Dec 31, 2011 0 Share

The Year of the Aspie

Champagne glasses, sparklers, and disco ball celebrating New Year's.

I have a prediction for 2012—well, a hope, anyway. This will be the Year of the Aspie. The signs are out there. The New York Times last week published an article profiling a young couple with AS, Kirsten Lindsmith and Jack Robison, which got picked up by newspapers all over the country. Robison’s dad, John Elder Robison—who also has AS—is a bestselling author, and increasingly in demand as a speaker. A young British man with AS named Scott James is firing up the Internet with his singing. And our newest contributor, John Scott Holman, is poised on the brink of what will be an undoubtedly spectacular writing career. What’s more, characters with Asperger’s syndrome are turning up with greater frequency in popular culture, a sign of AS having crept into our national consciousness, even if the representations aren't always spot on.

Needless to say, I am thrilled. This is an important first step in our national dialogue about how to include adults with autism into our communities well. I’d love to see so much more of this during the coming year. As an increasing number of Aspie students attend college alongside neurotypical peers and with accurate diagnoses in hand, perhaps we’ll actually see the professors at those colleges learn how to work with them successfully. (Let’s think beyond extended time on tests, please … ) Fingers crossed that maybe this will be the year that we see the employment rate for people with Asperger’s increase, with more opportunities in both competitive employment and creative entrepreneurship available. Wouldn’t it be great to see adults with AS get really good support in managing co-morbid issues such as anxiety and depression that often get in the way of successful functioning? And maybe, just maybe, to have some of that national awareness translate into less bullying, teasing, and being shunted to the side as weird or annoying?

I choose to believe it can happen.

But here’s my worry. In a nation often more concerned with political correctness than political wisdom, we will think being “open-minded” about Asperger’s syndrome is enough. That we get to pat ourselves on the back because we love “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time.” That being a tad more forgiving of social awkwardness means we’ve got this adult autism thing wired.

It doesn’t and we don’t.

I really want 2012 to be the Year of the Aspie. Because maybe then 2013 will be the Year of the Autistic Adult. The year in which we, as a nation, do some real talking about how many adults on the autism spectrum there are in this country now without services. And about how many more there will be when the one in 110 children with ASD become grown-ups. About how vast our societal needs are to provide them with opportunities, and how our floundering economy will impact service provision. That most autistic adults will outlive their rapidly aging parents, parents who are running out of money themselves. That we will realize there are many adults with autism who cannot speak, but given access to alternative means of communication, have lots to say. That people with autism don’t stop learning at 18 or 21, and that we need to be smart, thoughtful, creative teachers. That everyone deserves access to meaningful activity, and support in reaching their fullest potential. And that if we can’t get on the stick and figure some of this out, down the road we will be staring at a huge population of completely disenfranchised autistic adults—adults without jobs, without healthcare, without homes.

So, I choose to crack a bottle of champagne and celebrate the upcoming Year of the Aspie. To toast the national commitment to adults with autism that this first step portends.

Ever hopeful.