What is Autism?
I was diagnosed with autism (Asperger Syndrome specifically) at age 14, shortly after I was graduating from Junior High. I wish I would have known sooner, however, because it would have saved me many headaches with understanding why I felt so out of place with others, and why I feared that any little thing I said or did would cause others to stare at me, avoid me, or ridicule me.
Autism is when the brain develops a difficulty filtering sensory stimulation (sounds, sights, touches, etc.) and interpreting them. It is also defined by inhibited social skills. This is all due to the brain being hard-wired differently. It is not something that can be cured or changed medically, despite some popular beliefs with diets or other treatments. It can be coped with, however.
People with autism may have difficulty showing affection - but it is a myth that they have an inability to love. People with autism DO feel pain (of course), and they experience much of it through social rejection and ridicule. People with autism DO want to communicate, however. Sometimes they just can't because the over-stimulation flooding their brains through their senses is excruciatingly overwhelming (this is the reason why many try to shut the world out through isolation). Autism does NOT make people criminals, despite what has been said in the media. Autism is a spectrum disorder, meaning there is no one kind of autism (as the saying goes, if you've met one person with autism, you've met ONE person with autism). People have different ways of seeing autism - even the people who have autism have different ways of seeing it and different ways they feel about their autism.
What is it like to have autism?
As an individual with autism, I have had countless experiences using phrases incorrectly and getting stared at awkwardly from crowds. I have had peers make fun of me or tease me for flapping my hands, pacing back and forth, and other forms of repetitive motor activity - something I cannot stop myself from doing. I have made many embarrassing mistakes as a professional, as well, because of my autism where I was oblivious to simple, but very important tasks or misunderstood certain practices -although I am fortunate to have advocates for me in the workplace.
Even before I knew I had autism, I was lucky to have had loyal friends in my life who - while they too could become frustrated - stuck with me through it all. I feel my success today was brought on my them, which is why I cannot stress enough the importance of love, compassion, laughter, loyalty, and inspiration from others.
Advocating for the Community
I want to be an inspiration to others—I hear and experience too often the injustice and discrimination and sometimes hateful frustration many with autism experience from many among the uninformed and uneducated community. I want to give them all that was given me, and in turn, help them to give hope, strength, and courage. To those who may not know what autism is - people from all walks of life - I hope to inspire careful thinking, open mindedness, and unconditional love and support. You never know what you don't know, and you never know when you could be wrong.
This I've learned, personally, as someone with autism who has learned to speak carefully and act surely in a society with hundreds of communication barriers for me.
Loren John Presley