Grayson Joslin is a sophomore journalism and political science major and writes “Soapbox” for The Daily News. His views do not necessarily reflect those of the newspaper.
There was never an exact moment where I was told that I was autistic.
It was one of those bits of information I subconsciously knew, like how grass is green and how you shouldn’t talk to strangers. I never questioned it. I accepted it and moved on.
I had to go to occupational therapy every week during the school year for nine years, and I knew it was because I had something other students didn’t have. I did not speak until I was three years old.
The initial lockdown caused by the pandemic gave me an abundance of time to read and learn new things. One day, I did a deep dive on autism.inally, after seventeen years on this earth, I began to understand who I am.
Growing up, I believed I was inferior to other people because I had autism; no matter how hard I tried, I still wouldn’t be like the “normal” people in my school. In some classes, especially middle school, my fellow students would be talking so loud that it would overwhelm my body and cause a sensory overload. I usually got mad and had a temper tantrum; after these episodes, I felt ashamed people had to see me at my worst.
I am one of 5.5 million Americans who have autism. It has taken me a long time to say this publicly, but I say this with a full chest and a happy heart.
I am proud that I am a person with autism.
Now I have something to ask of you:reshape your views about people with autism. For far too long, society’s views on people with autism have been discriminatory and damaging. The only way that people with autism can be respected in society is if people can open their minds and discard the stereotypes that have been imprinted in our culture.
My experiences are different from others with autism; autism, after all, is a spectrum. Some people with autism are nonverbal, while others are verbal and are social butterflies. We get overwhelmed by different things. For some people it could be textures, for others it could be lights.
On campus, I can still get overwhelmed by a crammed lunch hour in the Atrium.
As a kid, my experiences were different from lots of other autistic people. I was outgoing and always enjoyed talking to people and engaging in conversation. Despite my sociability, I still had a long way to go to fully understand neurotypical communication. This was most evident when I started middle school.
Middle school was the least enjoyable experience in my life. As I began 7th grade, I moved into a new building, away from the elementary school that had housed me since kindergarten. My 12-year-old self was eager and willing to talk to anyone — however, I was naive and didn’t understand social concepts. The people who I went to middle school with saw that, and they took advantage of me.
They would tease me and it was like they were treating me like an infant, like I wasn’t capable of advanced thought. The worst was in seventh grade, going to my first middle school basketball game. The cheerleaders were performing a cheer called the Trojan Rumble, which involved cheerleaders shaking their butts in front of middle school boys. Some of the boys got me to film it and post it on Instagram, while I didn’t realize the true consequences of my actions. I didn’t understand how society worked.
The next day, I got called down to the assistant principal's office because of the video and I became a laughing stock around the school.
I felt betrayed and embarrassed.
I felt that no one could understand how my mind worked.
I felt alone.
Despite the typical cruelness of teenagers and later apologies for the behavior, this shows how people with autism are treated.
Many have seen the negative stereotypes — we’re emotionless, have a special interest with trains and have strict routines. Weare savants with total recall ability, like in the movie “Rain Man,” which both dispelled and created new stereotypes about autism.
The blunt and unpleasant truth is that people are not informed on the autism spectrum and therefore fall back on harmful stereotypes that demonize people with autism. Society has tried to accept people with autism, but they are doing it all wrong.
Society is tolerating us but not including us.
Something that infuriates me with society’s lack of progress with autistic inclusion is the infantilizing of people with autism — most people picture autism in a child and not an adult. However, the fact of the matter is that the children with autism will grow up to be adults with autism. Organizations such as Autism Speaks have manufactured pity for children with autism and, as a result, refused to acknowledge adults with autism.
I can understand why organizations may try to market children with autism since people may have a stronger emotional connection to children. However, the representation of adults with autism has been slim to non-existent and this has led many so-called “advocates” to question if adults with autism even exist.
Well, I am going to break it to you right now —we exist, and we are suffering in a society that does not even acknowledge or include us.
We have been treated as eternal children, and that image is detrimental to our mental health. People on the autism spectrum are four times more likely to have depression in their lifetimes compared to neurotypical people. Adults with autism face an uphill struggle in life because, even though they may be advanced in some areas compared to their peers, they have to combat a society that places them at a severe disadvantage.
Society has used inappropriate language to describe autism; using demeaning and belittling language to then build up a narrative of someone “heroically” overcoming their disability. This is one of the reasons why I despise shows like “America’s Got Talent” so much for how they depict people with autism. We are just trying to do the same things that neurotypical people do; our path to doing it is just different.
There is one simple goal in order to help people with autism feel wanted — educate yourself and become more accepting. Dedicate your time and resources to organizations which are run by people with autism, such as the Autism Self-Advocacy Network. Watch some lectures about autism by people with autism on YouTube.
The best way to learn about autism is by listening to the people who have it.
We often judge people with autism because they are “weird” based on neurotypical people’s standards.
However, our brains just work differently. I have gotten to know people on the autism spectrum in the past few years, and they are the most selfless and caring people that I know.
We are not people to be feared; we are people to be loved.
Contact Grayson Joslin with comments at email@example.com or on Twitter @GraysonMJoslin.