We are the one percent

In an international setting such as the UN, it may be easiest to think of autism as akin to being an expat, living in a foreign country with an alien culture for a prolonged period of time. Autism is like being an expat in one's own country, like being an expat all our lives. We live in a continuous state of culture shock.

We find it difficult, if not impossible, to relate to non-autistics and often don't understand social and societal norms and customs even if we grew up with them. As we get older and as things are explained to us or we learn by observation, we may come to mimic others' behaviour, without ever fully grasping why they do what they do. It never feels natural. And far from appearing "normal" to others, they may perceive us as weird or odd, distant or aloof, arrogant or egotistical, when really we are confused and lost. Some of us will stop caring. Most of us will feel misunderstood. The most introspective will start wondering why we should be forced to behave like non-autistics at all. That is why a few of us prefer to live abroad where our quirks may get falsely attributed to us being foreign rather than to autism. We hope this will work to our advantage at the UN, too, where everyone is used to dealing with people from many different cultural backgrounds and treating them with equal respect. Autism is just one such culture.

Regardless of where in the world we live, autistics are more like each other than like the people surrounding us.  With the advent of the Internet, an autistic community has formed and helped overcome our isolation. We now know that we are not alone. Even those of us who are non-verbal may be able to express themselves in writing. Online fora unite autistics across the spectrum, from least to most severe. Autism is our shared identity.

According to the most recent prevalence figures, the autistic minority is estimated to comprise seventy million people, one percent of the world's population, or a population more sizeable than that of France or the United Kingdom. It includes those diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome and various other conditions on the autism spectrum as well as those children and adults who remain undiagnosed.

In our constantly evolving scientific understanding, autism is a neurological difference that is both genetic and hereditary. Many autistic children have at least one autistic parent or other relatives on the spectrum. While common co-morbidities such as anxiety and depression may respond to drugs, medicine has proven ineffective in treating the core symptoms or altering the core characteristics of autistics. There is no cure for autism, and we do not believe that a cure will ever be found. Medical research may, however, result in a reduced level of severity in the most severe, making them less dependent on family and professional care and support.

Autistics struggle as much with bias and prejudice as with health and disability. Challenges and severity vary widely between individuals, but commonly include difficulties understanding, and using, facial expressions, body language, tone of voice, and non-literal language, unusual speech and eye contact, apparent lack of empathy, dislike of small talk, repetitive behaviours and body movements, reliance on routines and rituals, restricted range of activities and interests, aversion to change, intense focus, perfectionism, dislike of being touched, sensory overload, and coordination issues. Autistics may be introverted or extroverted. Some of us have an exceptional memory, and many autistics are highly intelligent. We perceive and think differently.