Living on the autism spectrum has a variety of benefits and challenges. One challenge is dealing with a society which is not always fully educated.
Some society members have only experienced the more challenged cases of autism where the person is non-verbal and has motor skills issues. So when someone who is more verbal and mobile reveals that they are on the autism spectrum, a common response is:
“But you don’t look autistic!”
As if there was one and only one way an autistic person looked or acted.
It could be these people have watched Rain Main with Dustin Hoffman a few too many times.
Or maybe they’ve seen stereotypical portrayals on TV where the character is minimized to having a few laugh-inducing traits.
On one hand, many on the autism spectrum are happy they do not have a visual identifier blaring from their body. One only has to talk with people who are in wheelchairs to hear about all the grief and stereotypes they have to endure. There’s usually little way for a person in a wheelchair to be generally perceived as a “typical member of the larger group”. That wheelchair is always there front and center.
In comparison, someone on the autism spectrum can often slip into the crowd.
But there are times when a person on the autism spectrum does want or need to be understood. Maybe it’s when a sensory overload situation occurs. Maybe it’s when a social situation goes awry. And at that point, when the detail is shared, it can sometimes go less than smoothly.
If the problem is that society has too few points of information to form a full image, the solution is for the autism community to become more visible. To help more voices and faces be heard and seen. The more that autism can present itself as a vibrant, rich, multi-faceted community, the more that our society as a whole will come to understand that breadth and wealth.