Last June I was on the train to London. I was disorganised, panicking that I’d forgotten my phone charger, rooting flustered through every pocket of my laptop bag, awkwardly asking the management consultant type opposite me if I had dropped my credit card (which was actually safe in my coat pocket).
Later he asked me where I was going and why, so I tentatively explained about my #neurodiversity inclusion presentations I was about to deliver at two of our London offices, talking about #autism from first-person experience.
“Do you tell everyone you meet that you have autism?” he asked. “Oh no, only if it’s relevant”, I replied. He said “You should. Then they would understand why you’re so awkward”.
He went on to tell me all about his friend who was apparently developing a diagnostic tool to pick up autism in children as young as two, to enable early intervention. He pushed his business card into my hand, which I dropped into the litter bin as I disembarked.
Should I buy a sign to advertise my autism, to make neurotypicals more comfortable with my self-conscious body language, lack of eye contact, difficulty with small talk and other social differences?
Or perhaps is it high time people of all ages and backgrounds started accepting people for who they are, not passing judgement and unsolicited advice?
This well-meaning stranger’s ignorant attitude spurred me even more with my objective, to increase understanding of autism and promote acceptance and inclusion.
Autistic kids should be supported as their authentic selves, growing into autistic adults, comfortable in our skin, not trained to mimic societal norms or excuse ourselves.
My younger self would have taken this personally. Older and more confident me made a mental note to jot this encounter down as just another anecdote about unsolicited neurotypical advice.