Autism is often a hidden disability. There is no universally visible signifier–no mobility aid that we all use, no assistive technology or service animal or language common to all or even most autistic people. While many of us use assistive technology, many others go through our days–our lives–passing for nondisabled.
Or do we?
If you’re autistic, you can probably recognize other members of the tribe fairly easily. Maybe by their stims or their use of AAC, their noise cancelling headphones or by the body language that’s so like your own. We all have our tells.
I know mine. Atypical eye contact and body language are the most obvious. Occasionally my voice gives me away as different–it’s too loud or too mumbly or too flat or simply decides not to exist. If none of those is a tip-off, well, it’s only a matter of time before I have a social communication mishap.
Still, I go through life quite convinced that I’m passing. That my disability is oh so well hidden. Continue reading The Myth of Passing
A few months ago, I watched a lecture by Sam Goldstein about resilience. At the start of his talk he mentioned how in Utah, teachers used to begin IEPs with a discussion of a child’s strengths. They’ve moved away from this in recent years because, as he put it, many teachers felt that listing what a child can already do well is a cursory exercise–in other words, a form of busy work that was taking up time they could be using to list all the things the child can’t do.
Now imagine that child moving through school, trailing this long list of things he can’t do behind him. That’s twelve-plus years of people emphasizing what he’s bad at and what he needs to fix. If he’s lucky, he has at least one cheerleader in his corner, telling him what he’s good at. Because when he sits down to fill out his college applications or goes for his first job interview, no one is going to ask him what his worst subject is or what he can’t do.
Transitioning into adult life requires knowing your assets. Universities and employers are looking for people who know how to put their strengths to work for them. Assets, Goldstein says, insulate us from risk and make us resilient to adversity.
The tension between building on assets versus fixing deficits is at the core of what we face as autistic people living in a neurotypical world. Much of what is framed as interventions and skill building and self-improvement is about being more normal, about “passing” better. But that feels like a Sisyphean task. Continue reading Focusing on Assets, Building on Strengths