This guest blog post is by Ann Kagarise. Ann is a writer, self-advocate, photographer and assistant director at a school for children with autism.
This was said to me at a coffee shop on my vacation to Los Angeles:
“I would like a large coffee.”
“Were you talking to me?”
“Oh, I didn’t think you were talking to me. You weren’t looking at me.”
This was said to me at the airport going through security on the way home from Los Angeles:
“Come on. Hands over your head. No, this way.”
“I thought I followed the pictures.”
“No. The picture shows above your head. Not on your head,” the security guard said, shaking her head at me.
Oh, I have more examples from my trip.
I always travel with someone and my external brains help get me from A to B and help me understand the world around me when it is moving so fast, but there is nothing they can do when people have no room for slower processing and invisible disabilities. Because
I don’t have an obvious disability, that gives people permission to talk down to me because they operate much faster than my brain computes.
I’m not being defiant. I’m not purposefully trying to hold up a line or not look at you. It is the way my brain operates. If you deal with the public, you should be aware of invisible disabilities. I didn’t feel less than until you just looked and talked to me that way.
As Temple Grandin says, “different, not less.” I’m not asking for the world to slow down to my pace, even though sometimes that would be nice. All I’m asking for is BE AWARE. There is no look to autism. Don’t assume that the person talking and listening to you understands all that is expected.
Defiance and being lost are completely different things. It felt like I was in a tornado and the world was spinning around me and I was trying to make sense of all that was going on.
Talk slower. Repeat without frustration. Explain. Provide visuals.
If a person is just standing there, looking at you, there is a chance they need you to go slower. I get that a security checkpoint at the airport has to be fast, but with that said...Please don’t talk down to me when I don’t understand. Just repeat. When things are moving at that pace, I miss words. I miss directions. Your frustration will cause me to shutdown.
I have autism. I am doing my best to function in a world that goes much faster than me. I might not look directly at you, but I still should be able to order a coffee.
With the population of autism going up every day, assume that you could be serving someone with an invisible disability. Be respectful. We are trying to make it in your world. The least you can do is train all staff to be aware of invisible disabilities. The more you do that, the easier it is for us to reach our full potential, as adults.