Another article in our series of things NTs say about Autistics. Tikatia Morris is the marketing director at NeuroDiversity Consulting LLC. Learn more here and check out the intro to the series as well as our article on discipline.
"But he's so smart!"
"Are you sure she isn't just faking it?"
"He doesn't look autistic."
"Aspergers...that's just a little socially awkward."
By: Tikatia Morris
In 2008, radio show host, Michael Savage had this to say about autism:
"fraud, a racket. ... I'll tell you what autism is. In 99 percent of the cases, it's a brat who hasn't been told to cut the act out. That's what autism is. What do you mean they scream and they're silent? They don't have a father around to tell them, 'Don't act like a moron. You'll get nowhere in life. Stop acting like a putz. Straighten up. Act like a man. Don't sit there crying and screaming, idiot."
Here is how one adult with autism described how it feels when a person doesn't believe in the diagnosis:
"As if living your whole life incapable of being normal no matter how much effort you put in isn't bad enough, there are people that try to convince you that the condition you're diagnosed with doesn't exist and that you're just a social failure."
Autism is, by definition, a spectrum disorder. Individuals with autism have strengths and weaknesses, just the same as their neurotypical counterparts. Some individuals have excellent verbal skills, are sociable, and enjoy being around other people regularly. This does not invalidate their diagnosis. This simply means that they have those skills as a strength.
The DSM-IV lists 5 separate diagnoses under the umbrella of Autism Spectrum Disorders. These are: Autistic Disorder, Asperger's Disorder, Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (including Atypical Autism), Rett's Disorder, and Childhood Disintegrative Disorder. Each includes it's own specific diagnostic criteria and each, while under the umbrella of Autism Spectrum Disorder, is unique unto itself as well. Since there are 5 differing disorders under this one umbrella, it wouldn't be much of a stretch to assume that each disorder differs from the others not only in diagnostic criteria, but also in severity of symptoms; hence the term Autism Spectrum Disorder.
As a parent, I've often encountered comments like those quoted above from not only neurotypical strangers, friends, and family, but also from professionals such as my son's teachers. When he "perfoms" well in a school setting (mostly due to his overall anxiety from being around that many people) I find myself having to prove his diagnosis to the professionals within that school. They often end up trying to remove services claiming that he doesn't need them even when he's obviously (to me anyway) performing so well because those services are in place.
In our personal world, we've come against opposition from friends, and family members alike. The frustration that ensues as a parent having to prove my son's diagnosis is immeasurable, and I'm sure that my son, were he able to explain it, would say that he is not faking his interpretations of his surroundings, nor is he simply misbehaving for the sake of attention or because he's just being a putz, as Savage claims about those on the spectrum.
Even parents of autistics can fall prey to disbelief. As Jim Sinclair point out in his essay, “Don’t Mourn for Us”, parents begin on a path of either love and support or rejection the moment of their child’s diagnosis. Sinclair makes the distinction that the source of parents’ grief at an autism diagnosis has, “NOTHING to do with autism, it regards the inability to have the ‘expected relationship’ with their child." When parents continue to misplace this grief onto their child, avowing to wipe this ‘abomination’ off of the face of the earth, they are also stating that their, “greatest wish is that one day [autistics] will cease to be, and strangers you can love will move in behind our faces."
When parents finally come to terms with their child's diagnosis, and accept that child for who he or she is, there is still yet another level in our disbelief pyramid. There are then the parents within each group of diagnosis who may have the tendency to belittle another child's diagnosis simply because that child may present the disorder differently from their own child. For example a parent whose child is nonverbal may scoff at a child who is capable of speech that they don't have "real" autism. Parents of children who have these milder versions of autism may feel that they don't fit in with the parents of neurotypical kids, but that they also don't have the support of other parents within the autism community.
A major issue regarding autism is a lack of understanding and education, both on the parent and caregiver parts as well as on that of the neurotypical community at large. The changes proposed in the DSM-V may to help alleviate some of the skepticism and misunderstanding of autism spectrum disorders. The proposal is such that those five separate diagnoses will become one single diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder with three distinct levels of severity. There is still a lot of debate within the autism community as to whether this proposition will end with positive results or negative.
In conclusion, educate yourself, your families and your communities; and as the saying goes:
"When you meet one autistic person, you've met one autistic person."