As autistic and neurodivergent people, the ways we interact with the world are informed by how we’re perceived and how people react to us. This can be said of all human beings but being born into pre-established expectations we’ll never meet, social, emotional, educational, etc, involves a convoluted sense of self being projected onto us. We’re told in many ways that we are not acceptable.
I mentioned being seen and understood in my previous writing, The Pull: Describing Inspiration, in how the act of being inspired is a moment of ourselves being reflected
truly and wholly. We are seen by the world and we see aspects of ourselves within it. I believe this is a reason why autism is deeply entwined with special interests, a term used for hobbies or topics that neurodivergent people hyperfixate on.
Going through life feeling isolated and unable to relate to other people requires a replacement or at least supplement feeling of being recognized. When we’re drawn to something, we latch onto a novel feeling of relatability or understanding. We find we’re rarely understood and so when something seems to match with us, sync with who we are and how we think, it becomes extremely important to us.
Last night, a dear friend of the family was conversing with my mother on the topic of socialization. This friend turned to me and said, “You know your mother is autistic, right?” I affirmed with a lighthearted, “Obviously.” We then talked about my mother and I’s shared face blindness and social phobias, and the difficulties a parent with undiagnosed autism has in raising an autistic child. So rarely do I feel seen by another person.
In the last few years I’ve noticed people are truly beginning to understand what autism is. We may still call our senses and actions disordered, the way we hear, speak, feel, experience, but our understanding of the root cause is changing— nothing is sick, our pain is caused by unwillingness to accommodate and a lack of acceptance of our needs. We’re made to feel we can’t leave an uncomfortable environment. We’re shamed for stimming, or for dressing or acting in comfortable ways. We’re forced into situations that don’t align with who we are in any way. We’re underestimated, stigmatized, or otherwise dehumanized.
However, more and more I’m feeling recognized as I truly am, when my entire life I’ve been made to feel wrong for the way I experience the world. A nutritionist casually talks about sensory issues surrounding food, a therapist approaches autism from a de-medicalized perspective, a friend acknowledges I can’t listen to them speak and perform a task simultaneously, none of these moments occurred when I was a high schooler finally ready to be screened for autism. Everything I faced back then was opposition, before and after realizing I was on the spectrum.
I wasn’t recognized for who I was. People would see I was autistic, but no one would see what that really meant. Sensory processing issues and a lack of social skills was an obvious disharmony, but the blame has always been on the person with autism. What we usually see is that no one can thrive without support when faced with adversity. There’s nothing wrong with someone who has fair skin that burns easily in sunlight, but without access to sunscreen they would live their life with a blistered, peeling face.
Being recognized as I am means I’m not a burden. Being understood means I’m free to express myself and exist in a comfortable way. Our attitudes toward autism are shifting because attitudes toward disabilities and nonconformities in general are changing to be more accepting, more educated.
I have hope. So many places in this world are inhospitable to certain people and the more we learn and spread truth, the more hope can spread to build safe, secure, comfortable homes for each and every one of us. Humanity has such luxuries and yet we still cannot seem to do even that— but it is hope which will bring this dream to fruition.
See and be seen. Spread the hope.