April is Autism Awareness Month and The Arc and Autism NOW are taking this opportunity to ask individuals who identify as being on the autism spectrum to answer this question: “What is your definition of autism?” Andrew Reinhardt is working on a Master’s degree in physical science and has a diagnosis of Asperger’s syndrome. Below is his personal definition of autism. Follow the conversation this month online using #autismaware.
Being on the autism spectrum to me was at one point in time a defining characteristic of who I am. It is not anymore. I’ve largely grown out of needing to define myself in such terms. I am a very active individual, albeit not as active socially as I would like to be, but in terms of academics, work and family, I am very happy with my life and define who I am based on these parameters, and others. This has some advantages, since I’ve seen time and again that having a disability, any disability, is not typically smiled upon in the hiring process or beyond in this country. I’ve done best and even have tended to be hired more often when I learned to shut up and only open my mouth about having Asperger’s when it’s absolutely necessary. Since I can pass for an individual who is not on the spectrum, at least at this point in my life, I find that it is better to not bring up such issues at all and play the part of so-called normalcy.
But still, Asperger’s still affects me in highly negative ways, though it affected me in worse ways historically. I specifically avoid shopping at malls, or anywhere for that matter unless its grocery shopping. I prefer to avoid eating out to ordering out. These are habits born out of a general social anxiety, as well as several issues such as what to do with eye contact in crowds, the noise levels, the lighting, so on and so forth. As bad as it is now, it was worse to the point of breaking out in hives during a full blown panic attack before.
This is progress, even if it doesn’t seem like it at times. Historically, I’ve faced several problems worse than this, such as a severe fear of, and sensory problems with, insects, that caused me to run away from them to the point of running in front of cars at times. I also was self-injurious at times when I thought I did something particularly bad, though in hindsight I’m not sure I’ve ever done anything particularly bad in my life. All that said, though being on the spectrum has been a great bane to me throughout the years, it also has provided some good things to my life, for instance my mathematical skills, my analytical skills, and the drive to be more than I am today, the last of which is probably the most important because I’ve met individuals who have the skill, but lack the drive to do anything with it. I contend that because of my life on the spectrum, particularly the hardships it’s caused, I’ve done better as an adult than I otherwise would have.