Photo credit: Prince William County
When I was four, two occupational therapists came to my kindergarten class to
evaluate a little girl in my group. While they were there, they noticed that I seemed to
stay on the outskirts of where the other kids would play. I interacted more
with my teacher than with my classmates, and my speech was more advanced than is usual in a
four-year-old. They concluded that something a little funky was probably going on with
me. They reached out to my mother to offer an evaluation.
My mom accepted. They told her I was probably autistic, and they were right! But
the way they presented autism to her forever changed her perception of me and what
Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder that manifests itself through difficulties in
communication with neurotypicals (recent studies have shown that autistic people
usually understand each other just fine). It also includes having special interests and making
repetitive movements like rocking or flapping your hands. It’s a common
misconception that autistic people are more likely to have an intellectual disability.
The reality is that there is no link between autism and intellectual disability.
Non-autistic people are just as likely as autistics to have an intellectual impairment.
So, this is where I have an issue with how those two health professionals introduced
autism to my mom. There’s a reason we say autism is a spectrum; We’re an incredibly
diverse bunch. Like everyone else, we’re each very good at some things and very bad
at others. The two occupational therapists told my mom that I would probably never
learn how to read and that she could kiss any hopes of normalcy for me goodbye.
‘‘It’s hard for a mother’s heart to be told by a health professional that our ‘perfect’
child is ‘defectuous’’’ my mom told me.
By introducing autism to my mom as a defect, a barrier to success, they did me more
disservice than being autistic has ever done. When my mom saw me thrive in school,
she decided that it meant I couldn’t be autistic; My mother had been told that being autistic
would keep me from achieving typical milestones. She may have also thought that since
I was predetermined to fail, there was no use in pushing me to succeed, was
there? Even though I was way ahead in the language department, those two occupational
therapists were already telling her about the different schools for developmentally
challenged kids she could sign me up to.
If someone gave me the choice, I wouldn’t choose to stop being autistic. I have no
interest in being neurotypical. I think your brains are weird and you communicate
weirdly. I like my autistic qualities and traits. I think they make me a very driven and
loyal individual. I can’t do everything a neurotypical can, but the opposite is true too.
I hope I don’t come across as vindictive towards those two occupational therapists.
I’m not angry at them. I’m angry at the system, who either sees my success and
dismisses my disability because of it, or sees my disability and assumes I’ll fail.
I was accepted to McGill in psychology last Tuesday. My mom sent me flowers
and made a post about it on Facebook. I’m a big reader, but I suck at math. I’m very
creative and passionate, like many of my autistic friends. I don’t think anyone can see
the future of a four-year-old with absolute certainty.
During Autism Acceptance/Awareness Month, I celebrate myself, my community,
and our love and support for each other. We rock y’all.