By Leanne Libas
The first thing most people say when I disclose my autism is, “Really?! You don’t look autistic.” I have a love-and-hate relationship with that particular phrase. I love the reactions I receive from those who perceive me as a “normal person.” I hate it because it shows that some people don’t know about autism, or they don’t see my symptoms. I think the reason is because I was mainstreamed for so long and my reputation for being a hard-working student might have caused some shock and disbelief when I revealed my diagnosis. Most people were supportive, yet it still irks me on how there’s a lack of proper education about autism.
According to what society perceives, autism is a diagnosis given primarily to Caucasian males. It is true there are more autistic boys than girls, which is why it’s difficult for even me to find autistic females (if they identify with their gender) unless I search the internet. It is a common misconception about autism that it usually affects Caucasians, and not people of color. Sure there are many Caucasian autistics, but if that’s all you see you’re not looking very carefully. The autistic community is very diverse. Some of categories that the autistic community can fall under are the LGBTQIA, multiple disabilities, non-speaking/non-verbal, and people of color. I’m a person of color (Filipino and Chinese) and I have another disability (depression). Ever since I joined Tumblr, I love I can relate to other autistics who talk about their experiences (e.g the shortcomings of social interactions, stimming) and dealing with the “autism supporters.”
For the most part, most people don’t notice my autism or they don’t even seem to care because I don’t let my autism define me. Many would classify me as a “high-functioning autistic.” I remember an event in 8th grade where another autistic student actually knew I was autistic. At that time no one knew my diagnosis. Yet he could tell and asked me randomly one day about it. We bonded over our diagnosis. At that time, I was ableistic and I was still in denial about my autism. His question affected me because I realized that autistics may have the ability to tell if someone is autistic based on their own experiences.
I think other autistics coming into the autistic community can have its advantages and disadvantages. It’s good because we are not alone. It’s bad because not every disabled person will get along, and I’ve had my fair share of not getting along with other disabled people. Their disability wasn’t the cause of why we didn’t get along, it was the clash of our personalities.
One of the points I’m trying to make is even though I’m autistic it doesn’t mean I overcame all of my challenges. I still face each day with many challenges, such as low self-esteem, test anxiety, and experiencing overstimulation (i.e. having to complete many tasks in one day). Because I’m so used to being in regular classes, I tend to forget that I’m autistic. Since people can have unjust perceptions about people who have disabilities, I’ve tried hard not to portray myself as an autistic or disabled person. That’s why it took me a long time to finally acknowledge that yes I’m autistic. I try to separate myself from the stereotypes of autism because that’s not who I am. I’m still trying to prove to myself I’m capable, but at what cost? Is it worth proving to people I can do the work and be autistic at the same time? Probably not. Personality and disability are not the same thing. They’re not the same word.
And even though people think I’m “high functioning” there are some days where my functioning levels aren’t great. I’m just autistic.
Leanne is a regular blogger for the Art of Autism. She started advocating after a life-changing experience at YLF (Youth Leadership Forum for Students with Disabilities). Whenever she doesn’t work on her homework or scan a bunch of papers at work, she spends her free time reading books, watching YouTube videos, searching on the Internet to learn more about the disabled community and culture, and creating her own fantasy world with her latest special interests. Leanne has the most popular blog on The Art of Autism – Breaking Out: My Autism Story.
The Art of Autism has a new section of our website – The Autism Shift – dedicated to our shifting perceptions about autism.