I subscribe to a newsletter of a website called ‘The Mighty’, which invariably pops into my inbox in the wee small hours of the morning. When I read it (at a more civilised hour) this morning, there was a link to an article with the intriguing headline: ‘How to Explain an Autism Spectrum Diagnosis to a Child‘. The pay-off was when the author met a young child with autism who explained his diagnosis thusly:
‘I have autism. Sometimes, I struggle with things like looking people in the eyes. But it also means that I have a great imagination.’
In my years, I have used various formulae to explain my own condition. I went as far as having a standard form of words I used to use in job applications in times gone by. I have an autistic spectrum disorder, diagnosed when I was 6. While I have some difficulties with communication, particularly in making eye contact, it does not impede my ability to work, indeed often it enhances it. When I talk about being autistic to people, which I do occasionally, I tend to have a standard spiel. I talk a little about being diagnosed, how it affects my brain and how it’s wired. I usually talk about how sometimes it can be difficult to process information in all its varieties. Sometimes I nick a quote from Temple Grandin, who said that an autistic brain can be like being in a busy office with one functioning fax machine. I tend to keep it personal. If you go into psychological speak, people glaze over.
In my work, I always believe it best to level with people. When it comes to describing who I am, I prefer not to bullshit. I also don’t like people thinking I’m amazing. I’m not, really. I’m not inspirational or all that special. I have a brain that is wired a bit differently. Being autistic can be a major pain in the arse. It can be isolating and it comes with a whole load of other concerns. I am quite anxious some of the time and I have bowel problems too. But it is also a major part of who I am. However, it is by no means the only part. It is one label.
We all have labels. We attach labels to ourselves and each other. All too often, they define us in others’ eyes. We are more than our labels. Off the top of my head, I am a writer, blogger, library assistant, Hibs fan, brother, son, uncle, cousin, grandson, nephew, friend, colleague, subordinate. And I am autistic. I might be weird or I might be a geek. So what? We are all people. I was brought up to treat everyone the same. Think of your favourite celebrity, your bit of pash or whoever. They put their trousers on the same way as anyone else does. They go for a dump, they fart, whatever. They are just people, whatever their label.
We are all in the business of selling the best version of ourselves. The explanation of autism as coming with setbacks but blessings chimes with my own perspective and hopefully it will be reflected in the wider public perception of autism in time to come.