Stigma and Prejudice

My mother is a rare case. She just told me, as I was reading about murder-suicides involving children with autism, “I did what I did, and if they didn’t like it, oh well.” I thought we were in a tolerant society. She said, “Not really.” I then remembered how the teachers at my middle school told her not to talk about her with “that label,” as if she really only saw “that label.” Of course, what they did not understand, is that my mother only saw autism as a part of me, not the whole me. I have high functioning gifted Autism. It is not shameful, or really something to fear. Honestly, I try to conform to this world where most kids seem to learn communication and social skills by osmosis. But I still fail. My true self, the self I try to keep hidden, still comes out. I keep myself hidden because there is this stigma that tells me there is something very wrong with my existence. I start to feel like the mutants in X-Men. The mutants ask, “What did we do to deserve this?” The answer? “You were born.” What gives? I may have an answer. It’s not a complete answer, though.

For centuries, illness was treated as a punishment for sin, or a moral defect. The ill, especially the mentally ill or learning disabled, were hidden in the closet, so to speak. People still keep saying, “Don’t use the ‘A’ word,” of “We don’t talk about it.” On the internet, racism is prevalent, and people like me have been recommended to be ostracized for being “genetically deficient,” or even euthanized-murdered. Did terrorism go away by being ignored? Of course, the discourse about terrorism did not enter the American Psyche until September 11, 2001. At least, not truly publicly. I mean, sure, terrorism was there, and it would not hurt us, but if we ignore it, it will go away eventually. On September 11, 2001, two planes collided into the World Trade Center, another one into the Pentagon, and one was taken down by its passengers outside of Shanksville, Pennsylvania. That flight was believed to be headed for a crash into the Capitol. Did terrorism go away? No. It hit America. Terrorism hit America HARD. Autism, likewise, will not go away by being ignored.

Why? Why am I such a threat to society? Autism is not contagious. Autism is not a cold. Is it the meltdown? The meltdown is a reaction. A reaction overemphasized by a sensory overload. Why fear the different person? When did humanity become such cowards? Okay, maybe I am overreacting, but when there is a letter from a neighbor asking that a child be euthanized in 2013, is it that much of an overreaction? Come on, people. Throw off those outdated attitudes. Have some compassion for those going through it. We are suffering as much as those who care for us are.

My mother says she is proud of the way I turned out. I am verbal, and can look you in the eye. Most people don’t even “know” I have autism until I tell you. Of course, I had proper training in social graces, off and on, and it took. I still search for the right word, but I can probably tell you a lot on certain subjects. You never know what a person’s potential is, nor do you know how different or the same we really are.


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Autistic woman in her 40s, bringing attention to issues that affect her and her kind.

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