Thursday, January 5, 2012

The Passport: A New Symbol for Autism?

Imagine if you will a person in an environment unknown to them.  The sounds are strange and amplified, the people unaccustomed and aloof, and the environment foreign.  Imagine further that any attempts at communication are failures: People simply cannot understand what they say, and they do not seem to understand what the other people are telling them.  There are two types of people that suffer from this form of alienation.

If you guessed a foreigner, you would be correct on one count.  The other type that may not occur to most is someone on the autism spectrum.  For those of us on the spectrum, we often feel like strangers, even in our own hometowns.  It feels like being in a foreign country every time we exit our house.  This feeling of alienation, in my opinion, is why we are such fans of routine: Going to the same places, having the same rituals and knowing the same people lessens and dulls the sensory overload of new stimuli.

Many associations related to autism seem to use the puzzle piece as a symbol, with such slogans as "Until all the pieces fit", or displaying a missing piece; this, to me, is a gross misrepresentation of the autistic experience. There is nothing inherently missing or misfit in our own minds; we simply operate in a different manner than the established norm.  A better symbol would be the passport; we are constantly experiencing culture shock with every person we meet, and this experience will never end.

The passport, to me, also represents the intended goal of myself as well as many other autists and autism advocates: Integration.  We do not want to be cured or fixed outright; sure, some aspects of our experience could be changed for the better, such as the sensory overloads not being so severe, or education techniques to help us communicate more easily and effectively with neurotypicals, but above all, we want to be embraced and accepted for who we are, not changed to fit into some mold.  An immigrant does adjust over time to the culture of their new country, but most do not lose their native culture either.  Such should be the same with autism.

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