It fascinates me from time to time how other people see the autistic condition from the outside. My understanding of autism is limited to my own experience and the experiences I read about in books or on blogs. Much of it is what it’s like on the inside, and I must say it is quite fascinating. Then again, it is the only one I have.
I listened The Autism Song for the first time since it was posted on the UOIT Mental Health Blog by our esteemed host. It’s not the sort of song I tend to listen to, but I appreciate the sentiment. There is a lyric that I find particularly peculiar, however.
“My autism is like a prison.”
That seems to be a common description from the outside, but I never felt any appreciation for it. My immediate thought is to rebel against the notion. There is no prison! There is only me! I mean do they think there is some other me that is trapped inside or something? Do they think there is some other me that understands what is going on, but that struggles against the body? It doesn’t feel like that to me, but maybe I don’t know what they mean.
I was hoping to get a clearer idea of what is meant by this exactly, so I went onto Autism Speaks to get an idea. Looking through the symptoms they provide, they seem to think of autistic people as broken people. Perhaps I would agree if I were an outsider or if I were less lucky in my condition, but to be honest I lucked out. It took some work, but I grew out of the most debilitating aspects of the autistic condition, and benefit from many of the cognitive advantages.
So when I read through the cures that Autism Speaks mentions, I find them a bit laughable. I have not been detoxified. I am not gluten free. My therapies were all social in nature. Far as I understand, autism involves some neurological differences, but does that constitute a broken person? Perhaps not in my case, but I am one individual.
Autism Speaks does not appeal to me because they want to cure the condition without understanding what it means to those who don’t want to be ‘cured’, or at the very least are cautious of the idea. What happens to an autistic individual once they are ‘cured’? How much of who they were before survives the cure? Perhaps some people need such a cure, but what about people like me who can hide their condition in plain sight?
I want to be able to remove the character flaws that I have regarding my condition. Without my condition, I would be better able to socialize with others, and have an easier time understanding people. I would be able to overcome my social fears and be better at maintaining friendships. That would all be really nice, but I am not willing to sacrifice my cognition for that. I am not interested in sacrificing my reasoning, memory, computer, and artistic skills for a cure. I am not interested in trading my interests for a cure.
But, Autism Speaks always talks about how they want to end the condition. They don’t ask people like me if we want a cure. I wonder if they would force me to take such a cure if they develop one? Whenever someone like me tries to speak to them, we are ignored as they point to those of us who are less conventionally capable and appeal to pity.
Coming back to the prison idea, I have come to understand that it has to do with communication difficulties. I remember I had difficulties communicating, but what I really remember was having difficulties understanding what was going on around me. The example I remember most clearly was with regards to eye contact. It took me a long time to understand that I was supposed to keep eye contact because I just didn’t understand. Then again, I suppose it’s true that I was unable to communicate that lack of understanding either. Maybe the connotation of prison is a fair one, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it.
Social therapy and time helped me to get through all of this, all without having to try biomedical cures. I think this is the better method to apply before we get into the idea of biomedical cures, because the positives of the condition could be applied in great ways. At the very least, I think we should understand the ramifications of a biomedical cure. The autistic condition has informed much of the way I think, and to play around with that too much too soon would be to play with who I am. I am not for such a change.
But then again, I am but one autistic individual.