• J.R. Reed

How I Know We Need Autism Awareness


Who knows what a person on the spectrum looks like?

This past Friday I hopped into my car at a very early hour to make a three-and-a-half hour drive to a monthly developmental disability advocacy training.


It’s a brutal two days, with the drive one way, eight hours of training with a one-hour meal break and a fifteen-minute break. We do the same thing in reverse the next day. It’s brutal but it’s awesome knowledge we’re picking up. But, as I often do, I digress.


Of course, my autism service dog, Tye, was with me, and Friday night before going to bed, I took him out for one last, uh, urine break. While Tye was doing his thing some guy approached me, lighting a cigarette as he came.


I swear to you that this was our conversation:


GUY: So what’s the deal with your group?


ME: Deal? Our deal is that we’re developmental disability self-advocates and advocates getting training.


GUY: Oh….So, what’s your thing?


ME: Me? I’m autistic. Being on the spectrum is my thing.


GUY: You don’t look autistic.

At this point, the dude has taken two puffs on his cigarette and is going in for number three.


ME: What does an autistic person look like?


His reply was to take the longest drag on a cigarette I have ever seen, flick that butt and haul his butt inside and towards the elevators.


Dude left without answering my question. How friggin' rude is that? We were having a genuine, demeaning conversation.


Ignorance is bliss, right?


Since he didn’t give me an answer and since I roped you all into this whole thing, I’ll give you the answer. Are you ready?


People on the spectrum look like regular people. Because we are. Seriously.


This guy was digging himself a grave from the moment he lit up. Both literally and figuratively.

Did he think I was joking about being on the spectrum? What kind of person would think that’s funny? Certainly not a logical autistic.


What this country needs. What this world needs, is some autism awareness. People need to have an idea of what we bring to the table and what limitations we bring to a relationship of any kind from family to friends to work to romantic.


We’re the real deal, Yo.


Let me quickly tell me what we are not. I have had these two things happen from people over the age of fifty within the last year.


First, a person swore up and down that autism was Down’s syndrome. They finally had to Google it on their phone to realize I, the autistic one, was correct. I’m not sure how many times I can say, “If you don’t believe me, Google photos of people with Down’s and see if you’re confusing the two names.”  Apparently a lot.


In a very pissy tone, they said they made an error.


The second person, well, they said that autism was the same as developmentally disabled, only they used two words that have the same initials as the word, “Mr.” I kindly let this person know I was NOT Mr. and that no one uses that phrase anymore. I then caught her up on the current, accepted language. Their better half was laughing their butt off.

Anyway, the point is that the guy at the hotel should have simply quit while he was ahead, that we don’t have a “deal”, and that people on the spectrum are exactly that.


People.


Who happen to be on the autism spectrum, just as some of you have blond hair and others, green eyes.


You won’t see us coming because you don’t know what you’re looking for. April is Autism Awareness Month. Start brushing up on what autism is and what autism isn’t.

Me and the rest of my autistic posse will certainly thank you for it.

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