10 Jun 2020

Talk about autism

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4 mins

Neurodiversiteit logo Before I was diagnosed with “Asperger’s Syndrome” at the age of 30, I didn’t really know anything about autism. It was something I had never looked at. It was outside my area of interest. It’s different nowadays, I can even call it my special interest.

All my life before I was diagnosed I knew I was “different” from the people around me. I felt like an extraterrestrial being who had to adapt to the people living here in the world. This also aroused my interest in studying people. It has always intrigued me what people do “tap”, why they do as they do. This is actually out of self interest; if I knew why people do as they do, I could do the same. So without knowing I was busy masking, adapting to neurotypical people in order not to fall out of tune.

Today I can do the latter much less. I still adapt, but I don’t hide my own self behind a mask of neurotypical behaviour anymore. I embrace my autism as it is, a profound part of who I am. Partly because of this I dare to write very openly and talk about my autism. About what kind of influence it has on my thinking, on my daily life, the challenges I struggle with and the beauties of being autistic.

Being able to talk about autism

I think it’s necessary to accept your own autism. By seeing it as a part of yourself, and not as an external thing that gets in your way, you can also understand it better. This is sometimes very difficult for people. Often this is because of the stigma of autism. People have heard all kinds of negative stories, sometimes autism is used as a swear word, they have images like “Rainman” in their head or notice the pitying looks of other people when they tell that they have autism.

This and other reasons often make it difficult for people to accept their autism, let alone say in public that they are autistic. I think there are still a lot of people who don’t dare talk about their autism. They are afraid to be dismissed as “sick” or “less”. In the struggle to break this, it is important to show them that there are people who dare to take this step. That there are people who dare to say publicly that they have autism. And that that’s not a bad thing.

Talking for more understanding

Although I am well aware that it is not possible to speak for all autistic people (after all, my autism is very personal of me), I think it is important to speak. How can people who don’t know anything about a subject get more insight? If they are told and not before.

I also realise very well that “speaking in public” is not for everyone. If you at least think about speaking for a large group of people or something like that. But I want to argue more for talking about neurodiversity as if we were talking about, for example, gender diversity. Yes it’s a sensitive subject for some people, but it’s something we think about nowadays as a society.

And this discussion doesn’t have to be for a large group of people, it can be much smaller. We can talk about it with friends and family. We can talk to bosses and colleagues. We can tell them how their behavior looks to us and ask questions about their behavior. This is to open the conversation about neurodiverse behavior. Like for example “stimulation” or our special interest.

However, it is important, as I mentioned earlier, that we ourselves are comfortable with our neurodiversity.

We’re not alone!

Logo ASAN In the years leading up to my diagnosis, I’ve always felt alone. I realized very well that I was not “normal”. But I thought I was alone, that there were no people like me. In short, I was alone in the world.

But I wasn’t! We’re not alone. Since I started writing about neurodiversity last year, I have also discovered a whole tribe of people. We’re all talking about neurodiversity and its acceptance. There are movements that unite us in groups to give us a voice that has been denied us for years by scientists. Organizations such as ASAN fight for acceptance of neurodiversity and unite autistic people to fight against stigma.

Also through Facebook there are already many groups in which autistic people come together to get in touch with each other and exchange information. We are not alone in this world, we stand together. And we can stand up for each other. And as a group we can achieve a lot. And as different as we are, we all have our own strengths and talents. Some of us are good at speaking or writing about neurodiversity, while others are brilliant artists and yet others are excellent at their profession.

We all have our strengths. With that, I think we can make a difference for the neurodiverse movement as a whole. We’re all just people looking for a place in this neurotypical world. And with that, we can help each other.

Thanks for reading
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Tags: autisme acceptatie begrip neurodiversiteit voorlichting 
Picture of the author David Westerink
David Westerink
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I am David, born in 1984 and I'm autistic. I write blog posts and advocate for autism acceptance. I'm willing to talk to anyone about anything.

I have my own podcast (in Dutch) about autism and neurodiversity! Checkout the AutCast!

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