The first time I heard the word autism was when I was five and I asked my mother a very important question: Why am I different?
She took a moment to tell me about my autism, describing it as a special gift, all the while never regarding it as a disability.
Of course, my mom already knew from the beginning that I was autistic — even before the medical experts gave me the official diagnosis.
[She suspected her son was autistic due to his atypical ways of communication and figuring things out.]
One of her favorite stories was when the “experts” brought Mom to a room, asked her to sit — and then one of them passed a box of tissues to her as the other explained that I have autism.
Simply put, my mom just told them, “No duh! So what’s next?”
Some might be wondering why the experts were expecting a sad response from the news.
To better understand this you must remember that this was back during a time when there were many more questions than answers about what autism really was.
The general public couldn’t see past the label “disability” — only seeing autistic people as misbehaving children, misfits or objects of pity.
It also didn’t help that movies like “Rain Man” and “Forrest Gump” had the main characters portrayed at such an over-the-top level, that just about anyone can recognize that the main character has a disability,
Combine that with the autistic population constantly getting bullied for being different, and people who are not autistic in any way, shape or form trying to speak for us — and you get a pretty bad point in time for our history.
Even I was not immune to this point in history. I can’t even begin to tell you how many times I have heard “run Forrest run!” or the number of times people have mocked the things I did.
It hurt, some days more than others, but eventually I began to find the right people who saw me for whom I really am.
There were those who actually wanted me around: those with the same quirky sides as me; those who were there for me when I needed them most.
I may not recall every single memory I had with my precious friends and families, but I do remember how good it felt that my existence really mattered to so many people.
At this point in my life something else was beginning to unfold.
Many autistic people got fed up with neurotypicals trying to speak for them or being compared to stereotypes displayed in the media — and eventually decided to make something of their own.
The autistic population needed two important elements for success: a voice to make their message heard and a platform on which to project their voice from.
First it started small with local get-togethers and events.
Then came organizations like Autism Self Advocacy Network, and The Autism Society of America, which would serve to promote and even champion the autistic community and the unique gifts they have.
This culmination of groups and their hard work began to grab the attention of neurotypical people who were curious as to what was growing, and pretty soon populations across the state, the country and even the world began to see that there was more to the word autism than just the term “disability.”
Beyond the terminology there were people with feelings, wants, desires, perspectives and passions unlike any the world had ever seen before.
Eventually I and so many others had begun to see it all over the news: Viral videos of autistic children winning the hearts of peers around them; autistic individuals displaying musical talents on national talent shows competing with the best of the best; and eventually surprising revelations that many actors whom we had seen in popular movies like “Ghostbusters” and “Kill Bill” had been autistic themselves all along.
From that point onward, the public wanted to know more about us autistic people.
My mom and I would go to special events, and people from different walks of life would come to me and ask questions they had about the autism experience.
Nowadays when you take a look around the world you’ll see more and more about autism, from research articles to stories of autistic people doing incredible things at the same level as neurotypicals.
[Many autistic adults are self-sufficient, including Steven; remember the “Spectrum” in ASD!]
Autism has been integrated into society like never before, but as always, there is room for improvement.
That is part of the reason I became a content creator — be it either my YouTube videos on Tostemac, my two autism books I published, my recently found passion for voice acting … or maybe something else later on down the road.
For me the goal is still the same: To show the world that autism is something to be cherished, not feared; cultivated, not stuck in the sidelines; and when given the opportunity, autistic people can surprise society in ways never thought of before.