When I see a picture of someone who looks like me, it’s usually illustrating a tragic or demeaning story.
Sometimes it’s a picture of a child, illustrating a story about how difficult life is for parents of autistic children. Or a story about how the child’s favorite thing got turned into therapy. With depressing bullying statistics.
Sometimes it’s a picture of an adult, illustrating a story about how difficult life is for parents of autistic children once their kids reach adulthood. Or a bleak story about unemployment statistics. Sometimes it’s a story about a special business or sheltered workshop for autistics that the parent is proud to say their child is involved with. With depressing unemployment statistics.
Sometimes it’s a story about how an autistic person has a special talent. Maybe they’re an artist. The story is always about how mysterious and beautifully tragic it is that autism sometimes gives people special abilities along with significant impairments. The story will not take them seriously as an artist. It will be a human interest story about autism, and no art experts will be quoted — but the headline will probably say “autism does not define him.”
This gets corrosive. It can make the world seem bleak and hopeless. It can be hard to remember that this isn’t an accurate way to describe us. That we are, in fact, more than that.
In real life, we’re people, and we do things. We do things besides be miserable or be inspiring. We have thoughts and attributes that are not convenient to the tragic plots of newspaper articles. We’re people. We do real things. And we matter.
I am not a tragic story; I am not an illustration. I am a real person. And so are you.