on wondering why people with autism have lower life expectancies, more physical and mental health problems, and higher rates of suicide than neurotypicals. I have been called names in middle school like "faggot" and "retard" and it sucks, but I look back and I just grow a pair and move on, because I know that no amount of finger-wagging is going to change someone's point of view about me, no amount of language-policing will conceal the cruelty of existence itself, and no amount of success in my life will make people with malicious intent think otherwise. If you language-police people who use a word, they will just make up another word. At least with words, you can move on. With tangible problems like suicide and lower health, you cannot ignore it; it stays with you when it does not kill you.
I have also noticed that the left-wing tends to have a complicated view of people with mental illness in general. On one hand, they consider us a group to be allies with; but when it comes to the issue of gun control, they are more then willing to put mentally ill people on the same sentence as criminals and tie us to mass shooters who were speculated to have autism like Adam Lanza. Basically, I do not want to associate with a political group that has such a polarizing view of us, either viewing us as never-ending victims or as blood-thirsty monsters.
No amount of gun control will stop someone from trying to kill as many people as possible. They will either pick a different weapon or they will illegally buy their guns off the street. By putting mental illness in the same category as criminality, you only make life even harder for mentally ill people; any more difficult than it already is. The majority of mentally ill people do not engage in any acts of violence, but giant corporations that promulgate their politically motivated drivel cannot make money off that fact, since the only way they earn money is not inspiring people but by keeping people stupid, afraid, and fighting amongst each other.
I also do not like it when people recommend I watch "The Good Doctor." I just want to say that if you are willing to let a giant corporation like Sony dictate what people with autism are, then you are not even part of the problem, you are THE problem with consumerist culture, because your demands are what are influencing Sony's decision to make this series in the first place. A thing to keep in mind is that if it was a financial convenience for Sony, they could do a 180 and put out a series depicting mentally ill people as school-shooting monsters. I do not trust the words of someone who just wants my money and not my time. If you want a genuine perspective from someone with autism, then talk directly to them. And if a giant corporation like Sony wants to make a cynical cash-grab, then at least hire a screenwriter who actually has autism to write your series if your purpose is to educate people and not lead them to Idiocracy (if Idiocracy has not already happened).
I would be reminded of the positive parts of autism that "The Good Doctor" highlighted, which includes the profound attention to detail which enables autistics individuals to excel at any subject that they focus on. However, when it comes to being accepted among the broader peers, I really have no other choice, since I do not have the personality that gravitates people towards me. Another reason I would not recommend people to watch "The Good Doctor" to understand autism is because people with autism are not these surgeons who have clumsy misadventures in the medical community. In fact, people with autism are lucky to be able to work within the field that they focus solely on. It also creates a sense of negative essentialism, since as I mentioned earlier it encourages a giant entertainment corporation to become the arbiter of what constitutes autism. It would be like asking someone to watch Apu in order to understand Indian-American culture. It is an unfair representation of Indian-Americans because not all of them own a gas-station.
As for people who see the benefits of pity points and pretend to have a mental illness, it does not pick up on my radar because I do not see an overwhelming number of people doing it. If I were really pretending to have autism, then I would not write this article for the right reasons or with everyone's expectations in mind; nor would I be in a constant state of existential ponderance. I would not constantly check symptoms I may have from other mental disorders and ask myself "Do I have OCD? Or depression? Or social anxiety? Or maybe I really am damaged?" I find difficulty in explaining these thoughts without the risk of even close ones telling me that I am overthinking or (at worst) that I am just trying to get attention.
It perplexes me why people pretend to have a mental illness like autism (or if there really is an epidemic of people doing so), especially since the incentive for doing so is marginal at best. I cannot romanticize the condition of someone afflicted with autism. Living a life where you are constantly trying to depend on everyone else, especially your own family, is not something that I can gloss over. There is nothing noble or romanticized about a family who looks upon you as a helpless child even in your 20's.
For that reason, I cannot hope to bring children into this world if they are at risk of inheriting autism. I do not want to see my own life being repeated. I cannot even bring myself to tell my own mother that, because I do not want to disappoint her. I often feel like my progression in life has been too slow. If these are the hurdles that I had to face, then I do not know if I want to see another human being go through the same.
