When I was young, I didn’t know a lot of people like me. This is not to say that I knew no one who I had anything in common with, but that I knew very few people who thought and acted in the same way I did. There were some children among my peers I could relate to, like the kid I met at my local library who paced when he was excited in the same way I did. We once had a very engaging conversation while circumambulating around his kitchen table, always opposite one another, as our mothers watched in bemusement. Or the child I met at swim lessons who liked getting his face wet just as much as I did (which is to say, not at all).

These moments of connection, while nice, were few and far between. When faced with this lack of connection, I turned to media—TV shows, movies and books—to try to find characters I could relate to—characters who were like me. I did find some, like Data and Mr. Spock from Star Trek (two of my childhood heroes), but they were the exceptions rather than the rule when it came to characters to whom I felt I could relate. As a result, I often felt that I needed to be more like the characters I did see so much more often. That their behaviors and ways of being had to become my own—that in a way there was something wrong with the way I was. If there wasn’t, why didn’t I know or see more people like me?

As I’ve grown, I’ve discovered two reasons for this seeming scarcity of relatable figures in my life. Both stem from issues of representation in our society.

The first reason stems from how society views autism. For those of you who may not know, I am autistic. While as an adult I am very proud of that identity, as a child I was not. I was taught, through the actions and reactions of others, that autism was not something to be talked about in public places. That it was something to be kept secret, hidden, only revealed to those who needed to know. As I grew, I realized that others had received the same message that I had. Those who were most like me—who shared the same autistic experience that I had and still do—didn’t feel they could talk about it. Many autistic people have been left feeling isolated because of this taboo surrounding autism, a true struggle for those of us with less than stellar social skills to begin with.

The second reason involves the media. Issues of representation have come to stark attention in recent years, and the autistic are among the large number of groups who are often underrepresented. Only very recently have I found shows or movies with characters who are openly, explicitly autistic. However, those who are often the subjects of some medical drama, the plot revolving around trying to treat some perceived wrong that apparently plagues the child. While there has been slight improvement in media representation since my childhood, I hope to live to see autistic people, along with so many underrepresented groups, come to flourish in a world in which they are well represented.