Ambassadors on... is a new regular feature giving the young women in our network the opportunity to share their insight, opinion, and experiences on a variety of different subject matters.

In our second of the series, ambassador, Olivia, draws on her own experiences to address the knowledge gap when it comes to autism.

Olivia, ambassador since 2022

Is autism genetic? This is an incredibly common search result found on Google. You may have never searched it yourself, but it stands as an example of the misunderstanding that surrounds autism. Collectively, we are not told enough about autism, or any invisible disability, and because of this people suffer on a regular basis. 

People suffer from the myths heard all over the internet, fake news about a part of them that they can never change. People suffer from a generation-wide lack of understanding and empathy and this line of thinking can filter down to children and adolescents; how are they meant to know any different? How are we meant to bring the bullying, and isolation of those with autism to a stop, if people just don’t know about it? One in 44 people are autistic, in a school of a thousand students that's 23, which is enough to fill an entire class. With this in mind, is it really okay not to enhance education and understanding around it?

Almost every autistic person carries a story of a time when they were mistreated, ignored, or patronised, for being ‘different’. Many of us carry enough stories to open an entire metaphorical library, with intricate shelves storing every ignorant comment that we have ever heard. They are hurtful, and it could be possible to eradicate these experiences through better education around autism.

Studies show that a large number of people don’t yet know that autism is different in girls than it is in boys, as it is yet another frequently asked question online, being one of the top listed under ‘autism’. Some don’t yet know the common fact that every autistic person has a slightly different experience. Some even label one person as ‘more autistic’ than the other because they experience different symptoms, without any sort of licence to do so. 

From my experience, there have always been two types of reaction neurotypical people have to my diagnosis. There are the usual ignorant comments and judgements before actually speaking to me, deciding if I fit the stereotype and writing me off as slow or incapable, before even having the chance to speak to me. But at the same time, many are shocked, some simply don’t believe me. “But, you don’t look autistic,” is a phrase that carries a slight twang of annoyance, just as I type it, which is a feeling I know many other autistic people will relate to, as a comment many are regularly subjected to.

The most important thing to understand is that not every autistic person is the same. Again, everybody has different symptoms. But we require more kindness, more empathy, and better understanding. It's not a kind thing to assume someone isn’t suffering because they don't fit your mental image, dismissing something that is very much there. 

I once had a teacher who said “We’re all on the spectrum somewhere,” and I can hear the audible groans of any neurodiverse people reading this from here. Yes, there is a spectrum, and yes, it is true that everyone has some symptoms of autism, hence we are all on the spectrum, but those with autism sit on the neurodivergent side of the spectrum, where autism has a regular, if not daily impact on their lives, that they may need support with. In contrast, people who are neurotypical tend not to experience much of an impact. 

Belittling the experience of someone with autism, by comparing them to others who don’t have it too, can make it seem as if their own experiences and diagnosis just don't matter.  If you believe you may have autism, speak to a professional, rather than relying on search engines. Google, while being smart, is not a human, and cannot give diagnoses. And finally? Let us educate society together, and support those with autism along with their families. Let's stop stacking the shelves of that metaphorical library with comments and instead, open a book, along with our hearts, and simply listen to their stories.


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