This guest post was written by Gianna Hitsos, a high school senior on the autism spectrum who will soon begin her college career.
When I was in elementary school, I was severely bullied. When my parents went to discuss it with the administration, they suggested that we tell everyone in the school that I had autism and bring some awareness with hope that the kids would understand and the bullying would stop. The administration told us not to tell anyone because if I did, I wouldn't "be able to blend in.” This, from a person who told my parents that her spouse developed autism from a car accident. Lucky for me, my parents didn’t listen to her. Then a mother of another child in the school asked my mother, “When did your daughter go insane?” It broke my mom’s heart. She got angry and decided that I should tell everyone and start to spread awareness so that people would understand.
Unfortunately, I think it was too late for that school because the bullying continued and we ended up moving to another state to get a fresh start. From that point on, I told people that I was autistic. Since autism is a hidden disability, when compared to a physical one, people just don’t get it. When I started 7th grade, I began to spread awareness by talking to the student body about bullying, what it was like to be autistic and the importance of inclusion. Then when I got into high school, I founded the yearly Autism Awareness Week and continued my mission.
Recently, I started to blog about my college search as an autistic student. There were comments about the fact that I was “labeling myself” as autistic and how that was wrong. I thought that was rather strange, since the whole reason for the blog was to show the college journey from an autistic perspective. I have always referred to myself as autistic, or as an autistic singer or actor. Mostly because I am trying to show that autistic people are capable of great things despite their disability.
I would eventually like to be known as a singer who just happens to have autism. I hope that one day my musical talents are what people remember about me and that my autism will not define me. But unfortunately, autism awareness and acceptance of autistic people has not come to that point yet. I wrestled with disclosing my autism when I spent an overnight stay at a college and ultimately decided to tell my host that if she sees me doing or saying anything that is different, it was because I had high-functioning autism. She was so cool about it and as a result, I could be myself.
I know that there are several students in my school who are on the spectrum and choose not to reveal it to others. I truly respect them because it is a personal thing, but for me, disclosing my disability has actually opened the door to inclusion and understanding. Most importantly, it gives me the opportunity to speak about awareness. I am sure that there will be people who won’t bother with me once they know I have autism, nothing new. I always wonder if someone will look past it when it comes time for relationships. I definitely feel confident about what I’m doing to spread awareness and the path the decision to disclose my diagnosis is taking me.
Telling people about what it’s like to have autism is not only educating my community, but it’s also rewarding for me as it creates possible friendships with other people. Eventually, I think there will be so many people diagnosed with autism that there won’t be any reason to label ourselves. That has its good and bad points. In my honest opinion, no one should be ashamed to disclose that they have any disability. I hope that one day people won’t have to label anyone anymore and that a person with any disability will not be judged by the disability, but as a whole prson. I hope someday people will know me as just an accomplished singer instead.