Here is another great piece from Trapper Shafer, an autistic adult and father to both neurotypical and autistic children. Enjoy!
Sometimes, I’d rather have cancer.
The struggle of being autistic and successful, sort of.
Okay, I bet you are thinking surely autism can’t be worse than cancer, but stay with me, it’ll make sense. In most senses yes, cancer is actually worse than autism. I know that better than anyone with two relatives having lost their fight with cancer and three that were able to beat it. Autism as a successful adult is difficult too. Never before has this been so clear, as when I was working in retail management for a large chain store. I’ll refrain from saying their name as the upper management team doesn’t come out too well in this narrative. The last thing I would want is their legal team after me.
Fear of Judgement
In the first couple of years after my autism was discovered, I was extremely nervous about anyone figuring out that I was autistic. It was mostly due to my own ignorance about the condition. I was afraid I would get demoted from my department manager position or lose my job if people found out. I was also afraid that people would make fun of me. I was bullied quite badly through middle school and high school. I was terrified of the bullying happening again. In the town that I lived and worked in. There was only one other autistic adult I met that didn’t live in a group home. Finally after about a year of support through, therapy, online support groups, and this compatriot in my town I began to open up.
“You Don’t Look Autistic”
Please, never say someone doesn’t look autistic. I hated when I would finally be brave enough to tell someone, and they immediately tried to dismiss it and tell me I wasn’t autistic or couldn’t be autistic for any number of reasons. Often their reasons would be things like, “you can keep a job.”, “you’re a department manager though.”, or even “but you’re married and have a kid.” As if success at those things was something they thought autistics were incapable of. This is where the cancer comes in. If someone told you they have cancer, would you tell them, “You don’t look like you have cancer.” Probably not. Hopefully not. When someone has cancer, people don’t doubt it. There are clearly visible signs and often a general plan of action.
That is why I say sometimes I’d rather have cancer. Not because I think cancer is better, but because of how people respond when someone has cancer. Autism doesn’t always have physical signs. Nor does it always have a clear plan of treatment. Each person with autism has a unique journey that may not work for other autistics.
The reality is that, no, I would not rather have cancer, and cancer is a very serious thing. That being said, this analogy is very effective at conveying the frustration of an “invisible” neurological issue to neurotypical who don’t understand. I wonder how many adults with autism are not getting assessments or help because they are afraid of being judged. The easiest solution that I see is allowing autistics to stop masking their symptoms, and that will require neurotypicals to refrain from judgments as they start to see the real autistics behind their masks. As we learn more about autism, and culture becomes more accepting of neurodiversity we will, hopefully, see more people unafraid to seek assessment and find any helps they may need.
Trapper Shafer is an adult with autism and the father to five wonderful children, of whom 2 are autistic as well. He is also the founder of UNPUZLD, a clothing brand promoting autism acceptance and supporting autism by donating 50% of all profits back to various autism foundations. If you are interested in learning more about Trapper and his work, you can visit his website here: https://unpuzld.wordpress.com
Dr. Jessica Myszak has had over 11 years of experience performing psychological evaluations with children and adults. She offers both in-person and telehealth evaluations. In addition to seeing clients on the Chicago North Shore, she is able to work with families who reside in Arizona, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Nevada, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and North Carolina, Washington DC, Wisconsin, and soon, Alabama and Kentucky! If you are interested in learning more about potentially working with her, you can visit her website here or email her here to get the process started.