By Sarah Sullivan
Thursday (April 26th, 2018) I had the privilege of sharing some important words with a local event, GCL (Gulf Coast Leisure) APNE (Art & Poetry Networking Event), in cooperation with MAC (My Autism Connection). It was an honor to be able to speak for a room full of people, and extremely terrifying! But I did it, and I had a lot of great feedback from listeners. The words I shared were a combination of poetry and just speaking. It wasn’t quite spoken word poetry, so I just called it “speech flow”. I had my tablet with everything I wanted to say, and I felt a huge sense of accomplishment afterwards. I was suggested to open a YouTube channel and present (perform?) it there, but we’ll see. I’m not sure if I’m ready for that. A dear friend of mine suggested a podcast, but I don’t know what other materials I would have in a podcast to keep it going.
I had numerous attendees ask for me to post my words on my blog, so here it is:“What do you think when you hear ‘Autism’? Do movie scenes flicker in your mind, or do you think of scrolling numbers? A little child, a boy? The idea of suffering from some unseen ‘disease’, maybe with a physical disability or speech impediment? If that’s the only thing you think of when you think ‘Autism’, it is time to smash the stereotype.Math is far from my strong point. I’m very emotionally expressive, yet wrapped up in my own little world. I’m introverted but friendly, and I’m a very overloadable empathetic without being able to be sympathetic. I’m well-spoken, and an adult of 29 years old. I’m married and have a four-year college degree. And I am Autistic.Now it’s not all about how ‘normal’ I look, and as we all know, ‘normal’ is a setting on the dryer. I have my meltdowns, shutdowns, and my non-verbal moments, my misunderstandings, odd facial expressions when I’m not keeping a list of what expressions I’ve made during the conversation.
I have an unofficial master’s degree in the mass-production of social faux-pas. I can fake eye contact like a professional because of years of Southern family training, flying right under the radar enough to be weird without an explanation.I’m caught in a weird in-between, walking with one foot in the realm of Neurotypicals by upbringing, and one foot on the planet of the Autistics by nature, never knowing quite where I go. But do I really need to decide? Couldn’t the world just be a little more… inclusive?I picture myself as a translator between my fellow Aspies and my Neurotypical surroundings, dancing between two languages – one that feels foreign to my neurons but has become habit, and one that feels like home to my grey matter but the road there is blocked by societal convention. When you’re what ‘professionals’ call ‘low functioning’, your skills are ignored, forced to watch Barney reruns til you lose your mind, trapped by the able-bodied. When you’re what ‘professionals’ call ‘high functioning’, your deficits are ignored, you’re pushed til you shatter, because what you’re feeling inside doesn’t actually matter.There’s a lot more to my story, but I don’t have that enough time to regale you with my tales of non-adventure.
The moral of this personal story is to pave the way for inclusion – you can’t judge a person’s difficulties by appearance, and you should always assume competence of those who seem to have more difficulties – allow space for everyone to be involved no matter their label or lack thereof. That’s what true inclusion is.” I hope you enjoyed the read – there’s definitely a rhythm that doesn’t convey very well over reading the piece. When listening, you can hear it. Maybe someday I will record it for everyone, if enough were interested.