What would happen if you gave people the chance to ask society’s outsiders the questions they were too embarrassed, shy, awkward or scared to ask? What would happen if those stereotyped minorities were given the right to answer those questions with dignity and depth?
I’ve canvassed the autism community for answers to some of these questions. Thank you to everyone who shared their insight with me!
At what age were you diagnosed with autism and how did the diagnosis come about?
I was 41. I remember having to badger my doctor to book me in for an appointment to get tested at a clinic. He said, and I quote; “You’re too old to be tested, they usually pick it up in kids.”Which is utter nonsense. Once I knew I was relieved but scared to tell anyone because I feared being judged.
I’ve heard some people say we should refer to you as a person first (a person with autism) but others feel that it’s okay to say someone is an autistic person. What do you feel is the correct way to talk about someone having autism?
I don’t have a preference. You could say ‘This is Nick, he has autism’ or ‘This is Nick and he’s autistic’. If you are unsure, ask the person to see what they feel comfortable with being acknowledged by.
Do you feel overwhelmed by environmental stimuli? If so, can you explain how it feels (for you) to have a strong reaction to sensory stimuli?
Yes, loud noises usually bring on a meltdown. I have since been given a pair of noise cancelling headphones which I carry about with me for just this purpose along with other items in a bag.
Are there ways in which you feel limited by your condition? If so, how?
I tire very easily and can’t cope if I am overwhelmed. I need time outs i.e. naps or a break to step away and breathe. To cope I usually listen my favourite podcast.
How can having autism have an impact on someone’s behaviour?
There are difficulties with social interaction – being unaware of what’s socially appropriate, finding chatting or small talk difficult and not socialising much. People with autism may appear uninterested in and find it very difficult to develop friendships and relate to others, while those with Asperger syndrome are more likely to enjoy or want to develop social contacts – but find mixing very difficult.
Problems also arise with verbal and non-verbal communication – those affected may be able to speak or may be unable to speak at all. There may also be difficulties understanding gestures, body language, facial expressions and tone of voice, making it difficult to judge orunderstand the reactions of those they are talking to or to empathise with people’s feelings. As a result, they may unintentionally appear insensitive or rude to others. They may also take others comments literally and so misunderstand jokes, metaphors or colloquialisms.
What’s it like being autistic?
You shouldn’t ask someone you don’t know well what it’s like to be Autistic. Every Autistic person’s experiences vary so much that it’d be an injustice to all of us for you to ask a question that implies that there’s one way to experience being Autistic.
Autistic People can’t feel empathy?
People with autism-spectrum disorders such as Asperger’s do not lack empathy – rather, they feel others’ emotions intensely.
Nick McAllister lives in Burns Beach and was diagnosed with autism in his 40’s. A screenwriter, avid blogger and ABC open contributor, he’s currently looking for a publisher for his novel. You can read more from Nick here.