Oh my gosh, thank goodness that’s almost over.
By “that”, I mean Autism Awareness Month, also known as April. You may have noticed a lot of blue lights and puzzle pieces around. If you haven’t, lucky you. If you have, then you might understand a little of what I’m talking about it.
Let me tell you something: people are already aware of autism. It’s pervading the media, being demonized by people who are convinced it comes from vaccinations. The problem is, very few people actually know what autism is, and what it isn’t. So, as someone who has been diagnosed on the spectrum, I’m here to shed a little light on what you’re supposed to be aware of.
Autism is what is called a pervasive developmental disorder, or PDD. So let’s break that diagnosis down a little.
Pervasive, as in “affecting every part”. Autism doesn’t just disappear as you grow up, Every aspect of an autistic person’s life is affected by how their brain works.
Developmental, as in “happens in development”. During the growth of an embryo, something happens where the wiring in the brain develops differently than the average person, or what we call “neurotypical” or NT. Science isn’t 100% sure what causes this difference in development. It could be some kind of environmental factor, or it could be genetically linked. What they do know is that it’s inherent. An autistic person is born autistic.
Disorder, as in “irregularity”. Disorder is not inherently bad. It’s different. Often, a disorder is seen as bad because it isn’t understood. To be fair, if science could explain more about where autism comes from, there might be less trouble.
Okay. Here’s what I know. My sister and I were born sixteen months apart. When she was five and I was four, we were taken by our mother to the local health department. My sister was getting ready to start kindergarten, and I was old enough for vaccinations, too, so we killed two birds with one stone and got them at the same time. Same vial; I know that because I watched the woman administering the shots use two different needles to draw vaccine out, one for my sister and one for me.
So. Same health department, same day, same vial of vaccine, same administrator. My sister is NT, very social, and active in the lives of my three nephews. She runs her own businesses, as well as holding down a full-time job, helping my brother-in-law with the household chores, and having not only a Bachelor’s Degree in Classics, but also a Master’s in Museum Studies. She was a straight-A student in school, she’s driven, she’s brilliant, and I love her. But we’re nothing alike.
I was only recently diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) level one, in May of 2015, but I’ve had the symptoms of what used to be called Asperger’s Syndrome since I was born. Poor coordination, but hyper verbal. Obsessions, poor eye contact. I developed separation anxiety when I was eight; the average child develops it around the age of two. I remember the anxious parts of my childhood very well. It’s the good stuff I have trouble remembering.
My question to people who think that vaccinations cause autism is, if my sister and I got our vaccines at the same time, and my ASD symptoms were with me from the beginning, and my sister never had any, then why didn’t the vaccines cause my sister to suddenly develop symptoms? Like I said, science doesn’t have all the answers, but it’s been well established that, while there can be many side effects to vaccines, autism is not one of them.
As for the puzzle pieces… that particular iconography, along with the color blue, were introduced by Autism Speaks. They claim themselves to be an autism charity. Ask the majority of the of the autistic community, however, and they will likely come back with the sentence “Autism Speaks does not speak for me.” I’m not here to discuss why; that’s a different post and one that’s full of anger and frustration. Perhaps someday.
All I’m saying is, everyone is aware of autism. What they aren’t is accepting of autism. It’s just a difference in wiring, not a contagious disease or a vaccine injury. Think Mac instead of PC, iOS instead of Android. So the next time you encounter an autistic person, whether they are verbal or not, no matter what you think is wrong with them, remember they want to be respected and accepted, just like you do.