By Cara Lee, Journalism student at the University of Bedfordshire
Do you know what one of the worst things you can say to a person with autism is?
He/she has ‘something wrong with him/her’. You might try to argue that this is technically a true statement. You might point out that it can cause problems and that those affected face additional challenges in their university and subsequent work lives. This may all be true, however I believe that a more positive perspective on the condition is the answer to the empowerment of people with autism, both in the workplace and in general. The key to helping people with autism is trying to assist with the issues the condition can present in education and in the workplace, whilst not treating us like victims. In addition, the skills of people with autism can be very useful in the workplace, as I will later explain.
We have this condition, we have it for life and we should be able to celebrate the way in which we are able to think differently, whilst finding ways to increase tolerance and challenge stigmas.
I hate to admit it, but I used to think of my autism as something I needed to overcome and as a result I was reluctant to tell people at school. But by the time I got to university, I realised that the way in which I was able to think differently has an upside, in spite of the downsides; for example the way in which I am able to memorise facts helped me with school work, I know that when it comes to applying for jobs and entering the world of work, I will not be afraid to tell anyone about my condition, I will focus on the aforementioned positives it has brought to my life and try to apply these to my future job, whatever that may entail.
On a wider scale, many individuals who have autism show an affinity for Art or Maths. It has been proven that the differences in cognitive organisation in the minds of people with autism can, and do lead to these skills developing. I believe that the strengths that can, and do show themselves in many people with autism should be openly celebrated.
As I previously stated, I am obviously aware of the struggles we all face as people with autism. I have sometimes struggled at University, primarily with sensory and anxiety issues. I also know that this will probably carry on as I go into the world of work. I truly believe that the answer to this is increased awareness. An increase in awareness will result in more support being available and this in turn will improve the working lives of all people who have autism. In addition, a more tolerant and accepting world as a whole would obviously be a wonderful thing, however, before the world can accept us, we need to accept ourselves.
If you have autism, don’t be ashamed of it - why should you be?
So you think differently to other people; you might see this as an issue, but it also makes you unique. Don’t try to hide it; have pride in yourself and your individual view of the world- it is nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, in a crowded job market your unique way of thinking and perspective of the world will make you stand out to recruiters. Whichever career path you choose to go down, think about how your view of the world and yours alone, can lead to you doing amazing things with your life.
At some point in the last two years, I stopped being shy about telling people that I have autism because I no longer see it as something to hide. I am now comfortable talking openly about my condition without shame or embarrassment and as result have become more confident in myself. Empowerment, not fear, is the answer to a happy life.
As for people who do not have autism, please don’t try to tell me or anyone else that we ‘suffer from’ autism. I am certainly not suffering at all.