August 8, 2022
'There are still some people who cannot believe that I have autism'

Ever since I received a diagnosis from my developmental pediatrician back in December 2018, I felt a bit confused about what autism spectrum disorder really was. For myself, this label was extraordinary, for I had already known the reason why people could not understand me.

However, there are still some people who cannot believe that I have autism. It is not simply because of denial but rather, the so-called “severity level” of the symptoms that is widely perceived as a basis in determining autism.

“You don’t necessarily look autistic.” “Hindi ka naman mukhang special child ah!” I’m always told these whenever I admit that I’m officially diagnosed with autism. They think that those who have autism are like the ones portrayed in Philippine television shows like Little Nanay and My Special Tatay wherein it is just about intellectual impairment.

I admit that before I received the label “autism,” I once thought of autism as intellectual impairment. This was because I have relatives who have autism and most or almost all of them have intellectual impairment.

However, that view slowly changed when I finally received my diagnosis. I began to search everywhere – the internet, personal interactions, the library – regarding what autism really is. That’s when I stumbled across the neurodiversity movement that is widely known in the West.

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The said movement claims that autism is a spectrum. But it is not like a tint of color wherein it is just about “a little blue” or “a strong blue,” but rather, a rainbow spectrum. In a rainbow spectrum, you can’t claim that yellow is more “blue” or blue is less “red.” Rather, you have to shade each color since each of it corresponds to specific areas of development such as, but not limited to, sensory processing, neuro-motor differences and skills, pragmatic speech, social awareness, and repetitive behaviors. And to have autism, you should be affected in not one or two areas but, rather, most or all the areas.

This belief had drastically changed my initial view regarding autism. It somehow made me realize that the autism community is diverse in nature, wherein each autistic person like myself may have different ways of thinking, acting, and communicating, but nevertheless are affected by most or all the areas of development.

For instance, in my case, I can easily process written information in literary texts, not just by reading single paragraphs, but also whole novels with minimal to no pictures. In addition, I’m not sensitive to certain sounds and flashing lights. However, I struggle in interpreting social communications and tend to repetitively walk back and forth while thinking or murmuring.

Actually autistic, not less or severely autistic

Those people who said that I’m not actually autistic are not only wrong, but also set a dangerous precedent. Besides the fact that it disrespects those formally diagnosed with autism, it is also a disgrace to those who seem to be less or not autistic but, on the contrary, do have this condition. In addition, it is also a disrespect to undiagnosed autistic individuals who, until now, have yet to seek a formal diagnosis, due to poor and biased diagnostic tools that overlook other sectors like women and the LGBTQ+.

This precedent is the reason why most “less” autistics like me are afraid to open up about our condition to everyone, including in the health sector. In addition, it is the reason why some marginalized sectors such as the women and the LGBTQ+ are more prone to masking or covering their autism, leading to serious complications and comorbidities. That is, the social stigma forces them to conceal their labels.

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For instance, in the then-controversial issue at Plantation Bay Resort back in December 2020, the resort owner back then had released an erroneous comment about autism, saying that “uncontrollable shouting is not a symptom of autism.” Such a statement received negative backlash from netizens since it merely cherry-picked the symptoms of autism.

This is not to say that I’m romanticizing autism. Of course not! Rather, what I’m pointing out is that autism spectrum disorder is complex. Not every autistic person has the same difficulty in each area of development. Nevertheless, they still need the appropriate support so that they could fully function in not just their personal but also their social life.

Let us end this cycle of perception that autism is linear, so that we, the autism community, can loudly and proudly say that we are actually autistic! –

Ronald G. De Guzman Jr. is an incoming 2nd year BS Mathematics student at the University of the Philippines Baguio. Being diagnosed with autism with comorbid bipolar disorder, he is interested in discussing, reading, and writing topics involving disability issues and studies.

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