Mental health problems such as depression and anxiety disorders are common amongst autistics. It seems that autistics are at a higher risk of developing mental health problems. However, autism does not, in itself, make me depressed. It is being different but not knowing why and living in a system that sanctions people for being different by making them feel like a second-class citizen that make me depressed. I do not suffer because I’m autistic, I suffer because of the society and the people in it. Research has suggested that autistics are at a greater risk of suicide compared to the general population. I’m not surprised with the findings but let’s be clear again that autism does not, in itself, make me suicidal. Researchers have not identified the factors that contribute to an increased risk of suicide in autism, some speculate that it has to do with the so-called core deficits of autism including poor problem solving skills, poor interpersonal relationships, social isolation, lack of emotional awareness, weak theory of mind etc. If this is how one defines autism, then autism in itself has become a risk factor for suicide. If this is how society defines an autistic person, is it no wonder why autistics are more likely to experience low self worth? Imagining going to school or work everyday, only to hear your teachers, supervisors, classmates and co-workers telling you how badly you have performed compared to others, would you be happy? Why then is it so hard for people to understand us? If you truly care and love, you wouldn’t only see my flaws and define me by my deficits.
What can be done then to help autistic individuals at risk of suicide? Researchers suggest building up their resilience and help seeking skills. That’s a great idea because resilience is a good quality to possess but something doesn’t sound right. If you’ve lived your life pretending to be normal and trying to fit in only to be told you are not resilient enough when you eventually break down is to add insult to injury. If anything, I think autistic individuals are amongst the most resilient people in the world. Again, imagining trying to survive everyday of your life only to be reminded of your inadequacies and flaws and having to mask your true identity because you don’t want to become a social misfit. I’m surprised I’m still alive today. Don’t you dare suggest I’m not tough enough. Don’t tell me I have got no resilience.
I don’t represent the entire autism spectrum. Some may lament the fact that they’re autistics and identify themselves by the core deficits of autism. I don’t deny that some aspects of my autism has indeed make life more difficult. As for resilience, I know there are people who had it more rough and compared to them, I may not be as resilient. There will also be others, such as young children who will benefit from programmes designed to build up their resilience. What I’m saying and what I think many research lacks is a more balanced and empathetic understanding of autism, instead of the one-sided and biased neurotypical or predominant neurotype perspective one tends to come across. Yes, I need help and skills training on various aspects to better communicate with the NTs but so do the NTs who need help and skills training on various aspects to better communicate with the autistics. Autistic is an alternative and different way of thinking. It doesn’t make me any less human so don’t you define me by my differences and limitations. Like any human, I have my imperfections and strengths. If you truly care and love, you wouldn’t only see my flaws.