Quick! Picture someone with autism!
I’ve got a whole dollar that says you pictured a cherub faced, 10 year old white kid with blonde hair and beautiful blue eyes. It’s okay, there’s nothing wrong with you. I picture a cherub faced 10 year old white kid with blonde hair and beautiful blue eyes, too. I’m a little biased, though, because I actually have one. People seem to rarely imagine anything else. You don’t often see a picture of a little ginger with autism, or a Hispanic girl, or maybe even a 50 year old, balding, fat guy. Thing is, though, autism isn’t isolated. And it doesn’t get younger.
Autism Doesn’t Get Younger
We like our disorders to be cute and tragic. Nobody can hold it against a little kid who drops to the floor in the middle of a Target and screams to the high heavens. We just awkwardly move to the next aisle, think about the struggle those parents are going through, and…ooooo, Rice-A-Roni is 2 for $1! Yet, if an adult tries that crap, they’re in jail quicker than a black guy minding his own business. But why? Adults have autism, too. And since they all don’t look like Dustin Hoffman in Rainman, it’s not always easy to tell there’s a problem.
To put it bluntly, society just doesn’t give a crap.
Autism didn’t just spring up in the last couple years, it’s been around. That cute little scamp at your kids’ school, the one who can’t make friends, the one your heart breaks for, he’s going to be 50. He won’t always be the tow-haired angel-eyes he is now. The hair will thin, he’ll have a gut. He’ll just be a 50 year old man with an uncomfortable knowledge of Pokémon. And when his causal rudeness ruffles our feathers, we won’t put ourselves in his situation. We’re not going to care that he’s socially awkward. We’re going to mumble that he’s a prick and brush him off. He’s a grown man for Christ sake!
My brother was born in 1970. He was lucky. In 1970, clinical psychiatry was at its peak golden age. No, I’m kidding. In 1970, psychiatry in our neck of the Ozark Mountains was a Bible and a pack of cigarettes. I have zero doubt that my brother falls somewhere on the spectrum. From the pentacle of his IQ to the pit of his social skills, my dear brother is an unfortunately complicated individual. His inability to grasp real world concepts like paying bills and holding down a job practically screams the symptoms. It doesn’t help that he grew up in the 80’s. Back in the 80’s, if you listened to The Cure you were openly called a faggot. This made listening to The Cure very strange in my youth since I love both moody, heart felt lyrics and vaginas. However, this is also the generation that head-banged to Judas Priest and Rob Halford’s leather daddy outfits, but, I digress.
I use my brother as an example, but just because we have no idea how many undiagnosed adults are out there doesn’t mean the number is zero. I know there is at least one, and if there is one then there has to be more. The fact is, my brother will never be diagnosed. He’ll never receive government help, because that help doesn’t really exist. He’ll never know compassion or be given any leeway for his uncomfortable jokes, bizarre references, or general lack of motivation. He’s an awesome guy but he’s also kind of a “weirdo”. However, by 2023, there will be 380,000 more “weirdoes” because those cute, tragic little kids will grow up and autism will grow up with them. Just because they suddenly become an adult doesn’t mean they are suddenly less autistic, and it doesn’t mean we should suddenly care any less.