Not only do I have reluctance about having children, but also meeting a woman to begin with. Throughout my time in school, I always had girls flirt with me; but I would always rebuff them or ignore them. The reason I did so and never had any relationships was because I knew that at some point, they would find out that I had autism and they would look at me completely different, if not use that information against me. In those cases, it was not so much that I was alienated by other people; for I was alienating myself because of the fear of being alienated by everyone else.
There is this YouTuber who I do not want to give attention to, but he put out a video arguing that mild autism is a socially constructed choice meant to keep people in their socially awkward state. Well, I want to tell him that I am one of those "spergs" that you talk about, and there was never a point in my life when I did not wish that it was true. I wished that there was a cure. I wished that I can lead a normal life. Honestly, I wished that mild autism really was "bullshit" as you called it. I have tried constantly to make myself less socially anxious. The reality is that it's not that I had no practice, I just don't see any good reason in socializing about petty, ephemeral nonsense and I most certainly do not have any interest in talking to girls for the reasons I explained above.
This is where I talk about the misconceptions that people have with autism. In this case, they think of the autistic boys specifically as being so nerdy they cannot attract girls. Although that is one part of my life story, the other part is the fact that I have spent my time growing up just trying the best I can to camouflage with the background without sticking out too much. So to that Youtuber that I mentioned, when you are autistic and you go to a public school like I did, you have no other choice but to conform. You either become socially accepted or you are a pariah. I pretty much chose the latter because I had more important things to think about that were above drugs and partying.
I also have no interest in making any friends. When I was young, I did wish that I had more friends to play with, because the only real friends that I had in my childhood were Banjo, Kazooie, Mario, and Lego figures. As I progressed into my adult years, I figured that it isn't worth pursuing.
Another stereotype is that people focus on the first 18 years of an autistic person's life and completely ignore the decades that follow. The reality is that people with autism exist outside of a movie and have real-world problems. But I know that even if I was neurotypical, I would still have problems, not just ones that they tend to have, but also because of the problems in my own life that have nothing to do with autism.
It leaves me to then think where autism even comes from. Does it come from genetics? Or maybe even vaccines? What I do not like about the anti-vaxxer movement is that it implies that people on the autism spectrum are diseased due to the vaccines they claim is contaminated. In that way, this perception characterizes autistic individuals as inherently weak and being the victim of a deterministic medical system.
However what I cannot stomach about the anti-anti-vaxxers' rebuttals is that they do not follow up on it. You think that the issue with vaccines is open-and-shut and should not even be up for debate, however modern science still has not found the cause for autism. Neurotypicals have no idea how precious actually knowing what you are really is, since it is like security and you can always be reassured that you have information to guide you. That is not the case with autism, since it has only became fairly recent in medical science that it has been researched in-depth. My only response that I have for people who proudly declare "There is no evidence for vaccines causing autism" is "Okay, then tell me, genius, what else does?"
What really bothers me about both of these stances is that none of these people will ever know what it was like to feel so different in school you feel as though it is a prison. They will never know what it is like to not have a girl/boyfriend to experience companionship with. They will never know what it is like to ultimately view such romantic partnership as utterly pointless. They will never know what it is like to feel so alone that your professors' and your parents' praise mean nothing to you because you can never lead a normal life. They will never know what it is like to be viewed as a contagion by BOTH political sides. They will never know what it is like to feel like a burden.
The only form of hope that I have is when scientists continue making medical breakthroughs in autism. I don't like to say that autism "is a part of me" because I think that it is too cliché a phrase to be able to explain how it has affected me. I will say that it has given me a perspective about autism that is different from everyone else's, especially those who do not have autism and those in the medical community who have a lot to uncover.
Image Attribution: Pixabay
- My Life With Asperger's ›
- What It's Like To Have Asperger's Syndrome ›
- The Acceptance Of My Asperger's ›
- Children With Asperger's Syndrome Are Not An Unsolvable Puzzle ›
- I Have Asperger's Syndrome But It Doesn't Define Me ›