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Saturday, November 9, 2013

What Does it Mean to be “Different”?

From Special-Ism

By Haley Moss
October 22, 2013

Many of you probably know that I am a high-functioning, openly autistic college student, and I am very proud of identifying with this. I am open because I want to make a difference and inspire others to feel the same way. I own my quirks, my strengths, and my weaknesses. I am a very proud individual.

I know that unlike many others, I don’t have to put in the same amount of efforts to study, as I absorb information quickly. I am a quick thinker and in most instances, and even quicker writer. I create art. I know how to make an impact without sitting there thinking, “How does this look on my resume?”

I have my moments that make me the person I am, too. Knowing where to sit in a lecture hall with 500+ students is a daunting task. I can’t handle the noise level of a basketball game because of the venue’s acoustics. I figure out what restaurants to go to because of my limited menu choices. I am very sensitive, and at times, shy. If you know me, these things probably don’t bother you.

If autism is also your reality, you know there are many other different issues you could encounter. The summary I’ve given you is very mild-sounding and probably isn’t a big deal.

It IS a Big Deal

Being openly “different” in today’s society is not what I thought it would be. Given the support of other “different” communities outside of ASD and other Isms, I thought I would probably get treated with the similar love and respect that my peers have treated others with. Think of songs like “Same Love”, “Born This Way”, and all of those beautiful multicultural initiatives out there.

I hate to say, often, I am not treated with that same acceptance and respect.

Treated Differently for Being Open

I never thought I would want to write the doom and gloom of this silent reality nobody admits to, but I want to start a conversation. No one flat outs asks you if you have a disability when it’s not exactly “visible”. I don’t LOOK much different than the girl who sits next to me in lecture hall. Many exceptionalities like ADHD, Asperger’s/HFA and some others often have this same issue.

A peer will say to you, “But you don’t LOOK disabled”. I’ve had people say that to me or just assume every single Special-Ism is a physical issue. This is just an obliviousness or an ignorance. People forget that there are more than just physical disabilities, race, sexual orientation, and gender that could make somebody different.

Where is the Discrimination?

You might wonder, “you’re just describing that people don’t SEE that you’re different”. Yes, that’s true, but when you are like me and you are open about your differences, you entertain a lot of questions and encounter a lack of knowledge. You even try just ignoring the fact that judgement and discrimination exists. I have been denied opportunities in college and in certain instances, I am sure it was because of my autism.

The interviewer, reviewer, or even a peer just doesn’t know what kind of liability I might be and none of them are brave enough to ask, “Haley, what does it mean that you have HFA? What’s different? What’s hard for you?”. Instead, it just becomes a footnote somewhere in the interviewer’s evaluation sheet, never to be discussed but it might make for a good reason to reject me no matter how qualified I am. Nobody wants to deal with unfamiliar issues or take the time to understand them.

Then there are the people who do end up hiring me for a job or working with me. I am confident that I am a good worker and student. I try my best to do everything in a timely manner to the best of my ability and I am always willing to listen if something needs to be changed or done differently. However, just because I smile, try to be nice and want to please you, does not mean I am completely naive, or stupid.

Please do not insult my intelligence by being fake to me or giving me more work because you think I don’t know the difference between my responsibilities or understand your demeanors. I am just as capable as the person sitting next to me. I want to do a good job. I’m not one to be singled out, to be treated differently, or be given more work because I aim to please and do take my work seriously.

Did I Bring this on Myself?

It is very well possible. This could all be my fault. But how can I call myself any sort of advocate if I suffer in silence and just stay closed? Or deny a fact that you could easily find out about me on my own website, or Wikipedia, for instance? I want to create change. I don’t want being different to be looked at as such a negative. We are in 2013. We are supposed to be moving forward as a society and away from this limited thinking.

Change is important. It’s especially important to me and I’m sure it is also important to many others who do identify with an autism spectrum disorder, or disability.

May I Have Equal Respect?

So you took a chance with me but you treated me differently in the workplace. What about in the real world with people and friends and social interactions everywhere? Will you give me the same amount of respect as anyone else? I truly hope so!

People seem to think being your friend is a big responsibility. They don’t know when something might affect you. It impedes on their plan to enjoy that basketball game. There’s a fear of the unknown. I wish it wasn’t that way, but it is. Some people feel sorry for you when you say you’re different, but they won’t go far enough to make a difference in your life.

About a week ago, someone invited me to a college house party. I was very excited as I was never invited to a house party before. I said there might be a chance it overwhelms me and that makes me nervous. That person told me it was okay and to let him know when I felt uncomfortable and he would take me home.

As you might suspect from any person with ASD, it was an uncomfortable setting. I lasted about an hour and a half through awkward conversations, loud electronic dance music, and drunken college students. The fact that I was invited by a person who kept his promise to me and wasn’t mad when I wanted to go home – well that’s the kind of thing that is so appreciated, and unfortunately does not happen nearly enough.

Please know I am not any less of a person than you are. I am me. I don’t look any different. I have a different label than you, just as your friends of different races, religions, sexual orientations, and genders. However, I get the stigma of being like your friend’s out of control little brother, or “we really don’t know how that affects us and we don’t want to know” type attitudes. I want that to change! If I keep getting denied the chance to make that change, nothing will change.

The neurotypical students aren’t thinking of how someone like me gets treated. Nobody has ever really asked me – it’s information I offer up voluntarily, but I think it’s time to make a statement without being prompted to do so. I’m sure I’m not the only one on the autism spectrum who would like to be given the chances to make a difference and not be looked at as “the one with a disability”, “the Asperger kid”, or “the autistic girl” – because as I’m sure you can tell just by reading this, seeing a picture of me, or talking to me – I am so much more than the label.

Please Look Past the Label
  • Be kind to someone different.
  • Do not look at me as a different person.
  • Look at me as an individual who wants to make a difference.
  • See me as someone who has more to offer this world than just a label.
I know the readers here are all fabulous people who want to make a difference in the world around you – so for me, for others with Special-Isms, and out of the goodness of your heart: please be kind and treat everybody as equally and fairly as possible!

Haley Moss

About Haley Moss

Haley is a teenager with high functioning autism. Haley enjoys sharing her personal perspective and has authored Middle School - The Stuff Nobody Tells You About: A Teenage Girl with ASD Shares Her Experiences. Learn more about Haley.

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