People ask me all the time how they can be involved with the autism awareness movement. My answer is not simple.
A lot of people know that there are more people with autism each year and, right now, most of them are children (due to the recent spike in autism diagnosis’), but very soon, those children will be adults. Personally, I would like to see people with autism in college, owning businesses, in prominent positions in the workforce, in politics, and everywhere else.
How will we reach out and help incorporate these up-and-coming people with autism into the communal mess we are proud to call society? So many people with autism have a perspective that is refreshing, interesting, and worthwhile. Unfortunately, we are missing out on all this refreshing-ness because most of us do not know enough about autism to accept people with autism, their personal values, and cultural perspective. Instead, understandably, we persist in several neurotypical habits that are detrimental to the future incorporation of autsim into the workplace.
Silence makes us neurotypicals uncomfortable, and we are quick to chatter away about nothing when confronted with it, and we take it as rude or cold when others do not play along with our small talk game.
Right now, we love being PC, but it is essentially an extra-difficult, ever-changing set of very-nuanced social rules that is difficult for many neurotypcial people, let alone people on the autism spectrum. All in favor of a little more direct speaking, say aye!
Example: we let ourselves feel uncomfortable around the rocking and flapping that are characteristic movements of people with autism, but we accept pencil tapping and leg jiggling, which are just currently acceptable methods of tweaking out for a second.
So, what can we do to support the autism awareness movement? Before we dive headlong into championing the autism cause, I think we can all do some internal work to recognize our own social/cultural values, and accept the idea that not everyone shares those values. I think, as a society (homes, schools, workplaces, courtrooms…), that we can use our purported ‘mental flexibility’ to change a few of our habits. Before we even meet anyone with autism, we can carve out space for them in our expectations. We can make room. And we should! Otherwise, not only will we continue to pay our tax dollars to support people with a ‘disability’ that doesn’t always have to be debilitating, but we will miss out on an entire interesting, useful, refreshing culture-within-a-culture.