I have given at least 100 presentations on living with autism to crowds of all sizes. My most requested presentation is entitled Let Me Fall. I begin with a preview of a documentary made about me called The Shadow Listener, and then introduce myself as being autistic.
I talk about growing up with autism, undiagnosed, presenting my struggles and my accomplishments. With a mix of talk, video, and pictures, I show how I couldn’t read until I was 9, and how I couldn’t tie my shoe until I was 14; I talk how I struggled in school and relationships. The first half of my talk shows all the challenges parents and teachers have learned to recognize as common in autistic people, and they confirm this with nods and verbal confirmations as I present.
Then, the presentation shifts. I give attendees ideas for supporting autistic people, and helping us reach our fullest potential, and then show my short film Let Me Fall. As the presentation comes to a conclusion, I focus on the positive aspects of autism, my accomplishments, and how presuming competence was the springboard of my future.
Following my presentations, most people tell me how I have helped them to see autism in a new light, feeling inspired. I sign books, and answer questions, trying to remain patient with even the most uneducated attendee. I am not there to make people aware of autism. I am there to help people learn to accept autism.
Then enter the doubters…
To them, I am not autistic enough because I don’t display stereotypical autistic behaviours. Many expect to see a mostly non-functional adult, living on government funds or welfare, and who is happily working a minimum wage job doing some repetitive task. They expect me to say inappropriate things, lack empathy and compassion, move with oddities with my body. But I am not that person.
I get frustrated when people see a child having a tantrum or meltdown, and they assume that person must be autistic. Somehow our society has inexplicably linked behaviour and appearance with competence, believing that one understands if they “appear” to understand by behaving in such a manner as to fit a predefined model of intelligence. The underestimation of the abilities of autistic people is a deep rooted issue, marginalizing a group of people who cannot always get the space and time needed to speak for themselves.
Autistic people whose autistic traits are not outwardly obvious are unfairly diminished from all fronts. We face having our accomplishments overlooked, our autism minimized, and our experiences ignored as we fail to play out a sensationalistic narrative of overcoming. We are just not autistic enough to have struggled, and not neurotypical enough to be included.
My experience with autism is just as valid as the next, even if I do not experience autism the way society has temporarily defined it.
Not Autistic Enough (links will become live as posts are made)