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Confronting Autism Preconceptions

By Brielle Williams

When I was ten years old, I beat up a kid in my basement. He wouldn’t stop talking and poking and yelling, so I jumped on top of him and scratched him until my brothers pulled me off. Instead of being mad, his parents gave my mom a book on Sensory Processing Disorder and Asperger’s syndrome.

My mom filled out the checklists in the book, and a worrying pattern began to arise. Did Brielle have Asperger’s? A year after receiving that book, I was diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorder. I also had a diagnosis of bipolar type two? Agoraphobia? Early age borderline personality disorder?

“We know it’s not just anxiety, but we aren’t certain.”

The SPD diagnosis opened doors for me. I began Occupational Therapy. I became a brush kid - an intense sensory therapy where three times a day my mother used a baby brush on my limbs and pulled on the joints five times. I began to acclimate to the sensory input from the world around me. I brushedmy hair for the first time in my life. I put on pants that weren’t sweats for the first time in five years.

But there was always something else.

In seventh grade, my school required students to do a “research” project based on a book. I did mine on Asperger’s Syndrome and felt worryingly similar to what I was reading. I got on a waitlist for the Legacy Center, an autism therapy clinic in our town.

I was 14 years old when I got my official diagnosis. Not Asperger’s, but Autism Spectrum Disorder - Level One. My family celebrated the diagnosis, and autism became something positive and wonderful in my home.

But outside of the home, not so much. I told some “friends” that I was autistic. And they didn’t believe me.

They mocked me behind my back for being weird. Told me I didn’t “look autistic”, as if autistic meant ugly. Any time I brought up being autistic, other students would say that I was “playing the autism card” or “lying for attention”. Inside the home, autism was wonderful. But outside the home, I learned it was bad and shameful.

But one of my friends said something that stuck with me.

“I don’t like you despite your quirks, I like you because of them. They are part of what makes you you, and I like you a lot.”

And even though I couldn’t talk about it in high school, maybe autism wasn’t something to be so ashamed of.

I've been so blessed with the people I’ve found surrounding me as I’ve entered my adult years. Now, talking about autism isn’t shameful, it’s inspiring. Instead of pushing down my story, I get to share it. I am so lucky and thankful for the people in my life. More importantly, I am thankful for my autism because I couldn’t be where I am without it.

This Autism Acceptance month, I challenge you to confront your preconceptions about autism. I’m asking you to speak to an autistic person, ask about their life and experiences. Autism isn’t something shameful, it’s something different. And being different is wonderful, even if it is hard.

Brielle is a behavior technician and public speaker. More about Brielle: I'm in my final semester of Psychology at Brigham Young University. Once I finish my Bachelor's, I aim to get post-graduate education focusing on Sex Education for the parents and therapists of autistic children. I hope that my efforts will one day help to reduce the sexual assaults committed against autistic people.

I hold a current position at Autism and Behavioral Intervention and have previously been an intern for the KFM: Making a Difference for Autism nonprofit. I also travel around the country to speak to Behavioral Analysts and parents about autism spectrum disorder. It's pretty safe to say that my life revolves around autism, and I wouldn't have it any other way.

As an autistic adult, I feel that it is my duty to make the world safer for autistic children and teens; whether this is through my work as a behavior technician, my contributions to the book series "Autistics on Autism", or my public activism work. My next step is to help by receiving my Master's and/or Doctorate so more opportunities can open themselves up for me.


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