Home > Autism Speaks U > The Black, The White, and The Grey

The Black, The White, and The Grey

This guest post is by Autism Speaks staffer Kerry Magro. Kerry, an adult who has autism, is a graduate student at Seton Hall University, and is actively involved with our college program. Autism Speaks U is an initiative designed to support college students in their awareness, advocacy and fundraising efforts.

Should I even be surprised? College has taught me many things; how to self-advocate, how to spread awareness, and maybe most importantly that if you have a passion for something you need to go for it no matter the costs. At the same time what college also unfortunately taught me was that there are still a great deal of ignorant people out there that simply think of the black and white and avoid the grey completely.

One problem that I see as a huge indicator of this is the whole concept of “out growing” your autism. When I was first diagnosed my psychiatrist told my parents that autism was a life long diagnosis while at the same time other doctors told them there was a possibility that certain individuals would out grow the symptoms that led to the diagnosis.

I think the whole belief of this puts negative annotations toward our community. Saying someone has out grown means someone can be inclined to say someone was cured of something naturally and diminishes the need for legislation reform and funding. In either case I think we need to avoid those debates as they just cause clutter overall.

I feel more and more that I fall in the ever-growing “Grey” section of people. Sure, I graduated from college and am in graduate school but I’ve had two decades of multiple therapies and learned over time to take care and progress within myself. I’m also clearly not the typical “normal” that some people look for. I have eccentric tendencies that make me unique.

My question for those reading is, “What do you think is unique about autism that makes the understanding of individuality important?”

Let me know if you have any thoughts! Thanks everyone!

I just started a new video blog called “My Autism My Voice,” and this is one of the topics I discuss. This is one of my Autism Speaks U related blog posts. If you would like to contact me directly about questions/comments related to this post I can be reached at kerry.magro@autismspeaks.org or through my Facebook page here.

  1. February 6, 2012 at 11:53 am

    I think your amazing growth is evidence of how an individual can make a personal choice to grow. Thank God we ARE given free will, plus the brain plasticity that enables us to develop, and choose to further help others, whether through legislation, research or reaching out to touch someone personally. Hurray for YOU, Kerry!

  2. February 6, 2012 at 11:53 am

    I don’t think you out grow autism. What does happen though is that people with autism work incredibly hard to try and get on with the everyday life. Through some support and enormous amount of effort from the person, they learn to appear ‘non-autistic’. I hate this because saying that the person has outgrown it totally discredits the person’s hard work and it trivialises the difficulties they continue to go through.
    Another issue is that I’ve experience is that because you appear to others as ‘getting on with life’, they will either not believe that you have autism, or refuse to help you because ‘there are people out there that are in much worse situation than you’. It’s like if you try really hard to get on with life, you’re not entitled to any help. It’s not an encouraging enviroment to promote personal growth of people with autism.

    • Tracey
      February 7, 2012 at 9:04 pm

      Very well put!

  3. Garkis
    February 6, 2012 at 11:58 am

    When I was young there was the notion that you could outgrow it somewhat in place. If you learned to play, and your speech normalized (they didn’t seem to worry about the difference between speech and communication) you were labeled residual and to some degree your parents were told to forget all about autism or you would somehow become more autistic.

    Then things changed. People started to understand higher functioning forms better and that seemed to help them understand it as a lifelong thing. It’s developmental after all. You grow, you change but by it’s very nature it’s pervasive.

    I think the understanding of individuality is important frankly for everyone but in autism it has to be understood that each person with autism has their strengths and weaknesses and comfort zones. That in an environment where you have a high level of comfort you have the highest likelihood of passing for normal and let’s face it in most universities the threshold for normal is a wee bit different.

    When I was at university I fit in fairly well. My differences although blindingly obvious within some of the courses I took were for the most part seen as positive and to some degree sources of bemusement to my professors. The other students sought me out to study with and so on. Outside that familiar and comfortable environment there were less shades of grey to it.

    I don’t think the believe that someone can outgrow autism has somehow crept back in. I think there is still and always will be a degree of the notion of cure. While I was at college I really thought I could outgrow my own. I emulated the andriod Data trying to outgrow my programming. I have a better handle on it now. I know it impacts me in all situations but which situations are most likely to let me perform at my best.

    What I have found for myself is that where I am as far as symptoms depends so much on other stressors so I can range from almost appearing low functioning to seeming like pretty much any other intelligent but slightly odd woman.

    I think what people who are able to advocate for themselves should be working towards is ensuring that supports are there for people to find that optimal environment where they are valued and can contribute.

  4. Cecelia Howell
    February 6, 2012 at 11:59 am

    I think autism is unique period. My son is ASD/PDD. Each day he is improving himself especially since he began headstart at 3. He stil has speech impairment along w other things but him and i 2gether r doin what we need 2 do 2 conquer these challenges. Thinkn bout it one of the most unique things ive seen my autistic lil man do is lining things up. If one thing gets out of place he gets mad. Guess its like his own little world. Wonder what makes him feel the need 2 line things up. I am proud 2 say i love my son bunches and stil willing 2 face challenges

  5. February 6, 2012 at 12:02 pm

    I am a substitute teacher in VanBuren County, Michigan. I have the privlige of working with young autistic students on a fairly regular basis. At first I knew absolutely nothing. Now, I am proud to say, I know how truely special each child with autism is.They each have a very, very special skill. Usually very artistic in some way. As an artist, I have learned to appreciate my special students. I love them all and only rergret that I don’t have a teaching degree so I can spend more time learning from these fantastic children

    • February 6, 2012 at 2:04 pm

      “I have the privlige of working with young autistic students”

      Thank you Natalie for these beautiful words. I wish the world was filled with more people like you.

