Monday 25 January 2021

Autism: Late Diagnosis and the Impact of the Scaremongering


Late diagnosis, as an autistic person.   For me, it has been a good thing, mostly.  Those that already cared about me weren't surprised.  Those that wanted me to be someone I'm not were bitterly disappointed, and a few wandered off, which is fine.  After all, wanting someone to be things-they're-not isn't a good sign in any relationship.  

But goodness me, that narrative of 'autism as a terrible thing' appears on a regular basis, and it's a destroyer of lives.  Stigma kills.  It impoverishes.  It depresses.

Let me give you some examples.

All the years I was having to hide who I was, as an autistic person and part of the LGBT+ communities, it was exhausting beyond words for me.  Every single day, having to 'mask up' in front of so many people.  Pretend to be nonautistic.  Pretend to be straight.  Every expression, every comment, every action and inaction had to be thought, and rehearsed, and goodness me it was like carrying a set of rocks you could never ever put down.

The diagnosis began that path of me learning who I was, at last.  Learning that I could be fully autistic and fully fabulous. Learning to find my own right ways to do things. 

Learning that 1 in 30 fellow professionals are also autistic, doing such good work in society.

Learning from the hundreds of autistic people with whom I share life. Some in care homes, some with learning disabilities, some with no spoken language, some in high paying jobs, others in ordinary jobs, others in low paying jobs, others volunteering, or being parents, or retired, or being a student.  Others unable to work for various reasons (including society's prejudice).  Every single one of them worth their place on this world.  Brilliantly wonderful people.

For 30 years, I was deemed to be a good businessperson.
Until I disclosed that I was rather more diverse than they first knew.
And then all of a sudden some believed I was incompetent.

For 30 years, I was deemed to be a good pet owner.
Until I disclosed that I was rather more diverse than they first knew.
And then all of a sudden some believed I was incompetent.

There never has to be evidence.  Just hysteria and a 1940s mentality.

And repeat, for various other roles.

Now, luckily in a way, none of this has stood in my way, because I 'came out' at a point where I already had long-established relationships with people who know me and my lovely family well, and where my family were already safe.  That was personal privilege, and I'm aware of how many others risk everything they have, if they disclose.  Or if they are 'outed'.  It's just awful.

But goodness me, can we imagine anything sillier than that above scenarios?

We threaten everyone who is autistic and hiding, in these ways.   We force them to live a half-life, exhausted by the effort of disguising stuff.  

So many autistic people already competent.
We've already proven ourselves.

We need society to stop living in the 1940s, stuck reading out the same lines from a medical book, as if it was the very Bible itself, and never once looking up at the lovely autistic people around them.

Can they choose to raise their eyes and look around them?

Can they look at the autistic-led Professional Practices keeping them and their family well, and safe, and informed?

Can people see the autistic teachers and scholars, skilling up the next generations?

Can people cherish the autistic spiritual leaders, scientists, musicians, artists, authors and poets, bringing so much to our world?  The medics and the philosophers?  The craftspeople and the parents?

How did we ever get to a point where it became OK to treat this magnificent, diverse, honest, diligent population as if we are all the exact equivalent of a fictional young white boy?  Never growing up.  Never learning.  Never changing.  It's just nonsense, isn't it.

Embrace diversity.  And embrace the marvellous, often empathetic and caring autistic people who don't want to hide any more.

Thank you for reading.