Autism Acceptance Month Feature: Kyle C.

April is Autism Acceptance Month!

Autism is the fastest-growing developmental disability in the United States, with one in 36 children receiving a diagnosis, according to a newly-released report from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). In addition to 5.8 million Autistic adults, this prevalence means that Autism likely touches a vast majority of Americans either through relationships or direct experience, and the support needs across the Autism spectrum are vastly different. 

 Throughout the month, we will feature members of our local autism community, highlighting the various ways that autistic individuals and their families are connecting with each other and the broader community.

To kick off the month, here is a short essay from Kyle C., an active member of ASCV’s Self-Advocate Council and adult programs: 

To the Autistic community and its treasured associates:

I began the brainstorming for this post, or at least the first moment where something seemed to click, by looking through the results brought up in a search engine just so I could feel what others beside me attributed to this time of our year, only to find myself amused that month is officially set to begin on the second against usual measurement. April 1st it seems is left alone as a nice little courtesy to the great jokesters of our time. That is nice enough: one joke for the day and a paradox for the whole month, shortsighted if only because the life of an adult on the spectrum is a prank that elicits no laughter, but humorous nonetheless. We’re slow to speak but fused with our rich inner lives, noble but lacking in nuance and madly dedicated to a skill but clinging to the rungs of the American Dream.

For me at least that final point is the most undignified aspect; I was born into a generation that loves to judge its members for every eccentric behavior, no matter how safe a refuge it provides from everyday problems, and the standard response has become to dig deeper into isolation from all hostile voices. The verdicts are standard and they are ruthless: you live at home and therefore you make a mockery of adulthood.  Our jobs are beneath our qualifications and so we are flesh to be devoured by machines, and as we are introverted and autistic we will inevitably be snatched up by misfits online who share our tastes. If we go above the herd in a particular interest and obsession, we will burn out and be to polish the machine’s wheels.

All this just stops our courage and only makes the community more hesitant to go to the people at large rather than just local delegates, when it is the public that holds the key to the beginnings of mutual understanding. Much has been written on the status of neuro minorities within the current systems of America; we know that the conventions of public school are overload for all but the sturdiest of us without help from a gaggle of specialists, the college transition is an anxious thing when maturity has become more multi-stepped, while in adulthood the power to obtain promotion in the fields of business hierarchy and long-term friendships is often limited by the social mazes that dominate so many lives.

In the new economy, the ability to market oneself is prioritized over commitment to a niche; meanwhile the skills of workers and creators are gradually yielding to overwhelming group projects as well as machines which cannot think outside input; both would challenge any sort of mindset which is lost in the intricacy of its personal vision. When I was younger, I noticed how my specialization was different from the type frequently expected for work in today’s industries. Whereas the standard path is to learn a trade around one’s passion, making connections meanwhile in education and the necessary circles, my tendency has always been to dive into the intricacies of a subject, regardless of master or connections, then leave behind entire plans in my own style of thinking. Only recently have I begun to learn how to channel all this, as well as my own interests in any chance at building massive projects based on what appeals to me at the moment, into a form acceptable to businesses looking for conventional applicants. Meanwhile others in my position will struggle to find their own niches where they can build a career of passion without sensory assault from manufacturing or service or a constant inability to put one’s ideas and need of stimulation in a language others can easily understand. 

For the longest time, neurodivergence was something I could sweep away from general view; under this model I would live as any other citizen, contributing to the cause of neurodiversity only by living as an equal among the general public and actively working for representation at my own pace. This, however, would only turn out to be an act of self-betrayal, as my insistence on acceptance according to the milestones of others my age narrowed my vision to the point where I would push away offers of help on sensing the origins in autism or any other kind of childlike inadequacy; meanwhile, my selfish interest in living according to my priorities alone went from a way to protect my own interests against all unfeasible life paths to a refusal of any voice that dissented from my ambition. 

I continue to believe that the future for neuro advocacy relies upon communication and trust between ourselves and the segments of the public at large willing to examine our pleas for help, in addition to maintaining the ideal way to meet neurotypical demands is not to bury our autism but to bring its more creative aspects fully into the light. Great care should also be taken to note that it is us who will struggle most when a changing economy alters the ways in which young people mature, build careers and seek ambiguous relationships for the simple reason that the autistic mind often is most at home with precedent, both in personal stakes and in understanding how best to give the community what it seems to want.

Nonetheless, we are our own community, and we will not compromise the traits of wonder and dedication which have helped us on our road to higher integration with the workers of many different specialties. It was earlier that I made a brief allusion to the American Dream; that dream defined, it seems, is that anyone may rise to full prominence and dignified living through labor. Yes, each nation has its dream; in Europe’s romantic cities the old cry of brotherhood, while on an island’s fair shores there is the tidal fantasy of exploration and rest. In our own isolation and strange customs, the autism community sometimes appears like-minded, as if lifetimes of mistranslation have stitched together a traveling people within conventional borders. What then is our dream? It is at first just to live with the same dignity afforded to others in similar walks of life and finance, but more importantly it is security in the knowledge that we can build our own careers on a lifetime of pursuing our strengths. It is furthermore the desire to walk among the entire sociality of local and complex communities with the understanding that we’ll all speak a common language of wants and needs, with a give and take always occurring between the different perspectives wherever a snag in understanding arrives. Come next April, I will be ready to take another look at what the community of central Virginia, as well as the adjacent advocates in the rest of the country, have managed in their efforts to establish a reputation of untapped potential among any onlookers.

-Kyle C., ASCV Self-Advocate Council Member