Should I call myself autistic?
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Some people believe that what you acknowledge will be made real. So if you label someone, then you will encourage him to be autistic. Nonsense. Autism is not something people make up - it already exists in physical form no matter if we acknowledge it or not. We can't remove autism by denying the label.
Some say that autism is a negative label because it lowers one's self-confidence to handle social situations. However, when I first found about about autism, I was happy to know that I was not purposely antisocial, that there are people with the same problem and that now I might find help for my social problems.
To me, autism was a useful word. It is the magical word that can ward off bullies and get teachers to pay attention to me. It might get me into a school where I don't have to be liked everyone else. It might turn anger into empathy when I made some unintended social mistakes.
Dangerous Advice for revealing autism
I have seen instances where people advise autistics to share their disability with their schoolmates. That may be unwise.
In the above case, Coolie is 13.5 years. Assuming that he is mainstreamed with same-age peers, there is a good chance that his friends will not understand him. Coolie may also have difficulty understanding the implications of self-disclosure (i.e. executive dysfunction). Strangers should be more careful to advise him to consult someone who can help him rather than ask him to do his research.
We will have to be even more careful with children. Children are wonderful beings, yet they can also cruel. They may see an autistic child as an intruder in their little tribe: "If you can't fit in, you are out and will be picked on. Maybe we will be nice when teacher is around, but when she is gone... And you are stupid because you won't tell on us." It is a rare school, or the rare child, who has the emotional maturity to fully embrace such differences.
Including the children with autism
I believe that Coolie's teachers are in a much better position to help. I suggest the following to them:
No lecturing: Ordering and lecturing the children about being nice to the autistic child will usually backfire. The children may seem well-behaved, until the teacher turns her back. Their defiance merely becomes discreet and harder to catch.
Set an example: Treat the children as you would like them to treat others. Be a nice teacher. Use diplomacy instead of force.
No Favoritism: Some teachers have a tendency to overprotect the autistic child. This will create the impression of favoritism and induce jealousy.
Tell a story: Use stories like the Ugly Duckling to drop a hint to the children. Avoid any lecturing on the moral of the story. Just bring out the story with passion and empathy. Done well, the children will absorb the emotional impact of the story and naturally treat the autistic child with care and respect.
Make the child useful: Whenever a crisis arises that threatens everyone, people will unify against it together. Create or find a situation that requires everyone to work together. Give the autistic child a job that he can do well but which other children either dislike or can only do poorly, for instance, taking photographs during playtime. When the children feel that everyone is contributing something important, they will value each other, including their autistic friend.
I am autistic; should I hide it?
Although Coolie's question no longer accepts new answers, this is what I will probably answer him:
"It is best to ask some adults for advice before you share about autism. Share some facts about autism with your teacher and ask for help on how to proceed. If it is too difficult for you to approach your teacher, ask your parents or some kind relative to help you talk with your teacher.
When both you and your helper decide that it is good to share about autism, work out a plan to demonstrate clearly your contribution to your class and why your classmates should respect you. I wish you luck in your efforts, for there is a time for everything under the sun."
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