Autism Awareness Week: The Proper League
I have never been ashamed of mentioning my place on the Autism Spectrum. I don’t usually have much to say about it, but not due to embarrassment. Only because I do not define myself based upon it.
Yet it doesn’t make it less true; I am in fact on the Autism Spectrum. What has been known as “high functioning,” though that term is falling out of favor. I am also in what once upon a time would have been referred to as Asperger’s Syndrome, though that designation has been dispensed with by professionals.
Until such time as a better set of terms comes along that can be understand by the generally public, I am sometimes forced to make use of the archaic “high functioning” in order to make a point. In context of this post, “high functioning” will refer to those who are closest to appearing fully adjusted, (or at least adaptable) to their society’s norms, and able to communicate, via written or spoken word, to the extent that someone lacking a specific training in ASD reality can understand.
Or, to put it more bluntly, those who do not seem Autistic to most casual observers.
Which, in effect is the purpose of my post today, the middle of what is Autism Awareness Week.
We HF’s ( a term I will use here as a sort of replacement for “high functioning,”) are often dismissed as not needed assistance or consideration. Sure, we may say the odd thing here and there, have an intense interest or hobby, even act eccentric at times, but developmental disorder? Couldn’t be so. After all we walk, talk, bath, often times drives cars. I am a writer and an actor. I experience obvious emotion, and have rare if ever been seen to have anything remotely describable as a “meltdown.” Surely, if all of this is true, I can’t possibly require any special accommodations on a job. I just need to work a little harder.
After all, there are those who cannot speak to anyone, even their parents. There are those who barely acknowledge outward stimulation, even pain. They would never be safe left to their own devices for any length of time beyond a moment or two. They are the ones in true need of help. What business do the HF’s have in claiming a deficit in face of that?
Well, consider Major League Baseball, which every season have approximately 700 active players. Mike Trout, of Los Angeles is widely considered the greatest in the game right now. Possibly the greatest in a generation. He plays major league baseball.
So does Chance Sisco.
Who is Chance Cisco? He is the backup catcher for the Baltimore Orioles. He may not be in the same caliber of Trout. But he is in fact in the same league, literally. He is somewhere else on the spectrum, if you will, of MLB talent.
I, Ty Unglebower, am not on the lower end of the MLB spectrum. I am nowhere on it. I do not, have not and will never play MLB level ball. Chance Sisco, not even currently the top catcher on a single team, is hundreds of times the baseball player I will ever be because he is Major Leaguer.
Back to Autism. I am on the Spectrum. Those more “profoundly” Autistic, (such as my own niece) are on a different part of the Spectrum. Her needs differ from my needs, but we are both in that “league” if you will.
None of my friends are on the Spectrum at all. That isn’t to say they have no problems, but it is to say their problems are not oriented toward any aspect of Autism. They are not in the “league” if you will. Or, I am not in theirs. Try as either of us might, we cannot compare ourselves to the other. Which is to say, just being on the Autism Spectrum at all means I have specific handicaps that, though not readily visible are nonetheless significant in context.
Yet, it is easy to dismiss my needs, and those of other HF’s, because we do no look the part. To extend the metaphor further, it would be like expecting me to play just on the bench of the Orioles, just because I can hold a bat, and identify all nine of the field positions. But if I were placed in an MLB game, not only would I perform poorly, I would likely get killed, or at least severely injured in the process because I am not at all qualified to be ANY of those 700 players.
Sadly, even certain people and public institutions, specifically designed to help people like me cope with my situations have assumed quite a bit about me and my abilities based on what I appear to do, not on what I explain are my difficulties; as though my place on the Spectrum is less worthy of advocacy because it is not as obvious to the general public. The result? I am sometimes expected to go to bat in an MLB game; and I have to hope I don’t get myself killed, never mind find a way to get on base.
One of my biggest struggles is the public’s notion that I in fact do not struggle, or should not have to, at least. But remember folks like myself as well as those who are in a more clearly defined “league.” As with Major League baseball teams, none of it is as easy as it looks.