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Perspective: Life without instructions

Kelly Sikkema

Ryan Frye was a student in Jason Akst's Journalism 401 class at Northern Illinois University. You can find Perspectives from others in the class at WNIJ.org/tags/J401.

What would you do in a situation where you were in a group of people where each of you was tasked with doing something, and everyone received an instruction manual… except for you.

This was my social experience for much of my time in school, and I didn’t know why. I could make acquaintances, but I had a hard time making friends and an even harder time keeping them. Then, as a sophomore in high school, I was given an autism diagnosis. This was a diagnosis I was reluctant to accept for years.

As I grew up undiagnosed in the late ‘90’s and early 2000s, now disbarred doctor Andrew Wakefield was pushing a conspiracy that the MMR vaccine caused autism. Many parents decided they would rather risk their child catching measles a disease that has killed millions throughout history — than having them be autistic. Wakefield referred to autistic kids as “damaged.”

Autism Speaks, the well-known autism awareness non-profit, was founded with the idea of curing autism. The problem is autism is considered a neurodivergence, much like ADHD. This means your neurological function is atypical. If you were to “cure” someone’s autism, they would become a completely different person.

These are just anecdotes of the way autism has been depicted over the years, which probably had a lot to do with my reluctance to accept my diagnosis.

The autism spectrum is broad, and many with comorbidities do have high support needs. However, autistic people don’t need to be cured. They need a society built for neurotypicals to leave room for a little neurodivergence.