April 2 is worldwide Autism Awareness Day, but I don’t think we need any more autism awareness. I am pretty sure that most, if not all, of the developed world is already aware of autism. What we need more of is autism acceptance, autism inclusion and autism education.
Most people are aware of autism, but unless they are on the spectrum or have friends or family members members on the spectrum, few of them know anything about autism. They probably think all of us are like Rainman, or like Sheldon on the Big Bang Theory.
I was diagnosed with autism about ten years ago, but I spent many years before that trying to find a professional who could properly assess and diagnose me. I first went to my GP. I asked him, “Who in Victoria can do autism assessments? I believe I have Asperger Syndrome.” My doctor said, “But you’re too intelligent for that.” Maybe my doctor was aware of autism, but he definitely didn’t know much about it.
I went to a psychologist and asked him if he could do an autism assessment. He read out the DSM-IV description of Asperger Syndrome and proceeded to inform me, after he’d spoken to me for a grand total of 15 minutes, that I didn’t fit the criteria, and that any social skills problems I had were my parents’ fault. Then he told me that I couldn’t be autistic because I’m a girl, and girls aren’t autistic. This person is a professional, but he sure doesn’t know much about autism. I guess he’s never heard of Temple Grandin.
A while back I was out with some friends and I happened to meet a woman who works with autistic children. “I’m autistic,” I told her. “I have Asperger Syndrome.” The woman saw that I was with some friends and said, “You’re too social to have Asperger Syndrome.” If this person knew more about autism, she would know that people with Asperger Syndrome or autism are perfectly capable of having friends.
I own many t-shirts with sayings on them about autism. One day I was in the grocery store and a woman asked if she could read my shirt. After she read it, she asked: “Who do you know that has autism?” I told her that I’m autistic. She said: “You don’t look autistic.” What does that mean? What does autism look like? I’m autistic and even I can’t tell just from looking whether another person is autistic. I am guessing that this woman is aware of autism but doesn’t know much about it, or she would know that there is no such thing as “looking” autistic.
These kinds of attitudes are common. I’m sure many of you have experienced them to with yourselves or your autistic friends or family members. There are so-called professionals saying that women aren’t autistic, that we don’t have friends or that we can’t be on the spectrum if we’re smart. This is why we need more autism education.
If you find that you want more autism education, please get your education from an autistic person. There are many blogs, websites and Facebook pages written by autistic people, as well as many books. Once we have more autism education, then I hope that will lead to more autism inclusion and autism acceptance.