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Features / Special Reports / 2015 Year in review

Artist with autism illustrates ‘invisible disability’

22 December 2015

Sounds, smells and social encounters are just a few of the challenges that Leironica Hawkins, an artist on the spectrum, faces every day. Here, Hawkins uses comics to illuminate what she calls her “invisible disability.”

Andrea wants to relax, but her roommate has sprayed the apartment with a disinfectant. The strong fragrance makes Andrea sick, and she loses her temper.

Andrea is interviewing for a job at an art gallery. She has difficulty maintaining eye contact and is reluctant to admit that she’s had trouble keeping previous jobs.

A loud voice on the supermarket intercom interrupts Andrea’s shopping. She later leaves the cereal aisle after beeps from an employee’s scanner disrupt her concentration.

On her way to her new job, Andrea decides not to board two packed trains. She is afraid she might panic in the crowd. She is late for work and lies about why because she doesn’t want to reveal she has Asperger syndrome. She is afraid of getting fired yet again.


  • markfriedman

    People don’t understand autism, in general. HFA (High Functioning Autism) aka Asperger’s aka somewhere on The Spectrum IS completely invisible disability. If you were blind or missing a leg, no problem. If your brain is “wired differently” so that your view of the world differs significantly from neurotypicals, clearly it’s because YOU don’t understand.

    I was diagnosed with ADHD at 58 and Asperger’s at 60. I had been in therapy since I was 6, but none of the doctors I saw recognized a neurological problem, not a ‘talk therapy’ one.

    Maybe someone smarter than me can come up with a way to address this situation – which is serious enough to fall under the American Disabilities Act.

    Sadly, the Baby Boomer generation is finding about it now (neurology came after Feud, Jung and Dr. Spock ) and I would guess a significant portion of the population, in general, is affected in varying degrees.

    One thing that’s desperately needed is public education – and not just books from people like Temple Grandin and Tony Attenborough — we need everyday folks to talk about their lives and share their experiences in a loud, broad manner that cannot be ignored.

    I have no idea how.

    • JaySprout

      Aside from the fact that functioning labels are inherently ableist against Autistic people, ‘High Functioning Autism’ is NOT interchangeable with Asperger Syndrome – this contributes to our (Autistic people) exclusion and invisibility in many autism spaces or in society in general.

      • markfriedman

        They may be close enough in adults so that they are. It’s a spectrum condition.

        There’s a huge amount of information on this. You could start here: http://www.webmd.com/brain/autism/high-functioning-autism

        • enkiduslover

          “[W]e need everyday folks to talk about their lives and share their experiences in a loud, broad manner that cannot be ignored.” Jay just did. And you ignored him. Please consider listening to autistics *first* if you want to support us.

          • markfriedman

            I did not ignore him. I responded to him with information he may not have been aware of.

            Education IS the problem (one of them, anyway).

            If you haven’t clicked on the link I supplied to Jay and read the information – especially Atwood’s conclusions – please do so and post your impressions about what I said.

          • markfriedman

            I’ll save you the trouble:

            The reply is that the research and clinical experience would suggest that there is no clear evidence that they are different disorders. Their similarities are greater than their differences. We appear to be taking, particularly in Europe and Australia, a dimensional view of autism and Asperger’ syndrome rather than a categorical approach. (Leekam, Libby, Wing Gould and Gillberg 2000). At present both terms can be used interchangeably in clinical practice.

          • enkiduslover

            You did ignore him by thinking that you could educate an autistic person about autism.

          • Mark Friedman

            Are you suggesting an autistic person is unable to learn about autism or any other subject that person has an interest in? If so, please provide the source of your information.

          • enkiduslover

            No, we certainly all have a lot to learn, autistic or allistic. It is still insulting for you to claim to know better than we do.

          • I’m VERY careful about what I say and how I say it.

            I suggest you not generalize from saying you’re insulted (which is a personal feeling) to it’s insulting (where you are projecting a generalization of how you you feel).

            There was nothing in what I wrote that was in any way personal, except this: It’s from my point of view AND your milage may vary.

      • Dana

        This argument between Jay Sprout, Mark Friedman, and Enkidulover (Gilgamesh fan?) is a moot point. As of the DSM V, there is only one autism diagnosis anymore – and that is Autism Spectrum Disorder. That happened because clinicians realized there was no point in compartmentalizing people into, for example, High Functioning Autism (because they WERE NOT verbal before age 2) or Asperger’s Syndrome (because they WERE verbal before age 2). By the time those kids are in school, it doesn’t matter when they became verbal, which was the main difference between HFA & AS diagnoses. The important thing is that everyone on the spectrum, no matter where they are on that spectrum, all have similar differences to NT people. But because of the nature of a spectrum, each ASD person presents in VERY unique ways – which seems silly to try to put them in separate “boxes.” You’d need to either have a different box/label for practically every person on the spectrum, or else just get rid of all the boxes/labels. Throwing out all the separate autistic labels and simply recognizing who IS or IS NOT on the autism spectrum, allows streamlined ability for ASD people to benefit from certain strategies, therapies, and services (according to their personal needs and preferences) that can help them navigate through the world a little easier.

    • Timesith

      Unfortunately a lot of the voices are being covered up by “inspiration porn” weirdos who think that the things we do every day are “inspirational”. “Oh, you have [x diagnosis] and you were able to put on clothes and come to the store? That’s soooo inspiring/neat/I’m in awe!” And the other voices are the ones who want to cure us (us being neurodiverse people). More still are the ones who tell us that we don’t know what we want because we’re “not right in the head” and “we don’t know what’s best for us, they do”. I still don’t understand why, if there’s so many neurodiverse people in the world, it’s taboo to talk about anything other than good things. For example: if someone is feeling depressed, people don’t want to hear about it, they just want to hear about the latest sports game or whatever. Everyone has to put up this facade of “everything’s fine and perfect” when it’s not, in fact it never has been. One of these days, the facade will crack and everyone will realize that they’re all the better for it, and that there are other people going through the exact same things they are, or that there’s people who have already gotten to the other side and are willing to help them through it.

  • JaySprout

    I’m personally more bothered by the assumption that my disability is a personality flaw – e.g. when I’m unable to talk with people it’s assumed I’m anti-social or cold, when I struggle with executive dysfunction stopping me sleeping or I struggle at the gym due to sensory issues people assume I’m lazy, etc.

    Also, second panel – Autistic people being too likely to be honest when we shouldn’t be, job interviews are not autism-friendly in any way and I’ve made this mistake in interviews myself (explaining why I was fired in a way that would make an employer less likely to hire me – they blacklisted me).

    • enkiduslover

      I just had to deal with that personality flaw assumption from the psychologist who updated my diagnosis. His report accuses me of “perfectionism”, after I had tried to dispute that in my sessions; I had pointed out that in the given test, I wasn’t getting any ideas about the solution in the first place, rather than having ideas and dismissing them out of some assumption that they weren’t “perfect”. And he had even said elsewhere in the report that autistic and/or ADHD traits must not be mistaken for character flaws. >.> I wanted to walk up and smack him with his own report for that ridiculous hypocrisy.

    • Herstory

      this anecdote is spot on, as if the ability to be disingenuously
      misleading is somehow a character virtue! too often the dishonest create
      most of the worlds problems, and for the honest, somehow that
      is their burden to bare.

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