Autistic adults are disadvantaged in our community on multiple social, economic, and cultural fronts.
There is a general misunderstanding about autism in terms of it being perceived as an “invisible” disability. It’s often said that autistic people look “normal” or are told “you don’t look autistic” (whatever autistic is supposed to look like). This, of course, changes when autistic people are placed in high stress situations and experience a meltdown. If this occurs in public, autistic people are viewed very differently — and not “normal” at all. This can have a devastating social, psychological, and even economic impact.
For these reasons, and especially for those who are so-called “high functioning” (note that most autistic adults don’t care for this term), autistics often feel compelled to work hard masking their disability in public. The effort of masking in public, however, has a significant downside in terms of psychological and emotional cost, and many autistics suffer significant consequences in private.
There is also a misconception that autism is an issue of childhood only — as if autistic children magically never grow up! Further, there is the perception, sadly often championed by organizations claiming to support autistics, that it is a tragic and negative burden on society. There is some truth to the latter. The depression and suicide rate for autistics is at least double that of the general population, and autistic adults are also 83 percent more likely to be unemployed or under-employed. As a result of all of this, many autistic people feel detached and alienated from their communities.
Autistic people, however, can and do flourish — enjoying their lives and actively contributing to their communities. It takes understanding, education, leadership, and advocacy to change negative perceptions, both from the general population and autistic adults themselves, to help achieve this. Given the right supports, autistic people can flourish in a neurotypical society to enhance not only their own lives, but the lives of others around them.