BY MACKENZIE STEELE
The 2nd of April was Autism Awareness Day, part of a whole month like it. Why is this article late? Because I partially dislike it.
Autism Awareness Month is not like Cancer Awareness Month. I need to make that very clear. Cancer is a disease wherein cells makes bad copies, which in turn make more copies really, really quickly. These clumps of bad copies don’t do their jobs, and use a lot of your body’s resources to grow. Cancer is a disease that harms and kills. Cancer should be treated and cured.
A lot of people think autism is the same.
Autism is an umbrella term for a group of traits that tend to go together. A person may have all or some of the traits, and in varying amounts. Think of how when weird and smart go together we have a tendency to call these people “geeks” and “nerds”. We know that all traits of your personality (and the ways you think) can be good, bad, or both depending on the situation. Being detail-oriented is great until a test requires you to see the big picture!
In my case, autism looks like this:
- I am a nerd (my nerd groups often have Aspies; up to half the population!).
- I learn about things completely and with full interest until I run out of information, then I go on to the next thing.
- I’m not coordinated. At all.
- I CAN lie. I just am awful at it. I don’t understand why I or anyone else would want to, and find it immoral!
- I have a few funny things I do when I’m stressed, happy, thinking, or anything really. I might rock backwards and forwards, bounce on my toes, or repeat words or numbers I like under my breath. The official word for these things is “stims.”
- I don’t like being laughed at or bullied. This includes pointing out my stims, or when I use the wrong word by accident.
- I speak well with a pretty good vocabulary, and my writing is half decent, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy or exactly what I wanted to express. Some days it’s barely close!
- I strive for my personal best and nothing less. Which makes me look a bit petty and perfectionist-y sometimes, but I do pretty well at university!
- I’m very empathetic, but I don’t always know how to express it.
- I like people, but it’s exhausting. And I like being alone, but I get lonely. So “put yourself out there more” is advice that doesn’t work too well…
- I can copy people and fit in okay if I try. I just can’t be bothered.
- Social is the least of my problems, contrary to common beliefs about autism. It’s confusing, but not really a problem.
- I get an English accent when stressed.
- I stick to my goals with passion. At 3 years old I wanted to be a geneticist, now I’m studying to be one.
- I dress however I want to, and no I do not care if you object to me wearing my bright blue tights with my bright blue skirt, bright blue top, blue hair ties, and blue shoes. I love that outfit.
- I spook easily. And doubt myself all the time. And have mild and totally rational social anxiety!
- Friends means I won’t betray your trust or gossip or backstab. Ever.
- I can remember a lot of things, but not everything. I can remember that thing that happened when I was 4 and the steps in the Citric Acid Cycle, but not lunch, my keys, what the lecturer just said, what happened yesterday, or your name even though we sit next to each other in two classes.
- I’m disorganised, but it’s not my fault. I think my brain permanently misplaced the part that’s supposed to remember to follow through on carefully constructed schedules and to-do lists. I do try!
- I have no sensory mute. By that, I mean that your brain has this lovely filter where it stops unimportant sensory information from reaching your conscious brain. So you can hear really high pitches, but your brain kindly removes them so you never notice. And the woollen sweater you are going to be digging out of a drawer soon is actually unbearably scratchy to your skin, but your brain turns down the feeling so it’s only a little ticklish. Mine doesn’t, so I get to experience the world full volume. Literally. I’m very stressed all the time because of it.
- Because I feel a lot of everything all the time (as above), when I’m visibly stressed or upset I won’t handle it well. All the sensory stuff above plus every day life stress builds up fast. When I’m at the level that means I’m starting to yell, most people would be beyond yelling. And this can become a meltdown.
- Meltdowns look like toddler tantrums, but I can’t control them, and it’s not to get my own way. It’s an embarrassing sign that I can’t cope. You’d have them too if you had my stress levels, and it’s probably upset me more than you. I try to avoid them, so it feels like a failure. If you’ve seen one, don’t mention it, I might not remember you were there but I remember that it happened clearly (although details begin to blur quickly).
- I can spend hours in the library getting excited over titles like Osmoregulation and Drinking in Vertebrates, and actually understand everything I’m reading. And if you want a fun fact about dolphins or the citric acid cycle, I’m your girl!
I don’t need to be cured. I’m strange, I’m awkward, and I’m cool too. And I like that!
Imagine if your best friend had all their flaws taken away, but it’s not just their flaws; it’s everything defined as ‘not normal’ by some people. The way they order the keychains they collect, stick their pencil in their hair, or eat a sandwich in a particular way that they claim is better. It could be how they think in pictures, mime when they forget a word, or have one mug they like to use for their morning coffee. Without these ‘not normal’ things they won’t be your friend anymore, they’ll be someone else. And let’s face it, what’s normal anyway? Everyone has a different definition, and who says that a doctor or psychologist has the correct one?
Autism is not like cancer. Autism is a name for certain personality traits and ways of thinking that tend to come together. It’s not bad. It’s not good. It just is.
I don’t think Autism Awareness month should be about autism. All people have quirks that can be good and bad. So to me it’s not about autism, it’s about everyone being different and embracing and celebrating it. Because there is nothing wrong with having a favourite chair or speaking in Madalorian.
So this month, I want you to be nice to everyone. What makes you you? What makes your friends and family them? Good and bad, everything. And if you see an acquaintance or a stranger acting in a way you think is strange, ignore it. If it’s not harming you, them, or others, move on. If it is, and nobody else is helping out, see if you can assist. Tell someone who can help, or talk to the person. If it’s a meltdown, maybe make the area darker and quieter. It helps.
Be kind to everyone, including yourself. That means being aware that we are all people worthy of respect.
So that’s my rant. Now I will go away and continue explaining to a friend why my first-born child simply must be named after either an amino acid or a nucleotide. Alanine is a lovely name!
MACKENZIE STEELE is Tearaway’s resident evil Aspie queen. Mwahaha! She’s dead set on becoming a geneticist, but she’s interested in other things too. Like Sims, cats, owls, Sims, books, music, Sims, Ancient Roman life, Latin, Sims…