Autistic is not a dirty word, we are not broken

As an autistic person, I am often asked to describe and discuss autism. While I can only speak from my own experience, there are some common threads between me and my autistic peers.

In my work, I interact with hundreds of other autistic adults. We are often viewed as broken neurotypicals who need some adjustments to fix our flaws. We are not broken, and we do not need to be fixed or cured. Our brains work differently, and we experience the world differently than most. That does not make us less human.

We tend to see the world in much more detail than others. It is more colorful, noisy, textured, chaotic and intricate. There was an overpass I used to drive over with my parents that made a dreadful whistling sound. Every time I said, “What is that noise? Don’t you hear that?” And every time, my parents strained to hear and couldn’t make out the sound. It was so distracting that I couldn’t believe they couldn’t hear it. One day my mom finally heard it and we figured out that it was the wind rushing under the overpass.

As you can imagine, the world can be quite beautiful to experience with such intensity; but it can also be overwhelming and anxiety inducing — or downright frightening. It can feel like the world is attacking you.

Because of this, many of us are hypersensitive, hyposensitive or a combination of both. We need more time to process sensory information, including communication. We need breaks between activities that involve interaction with people and other activities with high sensory demands.

People often label these special needs. They are not special. Everyone, autistic or not, has the same needs: The need to feel safe, to love and be loved, to be accepted as we are and feel a sense of belonging. How each of us has our needs met can vary, but the basic human needs are the same.

Many of us don’t know until we are adults that others are not experiencing the world with such intensity. Until we talk with neurotypicals about how they experience the world, most of us think that others are just better at coping with it than we are. In fact, we are quite good at coping, given how intensely we experience life.

I often ask my peers what they most want neurotypicals to know about autism so I can advocate for our community. I will leave you with some words of wisdom from the autism community.

Autistic is not a dirty word. The majority of us prefer to call ourselves autistic. When in doubt, ask the individual how they prefer to identify.

We are not all savants, nor are we all intellectually disabled. We are not high functioning or low functioning. Each of us has aspects of life where we struggle, just like anyone else.

Autism is an inherent part of who we are. You can’t separate the autism from the person. Don’t love us in spite of our autism; love us because of our autism and all the other things that make each of us wonderful and unique.

Katie Oswald is an autism advocate and resident of Bay City.

Originally posted by The Lansing State Journal.