I had an interesting day today, providing two different sets of professional development to three different groups of people. Unusually, questions were not just on the presentation, but on anything related to what I had been talking about, which was understanding interoception and understanding autism and autistics.
Some of the questions demonstrate the persistence of myths about autism, with people asking about savant skills, causes and cures as well as people querying the potential of autistic students perceived as difficult. Other questions were reflective and thoughtful in terms of what types of support exist and diagnosis pathways.
Then there were the very personal questions from people for whom my talk had triggered something in relation to understanding themselves, a family member or friend. And then… Then there was the question of the year, from a very polite and curious person, who was clear they were seeking to understand and not to cause offence: “why do you tell people you have autism? If I had something wrong with me, I wouldn’t tell anyone.”
My response, “I tell people I am autistic because if more people like me were open and honest about our autism then families, students and educators would see that autistic children have potential and can do things, and that it is not a tragedy or a shameful thing.”
The person thought about this and asked the question again. I talked about how I am not ashamed of my autism, that it is because of the strengths inherent in autism that I have achieved what I have achieved, that if families understood this they would not be ashamed of their child’s diagnosi, but would embrace it and in embracing autism would seek out and provide supports that actually meet the child’s needs.
I would like to thank the people who asked questions that made me realise I need to continue being both self-advocate and advocate, that society does not yet value us for who we are but is shifting from accepting old stereotypes and misinformation to questioning these and listening to lived experience and professional experience that does value and accept autistics for who they are, ‘people, like all other people, people who have strengths, skills, interests and support needs, unique individuals who see, interact with and respond differently to the wider world.’