I live in the US, where the predominant feeling surrounding the autism spectrum is fear. Parents decline to vaccinate their children because because they’re afraid they’ll wind up autistic.
Parents, I hear you, on a certain level. Some children really do react badly to vaccines. I’ve heard too many stories, even from people I know–reasonable people whose kids are changed in some way after getting their shots. I can’t/won’t ignore you.
I’m telling you though, I don’t care what the doctor or psychologist told you: if your child didn’t respond well to a vaccine, it might have been a cytokine reaction, but it’s not autism. The medical providers may have called it that, handing down a diagnosis even. It may even *look* like autism. There might be some overlap of outwardly visible characteristics.
But I’m a doctor, too. And I’ve done the research. And it’s *not* autism.
I’ll tell you a secret: autism is nothing to fear.
I’m autistic. Aside from the occasional meltdown, I’m not a scary person.
I go to work. I meet with people, “regular” people. I help them. And then I come home and hug and pet my kitties. I hug my husband, just like you.
Are you scared of me?
I make music and write poetry. I think up ideas. I peruse medical journals. I watch TV, just like you.
I take no medications. I struggle with determining how people think. Just like you struggle to see how people like me think.
Am I anything to be afraid of?
If we were in a grocery store and you sneezed, I’d say “bless you”. If you were in my office and you started to cry, I’d hand you a tissue and reassure you that it’s OK to let it out.
Would it be the end of the world if your child turned out like me?
I know right from wrong, and I try hard to do right–probably harder than most, given what I observe in the world. And I do a *lot* of observing.
I drive. I don’t carry a weapon but I have the state license to do so. My background check is golden, my record spotless, and it’ll stay that way.
Are you afraid of me? What is it about me that you’re afraid of?
I sound pretty normal, right? I’m of sound mind, and I come up with good, logical ideas. I’m married and my partner and I run our own business.
Are you scared of me?
You shouldn’t be. How would anyone on the street tell the difference between us if they didn’t know better?
I might look away while thinking of what to say sometimes. I struggle in crowds and I reference movie quotes; I have a quirky sense of humor. Sometimes I overshare. Sometimes I take what is said a bit too literally. Sometimes I get screwed because I believed that what someone told me is genuine when it actually wasn’t.
I stare at my phone screen to check my email and Facebook. Just like you.
See? Autism is nothing to fear. You don’t have to be afraid of me.
Autism might only scare you because it’s an unknown variable. It’s human nature to fear the unknown. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Autism doesn’t have to remain an unknown, and it won’t, if both sides make a genuine effort.
And it will indeed take an effort on both sides. Nonautistic people can’t get inside the heads of autistic people and more than I/we can get inside yours, and that’s OK. We can all observe each other and seek to understand.
That’s what dissipates the fear, by the way: understanding.
Let’s set our sights on that.