I would like to begin this blog post by saying that this is the first Autistic Speaking Day I have ever observed. It is the first time I’ve ever even heard of it.
My lack of familiarity with autism is a theme I have returned to in many of my blog posts this semester. This class is my first exposure to an entirely different world, filled with controversy and misunderstandings and hope and aspirations. These revelations about autism have dramatically changed my view of others and of myself. I realized this a couple weeks ago in an unexpected way.
I was at my boyfriend’s house, chatting with his family as he went through the mail they had stockpiled for him. He discarded several magazines, including the July issue of the IEEE Spectrum, a magazine about technology. Although not my usual kind of subject, the cover caught my attention. A dark, shadowy face stared out, accompanied by the phrase, “Did autism make him do it?” Now intrigued, I proceeded to read the article about a man, Gary McKinnon, who hacked thousands of US government computers and whose lawyers now argue that his behavior is a result of his mental disorder, Asperger’s Syndrome. I felt very well-informed as the author explained the characteristics of autism and mentioned experts like Simon Baron-Cohen.
My boyfriend’s parents noticed my preoccupation and asked why I was so interested in an article from an engineering magazine. I explained the story to them. When I said the word “autism,” they immediately began listing the various people they know, or indirectly know of, who have autism. This, of course, reminded me of Bard’s first commandment: “Don’t compare an autist with your autistic sibling/cousin/friend/co-worker etc.” I discussed what I have learned so far about autism with them and was glad to be so knowledgeable on the subject.
Had I saw that article three months ago, I would not have given it a second glance.
Which, I believe, is why Austistics Speaking Day is so important. As important a topic as autism is, there is a disproportionately large number of people who are misinformed or completely uninformed about it. Today is to inform those people, to raise awareness, to make them ask questions and get answers. I needed a college class to become aware of the issues, but for many other people, a day like today could be just what they need to recognize the importance of the neurodiversity movement.