I have been saying this for the better part of a decade: does anyone really care about autistic people?
That seems like a controversial and bold question to ask. I was diagnosed with mild autism in 2000 when I was 12 years old. This is a bit later than most people would get diagnosed (most are diagnosed in early childhood). The diagnosis was Asperger’s Syndrome, and even that was considered mild. It no longer exists by itself as of 2013. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) places it under autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Nobody can tell that I even have it today, almost 20 years later.
Autism is defined as a developmental disorder of variable severity that is characterized by difficulty in social interaction and communication and by restricted or repetitive patterns of thought and behavior. We all struggle to communicate with other people; we would rather order food through an app than interact with actual people. We have anxiety making phone calls for even the most basic of services (i.e. scheduling a doctor’s appointment). We would rather receive texts than calls; the idea of receiving a phone call gives people anxiety. This is not just true for those on the spectrum, but for people in general.
I wrote multiple articles about mental health acceptance during my time at Saint Mary’s College of California, mentioning my diagnosis to thousands of people. The previous two times I did this, there was a lack of understanding and even claims that I had faked the entire thing so I didn’t have to face the consequences of my actions (but that’s another story for another time). Today, I am a semi-normal functioning person in society. In fact, I could go out on a limb and say that everyone is (technically) autistic. It’s not something to necessarily be ashamed of, but there is a much bigger burden placed upon the autistic person than most people realize.
Does anyone really care about autistic people? First, we have to realize that autism has no known cause (and vaccines do not cause them). Second, we have to realize that some people are bothered by any adjustments in their routine (ironically, another trait of autistic people). For example, the people planning the straight pride parade are bothered because they have to go out of their way to accept LGBT people this month. In this case, some people believe that autistic people are a burden cast upon society. We can already tell that some teachers, who are the first people we interact with outside of our own family, and even teachers who are trained specifically to help children with autism, clearly do not care about autistic people. How much more will employers and other people care about autistic people, who aren’t even trained to do something like that, you might ask?
Third, there is already a stigma around any sort of mental condition, and that includes autism. As previously mentioned, some people believe that autistic people are some sort of burden cast upon society. We all need a little extra help. My friend’s mother even told me that everyone should see a therapist, regardless of whether or not they have mental health issues. Perhaps this “coming to Jesus” sort of intervention will help us realize that we all have issues and we must advocate for not only ourselves, but for others as well who may have that condition. I personally came to that realization the hard way and it shouldn’t have to come to that.
It’s not the worst thing to be diagnosed with, but it definitely can make things difficult for people. Finding employment is astronomically more difficult for autistic people than neurotypical people. The unbalanced emphasis placed on the interview is a near impossibility for those on the spectrum because of the difficulty in social interaction and communication. A former friend (ironically, someone on the autism spectrum I tried to help with Internet addiction), and so far the only person with autism I have had a negative experience with, was right about one thing: smooth-talking, incompetent people-pleasers can get jobs more easily than people with autism who are actually competent at their jobs.
But as the saying goes, “Where’s the beef?” Unless organizations and individuals radically change the way they view autistic people, there is no real way to tell if anyone really cares for autistic people. People will share their success stories and claim that people do care about autistic people, and that is great. There is still a lot of work left to be done, as autistic people are more likely to be unemployed or underemployed. This will lead to them leading more autonomous lives.