Yes, I have autism.
It doesn’t happen often, but when I mention that I have autism to someone, there’s either one of two things that happen.
1) “But you don’t look autistic!”
(….really? Is there some kind of autistic dress code I missed out on?)
2) their attitudes change completely.
The second one has not happened very often, but I notice it.
I don’t talk about my autism very much, mostly because it never really comes up in conversation.
But lately, especially on Twitter, there’s been a lot of conversations happening in regards to autism, and especially the (nonexistent) connection to vaccines.
Because yes, there ARE parents who say they don’t want to vaccinate their kids because they believe “the toxins will make my child autistic!”
Well, first, the study that stated that there’s a connection between autism “outbreaks” and vaccinations, are bunk. No other scientists have been able to replicate Wakefield’s results, and you know why? Because he twisted the data and, often, just made stuff up. Eventually, his license to practice medicine got retracted because the medical community recognized that he was a liar. (For more info about how vaccines and autism are NOT connected, check out this master post of links to research studies.)
Second, what you’re REALLY saying, anti-vaxxer parents, is that you would rather have your child get measels, mumps, or whooping cough or god knows what else, because you don’t want your child to “get autism.”
I don’t blame you for that stance. Organizations like Autism Speaks do a wonderful job of scaring parents into believing autism is a plague, or that autism destroys the lives of the autistic person and everyone they love. They love to use rhetoric like, “Having autism is not really living. We suffer everyday.” Like autism is cancer or something.
That’s why, as an autistic person, I DO NOT support Autism Speaks.
Autism is not a monolithic disease that destroys everyone’s sanity.
And having autism is NOT the only characteristic of that person.
People like to think that people with mental disorders are defined ONLY by that mental disorder. This is kind of like how people thought (or sadly, sometimes still think) that if someone is gay, that’s their ONLY characteristic.
People are way more complex than that.
Like, I’m not just autistic: I’m a comics artist, an illustrator, a salesperson, an LGBT activist, a college graduate, a friend, and an all-around awesome person (I don’t like to toot my own horn, but I am pretty cool).
If you’re going to ignore all of that and focus on just my autism, then you’re not the kind of person I want to know.
Some people do look at me and say, “But you don’t act autistic!”
Yes, I do. I just don’t act like the “stereotypical autistic” you’re used to seeing on tv. You know: Not able to talk, hitting themselves, screaming inappropriately, never making eye contact.
Autism is a spectrum. Some have light symptoms, others don’t. And a lot of people with autism are in between.
In regards to my life with autism, I won’t be shy to admit I couldn’t talk until age 4. I still can’t really make eye contact, or if I do, I stare. I’m such a good starer I can win staring contests for twenty minutes or more at a time. That’s why my eyesight is terrible.
When someone says or does something that triggers me, I go off. I have few triggers anymore, because I’ve learned how to handle my reactions for the most part. But when I’m triggered, I am nasty.
I get sensory overload when I hear people screaming while they fight, or when I’ve had a long day at the fair, or when I touch a wig or some other synthetic fabric that makes my brain say, “THIS IS UNNATURAL RUN AWAY.” (This is why nearly all my clothes are cotton, and part of why I don’t do cosplay.)
But I am also an artist. Who makes comics. Making comics is still the best way I can communicate. Making comics is my outlet for all of my pent-up energy and emotions.
Writing, as good as I am at it now, is something that winds me up. If I write for a long time, there’s a part of my brain that relaxes because I’ve purged some thoughts from it. But there’s another part of me that says, “NOW DRAW ALL THE THINGS YOU CAN’T EXPRESS IN WORDS.”
I have a lot of worlds in my head. Comics helps me show those worlds in a way that just words cannot.
Autistic people need an outlet to express everything in their minds. Because when they don’t have an outlet, they get more and more withdrawn and into themselves.
But we can’t help autistic people if we’re caught up in the narrative that autistc people are “beyond help” or “doomed for life to live with this terrible disease.” Or that having measels, a disease that is known to make children deaf or even kill them, is preferable to any risk of a child “catching autism.”
(You can’t catch autism. It’s a genetic disorder passed down from your parents. If your parents have the genes, you will have a higher chance of having autism. So stop saying you can “catch” it.)
If I had the choice (which I don’t, but let’s be hypthetical here)…If I had the choice between having autism and dying young from a preventable disease…
I would have autism.
Because autism is not life-ending. It doesn’t kill you. In fact, it’s quite managable, given time.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some comics to make.
Thank you for reading, and I will see you tomorrow.