One year ago, I woke up terrified. My usually-blank phone was lighting up every second with text messages and social media alerts. My roommate came up to me crying and wrapped her arms around me in a hug.
One year ago, I published a column in The Daily Collegian’s mental health edition, finally revealing my place on the autism spectrum for the world to read. The messages on my phone were filled with heart emojis and “I’m proud of you,” and my roommate suggested we celebrate with a toast that night.
All of the feedback, every response, every stranger’s email and every Facebook comment — they were all positive. Of course they were. But, at the time, I had never been so open about something so personal, and I feared the worst. I was afraid of harsh judgment, but I was met only with acceptance instead.
By making my diagnosis public, I am now comfortable in my own skin. While my social and sensory struggles are still pertinent, I know the public is responsive. I have friends, family and peers who support me, and I have had strangers reach out to do the same.
When I first learned that I am autistic, I did not know what that meant. All I had to go on to know what autism is was the misconceptions. I knew “autistic” was thrown around as an insult, that it was a disorder associated with children and not adults, that it meant you were a mathematical genius and that paranoid mothers believed it was caused by vaccinations. I was angry and embarrassed to be identified by the word.
Obviously, that is not what autism is. I know that now, but many people don’t. Even as someone with the disorder, I am still coming to find quirks of mine that correlate with it. I don’t expect everyone to know all the intricacies of autism, but I insist they become educated and resist the surface-level stereotypes and falsities that were all I first knew.
Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder that includes communication and sensory processing difficulties among other aspects. It is a disorder, not an insult. Children grow up to become adults, and sometimes people — such as myself — are not diagnosed until much older than five. Savants are few and far between, and some of us with autism— such as myself — do worse in math than any other subject.
The only effect vaccines have on children is immunity from diseases. With my growing understanding and society’s willingness to learn, I am grateful and relieved to have a word and the community behind it to explain my idiosyncrasies.
One year ago, my goal was to explain to society how autism affects me personally. Now, I want to take it up a notch by advocating for understanding and equal treatment of disorders and disabilities.