  6. February 6, 2012 at 12:21 pm

    Also, since everyone is at a different place in their development, no one will ever understand things exactly the same as we do (except our creator). That’s another reason why we all need each other: to see different points of view and expand our perspective. That’s why we need good examples around us. I know you’re not a parent yet, but I think you’ll like the article I wrote on mirroring in the brain, and teaching empathy to children: http://www.edudesigns.org/EmpathyRules.html

  7. February 6, 2012 at 1:02 pm

    It’s good — and has been very rare on “Autism Speaks” — for that group to have an autistic person *actually* *speaking*.
    Commonly, even such “Autism Speaks” site-areas as the one titled “In Their Own Words” have featured parents posting _their_ own words, under thet site-area’s logo which is a pastel portrait of a toddler — the same pastel-toddler picture has been used there even when, rarely, “In Their Own Words” features an older autistic child or adult autistic person. I hope tat, too, will change, as “Autism Speaks” becomes better at treating us (autistic people) as people. Even tiny steps in that direction should be encouraged at first …. Though the road is long, given the previous behavioral repertoire of the organization.

  8. SY
    February 6, 2012 at 2:36 pm

    To answer your question Kerry, is to ponder the very existance of each of us! My son is autistic – the dreaded PDD-NOS and the “re-classification” of Autism scares me to death! I have faught the public school system for 4 years trying to get them to recognize the diagnosis (no, it is not ‘Physician Didn’t Diagnose’). My son is not a behavior problem, but rather a people-pleaser. He often engages in off-task behaviors. He bites his nails to the quick. My son smiles and hugs the familiar adults and moms he comes in contact with. (He knows that this is a behavior that will get rewarded with smiles and praise.) My son does not cry, except with me. Not when he is sad, not when someone hurts his feelings, not even as a 4-year old when he was getting bitten by another child. He smiles. I have been told by other parents of Autistic children how lucky I am that he smiles. My son is easily frustrated and can not verbalize his frustrations, so he says that he is okay. My son cares deeply for others and assumes that others also care for him. He is smart and charming and delightful. My son is perfect.

  9. Amayo Ogbemudia Peter
    February 6, 2012 at 3:46 pm

    My friend Kerry, the autistic mind is a unique mind;it is close to God that is why they are different, Am a facilitator and behavioral therapist, I love their world but pains me they can’t control ours.

    The way an autistic person does things can never be the same with the normal developing person. what I like most about them, is they are strait jacketed, no matter the situation, their yes remains yes and no remains no.

    once you understand them which of course could be time consuming you will be happy.

  10. February 6, 2012 at 6:41 pm

    When the right people are envolved in the life of a person with autism they can thrive, go to College and do amazing things. Autism does not determine who a person is, people with autism have gifts within in themselves, treasures that God blessed them with. Also, people with autism as they age they become more self aware especially for the higher functioning, but they don’t out grow it.

  11. Sarah Furrow
    February 6, 2012 at 11:55 pm

    I think that we are missing life in the big picture. Autism is just a label and is as manageable as hair, there are good days and bad but once you learn to tame and deal with it you have won the fight. Even if you cut it all off it will still grow back and pose different challenges. If it falls out you find a way to make do. Problem solving is key and if you have problem solved a way through college than I would say there is your individuality.

  12. Tracey
    February 7, 2012 at 9:27 pm

    SY, your son sounds a lot like mine. I have three boys, ONE of which — my 5 year old — is autistic. Diagnosed as PDD-NOS, some of his specialists are leaning toward an asperger’s diagnosis. Cameron is unique. He is extremely smart, could read and count to 100, do basic math and countless other skills most 1st graders struggle with — before he even started kindergarten. I swear if you gave him enough Lincoln Logs he could build an entire city and he can use a computer better than most adults. Yet this same child still struggles with fully potty training, communication and social interaction. One of the most upsetting things to me is that with Cameron you can tell he DESIRES to be social and he talks highly about his classmates but he doesn’t know how. He will be the first in the room to console a crying child or the first to walk up and say “hello.” Sadly, he will usually walk away and then play by himself at that point. He is a very happy, loving child. He almost never complains. Never tells you something hurts or that he doesn’t feel well. He is very much a people-pleaser. It gives me such an indescribable feeling of joy to read this blog because it gives me confidence that with our continued dedication and hard work, Cameron will be a productive, safe and happy adult. Notice, I intentionally do not say, “Cameron will be fine…or normal” Cameron IS fine. Cameron is perfect as he is and I would not trade him for anything. As a mother the normal worries for our children are multiplied for our autistic children because of their vulnerabilities. I pray every day for him to persevere, to be resilient, to never lose that honest kindness and optimism while not being too naive and to just be happy, safe and surrounded by wonderful people who at least try to understand him, but most of all accept him just as he is.

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