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Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Perspectives of Luck and Autism

In 2005, during the opening show of an art gallery for autistic artists that I coordinated, a reporter and photographer for the local newspaper interviewed me as one of the artists.  He asked me "Do you consider yourself lucky?"   At the time, I stumbled a bit to answer his question.  My answer then really did not encompass my entire thoughts about his question.

The answer to that question really depends on what does one mean by "lucky" and from which perspective?

After all, by sheer chance I was born in a country rich with health care, education and religious freedom, to a middle-class family that has been more or less stable, with access to many diverse lifestyle opportunities and human rights. I also live in a time and place where women has rights, and gay marriage is legal.  By those facts alone, I'd have to say I'm pretty lucky, considering the situations in other areas of the globe. 

Of course, the reporter probably meant in terms of being autistic.  Well then, that's also complicated, and any simple answer possibly trivializes the struggles of other autistic individuals, as well as their accomplishments. 

However, maybe it's easier to answer if I break it down into different perspectives and possible outcomes.

Yes, I have the benefit of having a fairly-supportive family that not only has a good understanding of autism and disabilities, but is willing to do what they can to help me out.  Even when our ideas of help differs from time to time.

No, I do not live in a location where autism and disabilities are seen as being demonic possession and I would either be outright killed, abandoned, or undergo extreme exorcism rituals to drive the demon out of me.

Yes, I do not live in an age where anyone considered disabled or abnormal are automatically considered undesirables and are locked away to hide family shame, either in the privacy of homes or institutions where patients were subject to inhumane abuses.

No, I did not receive an early diagnosis.

No, I did not receive any early interventions or therapies.

Yes, I have excellent communication skills and am functional enough to have slipped under the radar, delaying a diagnosis until age 17.

Yes, I did receive some speech therapy as a child, and some anxiety therapy as a teen.

No, I do not currently receive all the supports I require, possibly due to a lack of early diagnosis getting me into the system, or due to being less noticeably disabled. 

Yes, as a child, I was bullied, struggled through a lack of accommodations, understanding and support from teachers, and suffered from a devastating amount of guilt, mental pain, low self-esteem, depression and anxiety.

No, I was not put in an institution and did not have to survive the potential dehumanization and trauma that some institutions have inflicted on patients.

I can continue on, but I think that I've made my point.

Am I lucky?  In some ways, I'm not sure. I am lucky to have escaped some of suffering that being diagnosed can cause, and in some terms, I'm not so lucky because I've slipped through the cracks.  I don't know how much this will effect my life overall, any way that I can predict the future. 

So, in the end, it becomes a manner of perspective, as well as one's values and goals.  Is it to be considered normal by the rest of society, to fit in?  To have a successful job?  Or is it to find the way in which you can best be happy? 


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