With most diagnosable disorders, you either have it, or you don’t. This concept is often misunderstood, and thoughtlessly applied to autism. People forget that its full name, in fact, is autism spectrum disorder (ASD). There is a fluctuation among the spectrum of autism, where those affected may vary. The challenges that persist with this misconception create an image of people with ASD as one that is visible, and clearly noticeable – though this is not at all the case.
In middle school, I would wait for the bus after school every day with my brother. Waiting for the bus with him was some of the only quality time I got with him at that age, knowing that the moment we got home he would have headphones on till he slept. I valued this time with all of my heart. He stayed home sick one day (which was very unlike him!), so I was waiting for the bus by myself, when I was approached by a classmate of his. They simply walked up to me and said, “your brother is very odd,” laughing uncomfortably, and acting as if they were awaiting a congruent response. I remember coming home that day, entering the house and seeing my brother so thrilled that I was home. He hugged me – it was routine. My mom has forever told me, that “hugs are good for him.” We always had weighted blankets in the house since he craved the deep pressure, and needed it. I never really understood it, but never really cared – it was normal in our family. Though his social skills are limited, and he can’t exactly differentiate between emotions, he has an astounding ability to recognize negative moods. He is hypersensitive, and takes in the emotions of those around him. As a result, by as early as elementary school, I had developed an exceptional talent for hiding my emotions. I was insanely grateful for this talent that day I walked in the door.
After greeting him, I calmly walked upstairs, shut my bedroom door, and sunk down to the floor. I must have sat there for hours. He is not odd. He has autism. The words rang through my head. If I could have wished for anything, it would be that those negative comments never made their way to him, and continued to only be said to me. Eventually, the comments increased, and began following him instead. Since then, there have been several encounters leading to meltdowns at the kitchen table. Now, in high school, most of the kids who are polite to him are only those who are aware he is on the spectrum. I used to despise the fact that he never took off his headphones – now I do not blame him. I understand him. He shuts everyone else out because they do not.
For the most part, he is able to blend in. He is able to go through the school day smiling in the hallways, completing his assignments, and carrying out his everyday routine – but he will always, in some way, stand apart from the “typical” kids. It is imperative that people begin to learn more about autism, and erase the standardized image of this disorder. Autism is on a spectrum, and kids on the spectrum should not have to face negativity from an uninformed society because they stray from such an image.
About the Author
Lauren Hughes is a 16 year old student at Northwest High School, hoping to pursue a degree in Neuropsychology. Growing up with an older brother on the autism spectrum has shown her much about the world of autism. She is a strong advocate for autism research, and wants to support those on the spectrum. Lauren hopes that as such an extraordinarily modern, resourceful society, people will begin to recognize the many inaccurate assumptions of ASD. She wishes for those people to refresh their knowledge of autism, and understand how it varies on the spectrum