Far From Normal

[creative nonfiction]

Given my personal perspective as an autistic person, nowhere in my personal vernacular does the word “normal” appear. It’s something I’ve never experienced. Neither is it something I have aspired to become. Perfectly “normal” is so far from my life goals that you might not believe me when I say that I would change nothing about me except one thing: I would be able to speak like you, giving me the independence that you all take for granted.

Sometimes when I dream at night, I can talk with no problem, and I feel so free. Perhaps you can imagine what that feels like for a minute! But imagine what it’s like for a lifetime. When I think about it too long, I know this is my fate in life.

All things considered, I would forgo the gift of speech if that meant I had to give up all the other ways autism affects me. For example, music is such an experiential event for me. I see what I hear in colors that represent which emotions are triggered for me. Unfortunately for a majority of people, they only hear the sounds coming through their headphones. For me, they appear as a swirling cloud of color, a hypnotizing form that is reminiscent of swallows in flight. I find these colorful expressions also radiate from people’s strong emotions. Using this insight as a way of reading someone’s mood gives me a deeper impression of the people around me. Really, the power to empathize so strongly is a gift.

Also, I have so many strong associations with memories that I can remember what it was like to be a baby in my mother’s arms. She would sleep alongside me, and I would lay in her scent, completely safe. I remember being in Kindergarten, learning my letters and numbers alongside other little kids. They didn’t know how to regard me, and I remember my teacher not even bothering to try to help. How strongly her dislike for me flared! This, I remember as if it were yesterday.

Having a different choice in my experience has made my life so rich and beautiful that now I have made it my life’s goals to raise awareness to the ways autistics can be included and contribute to society. Perhaps the most painful reactions are from people who fear me or think I am retarded. Not only does this insult me, but it is a form of oppression that other marginalized groups experience. What it results in is discrimination and using my disability against me.

Now that I can communicate, I have learned that this discrimination is born out of misinformation and a lack of exposure to people who are autistic. Really, not ever having contact with people who are different only reinforces stereotypes and ingrains them further. Using my voice for autism acceptance is the goal I wake up with every morning. It’s the one thing that continues to motivate me and keep me up when the world gets too mean. What I would like to help bring about now is a new understanding of autistics, and how we are able to have a positive impact on society.

I am standing on the shoulders of all those who came before me: the ones who were put into institutions and orphanages; the ones who have been segregated into special ed classrooms; the ones who are working in sweatshops for a quarter of what the minimum wage is; for all those who will lose their Medicaid benefits if the ruling party has its way… They are my inspiration, aiding my energy and giving me reason to fight the good fight. What I want is equal rights for people with disabilities and the understanding that we are a gift, not a burden.

Using my voice to bring awareness feels natural to me. Only when people really listen to those who live with autism will we see how our society can improve for everyone, numbering in the millions of people affected. Then we will continue this movement worldwide, changing the world. As we would want equality, so would people in the far reaches of the planet. Imagine what a wonderful world this could be.

 

Niko Boskovic is a 17-year-old high school senior from Portland, Oregon, who has written extensively about life as a self-described “low-verbal autistic.” Starting at age four, he received forty hours of behavioral therapy each week. At age twelve, the only offered option in the public school system was a self-contained classroom. A last-minute decision to participate in training on the Rapid Prompting Method changed his life forever. Within one year, Niko started high school fully included, using a letter board to communicate. He is expected to graduate second in his class in June 2019 and will be pursuing a degree in writing.