First, I have two important messages. I would like to take a moment to remember Andre Friedman, who died on October 3, 2018 at the age of 90. Andre lived an extraordinary life: he was a Holocaust survivor, a learned scholar, and a world traveler fluent in four languages. For those in the autism community, he will also be remembered for the tremendous contribution of time, energy, and funding that enabled us to form the Peter M. Friedman Neurodiverse Couples Institute. With the support of Andre, his wife Rita, and son Peter, we launched the Institute in September. We at AANE remember Andre fondly, and his legacy will continue to serve countless families.
The second item has to do with AANE’s commitment to finding new resources and services, especially for our adult population. We are conducting a survey seeking your input about needs and services related to adults on the autism spectrum in Massachusetts.
We invite you take this important survey. The results of this survey will be used to make recommendations and advocate for improving access to adult services and supports.
Now, I would like to talk about how we need to fundamentally change the assumptions our society makes about what is normal, typical, and acceptable.
Very often a parent of an adult on the autism spectrum, will come up to me and say something like, “Now that I have a family member on the spectrum with Aspergers, it seems I can’t go out into the world without identifying other people with Aspergers: in book characters, obituaries, friends, colleagues, relatives–pretty much anywhere I go, any movie I watch, any book I read. Am I imagining things that aren’t there or is this really the case?”
I find it’s rare to read a book or watch a video without identifying a character with Asperger traits. But is this because those of us who understand the profile are inaccurately projecting it, or does awareness open our eyes to the differences that have been there all along?
My theory is, yes: the world is filled with people with some or many of what we consider Asperger traits who do not have a diagnosis. From the outside they appear neurotypical because they engage in the world, sometimes very successfully, and don’t fit society’s narrow stereotype of someone with autism. We know many people still think of someone on the autism spectrum as a person who is nerdy, lacking empathy, friendless, and avoids eye contact. This is wrong. We know many on the spectrum can be charismatic, socially engaged, and excel in leadership. Many have found their niche and are extremely successful in work.
But most of these individuals know on some level that they are innately different from what is considered normative. Their A-typical thinking, interpretation of the world, interests, experience of emotion and sensory input may be different. There are some who are content because they have found a life that fits who they are. Others continue to feel like outsiders and the cost of forcing themselves to conform to a lifestyle which doesn’t accommodate their neurology takes an emotional toll. That is why at AANE, many of those seeking support or a diagnosis are older adults.
One day, when we understand that there is a natural variation in the way all people think, and that there is no normal or typical, neurodiversity will be accepted and valued. My dream is that society expands its definition of acceptable norms of how we learn, work, and have relationships, so that neurological differences are not considered wrong or deficient.