[I wrote a slightly less polished version of this in German for class last week]
I’m talking with a friend, and it’s going well. She wants to know what I did over the summer. Because I trust her, I tell her that I volunteered at a program for autistic kids.
Her eyebrows go up like she’s watching a sad movie. “That’s so heavy!” she exclaims. “Was it really hard?”
I don’t know what to tell her. I try to explain that being autistic isn’t a tragedy like people think. I tell her that the kids are still kids, that actually the hardest part was getting along with my co-workers. But I didn’t like her breathy “that’s so heavy!”, so there are some things she doesn’t get to know. She won’t find out that when I was a kid, I went through the same program.
A lot of people think that autism is a tragedy. Some say it’s so bad that we have to find the genes, we have to prevent it. They say that autistic kids ruin their parents lives, that autistic adults ruin their own lives. They think that the world would be better without autism. Without us.
People say, “You don’t seem disabled.” But they always have an explanation for why I’m so different. “You don’t seem disabled,” they say, “but you do seem kinda weird.” Or “you seem shy.” “I thought that you were just really sheltered.” “I thought that you were from another country.” “I thought you were on drugs.” People make up lots of explanations for me. Autism is never one of them.
Lots of people don’t want to think about disability, about autism. They’re afraid of these things. They think that disability is the same thing as sadness. That autism is so heavy. They don’t want to change their minds.
“You don’t seem disabled.” “I thought it was something else.”
Of course you did.
“What did you do over the summer?” another friend asks.
“Not much,” I say. “How about you?”