Daniel Rios Asensi was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) at the age of 11. Now in his teens, he shares his experiences and discusses the importance of raising awareness on the condition.

I’m autistic. I was diagnosed at the age of 11. This shouldn’t feel insulting to me, it’s just a fact. Yet, I’ve heard the word ‘autistic’ used in a derogatory fashion time and time again by many people.

Now, it’s come to feel a bit like a nega­tive adjective for me. Some people don’t use it as an insult but due to not knowing any better; they are not aware of how autism can affect people in completely different ways. They believe that all autistic people can’t talk at all, that they’re antisocial and have very high IQs. You know the stereotype.

Perhaps, in a Hollywood movie, it’s the autistic kid who never talks but is unexpectedly a genius. Media portrayal has fuelled this oversimplification of the entire condition. Even certain NGOs like Autism Speaks wrongly portray autism as a disease, spreading lies about its correlation to vaccines or insisting we should look for a ‘cure’ to it. Autism is not a tragedy, it’s a reality. It’s a lens through which I see the world.

Everyone knows the word ‘autism’ but few know what it really is. The stereotype doesn’t stem from complete utter nonsense; many autistic people do happen to be nonverbal. But many don’t, myself included. And many autistic people have some sort of hyperfixation on a specific topic which can make them highly knowledgeable on it. That does not mean that we are antisocial, quite the contrary actually.

We don’t want to be cured – we want to be understood

Like every other human, we enjoy socialising with people, we just happen to struggle with it more. We may have a hard time reading facial expressions, social cues or body language. That is what we don’t like − the fact that we’re constantly at a social disadvantage to everyone else.

When I tell people that I’m autistic, the first thing that comes out of their mouth is something along the lines of “You don’t look autistic!” In principle, this is well intended, but subconsciously it’s meant as a backhanded compliment, as if to say it’s admirable that I don’t visibly show my autism. It’s not admirable, I don’t deserve more respect than those who are nonverbal or are perhaps less social. It doesn’t mean that my autism can be ignored either.

I went through a lot of therapy in order to act more ‘normal’ and socialise better. This concept is called ‘masking’, where an autistic person uses techniques to hide their autistic traits. I, and many other autistic people, do this all the time. We’re aware that we live in a world not meant for us, so ultimately it benefits us most to ‘hide’ our autism.

I still choose not to watch fireworks because it’d trigger a sensory overload. I still do a lot of stimming and fidgeting. I might struggle to reply to a text message because socialising takes a certain effort. I want these aspects of me to be understood by the people around me. I want people to understand that socially I’m a very different person to them − and that’s okay. That doesn’t mean I want the sort of condescending empathy you give someone who’s not like you; we still deserve the same dignity, res­pect and accountability as anyone else. If I tell you I’m autistic, it’s not because I’m looking for pity… I just don’t want you to misunderstand me.

My condition is not an insult. It’s not an ‘excuse’ either. I don’t expect you to understand everything about the autistic spectrum because it’s extremely complex. However, approximately one in 54 children are diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. That’s a lot of children, who will ultimately become adults. Chances are you’ve interacted with some­one who happened to be autistic.

If someone close to you tells you that they’re autistic, ask them what that means for them. As much as we put effort into assimilating to a non-autistic world, it’d be nice if that same world would do more to comprehend and respect us. We don’t want to be ‘cured’− we want to be understood.

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