If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism. If you are autistic or follow autism related news, chances are you have heard this many times before. But outside of the autism community, how many people have heard of it? How much does the average person, the person seated next to you, the person you just walked past, the person you just talked to etc. know about autism? How many friends do you have and how many are autistic? The average person is likely to have heard of autism but how many persons with autism have they actually met? I’m pretty sure my colleagues have heard of autism but are they aware that they are sharing the office space with an autistic? I’m not suggesting we should start going around and ask if a person is autistic nor am I suggesting we should be diagnosing people ourselves. I don’t discriminate between autistic and non-autistic friends because autism doesn’t define me, it is only part of my identity. What I would like to alert people’s attention to is not my autism but the condition of diversity. I can’t be certain that everyone I met is neurotypical so to err on the side of caution, I remind myself to be more tolerant. Because of the invisibility of autism, it may be hard for the average person to realize that someone they know is actually autistic and that they are sharing a common space with them. People know autism exists but what they may not realize is how close they are in proximity to one. As a result, autistics continued to be ignored because their existence are not recognized. As I’ve said, I don’t think we should make it a point to categorize people we know by their neurological condition. It could be misused as a tool to discriminate, which is not my intention. It is easy to forget that underneath all that diagnostic labels, we are all humans and we all share the same earth. Each of us is one unique individual but we too easily forget the very essentials of human condition as we subsume into a socially constructed mould and conform to social pressures. We think and expect everyone to think and behave like us with no room for differences. The autistic presence remains largely unknown to the general population, and so the majority demands the same rigid rules from everyone else to maintain status quo without further reflection of the diversity of the human condition. You don’t need to know I am autistic. I just need people to be aware that people of neuro-diverse conditions exist within the same proximity as them and be considerate of their diverse needs. Alas, too many people live oblivious of our existence and in the ignorance of diversity, not aware that we live with you side by side, flesh and blood. This makes me think that there is therefore a need for autistics to be seen and heard. We need to talk but right now and too often, we are just talking amongst ourselves and are invisible to the population outside the autism community; on the other hand, the autism community is composed of diverse individuals in itself. Disagreements are expected but how can discussion be more constructive? How can the autistic presence be more visible?
Dialogue (US dialog):
“A discussion between two or more people or groups, especially one directed towards exploration of a particular subject or resolution of a problem.” Oxford dictionary
“A serious exchange of opinion, esp. among people or groups that disagree.” Cambridge dictionary
“Deliberative (i.e. over time) participatory engagement where the outcomes are used to inform decision-making”. Research Councils UK, Public Dialogue Review
Public awareness demands public dialogue. Society and advocacy groups need to build, exchange and facilitate dialogues between members of the autism community, between the autistics and the persons with autism, between autistics and allistics, between autistics and their caregivers, between the experts who study autism and the experts with personal and lived experience of autism, between autism related service providers and autistics etc., because all too often, the autistic view is not being consulted. Today, I am one person you met with autism and I hope you get to meet more persons with autism. The day we become sufficiently aware and enlightened to the diversity of human condition, the autism identity or label takes on less importance, except for the purpose of informing the kind of support needed. I hope one day, the community and us can engage in meaningful dialogues on Autism Spectrum
As usual, this represents my own view and not of the entire autism community.
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