Many of my autistic friends have talked to me about how they feel that others think of autism as monolithic in nature: that all autistic people are the same, or that there are only two or three kinds of autistic people. Early diagnostic criteria for autism was narrowly defined, and while the criteria for diagnoses have broadened in the past twenty or so years, the general public is still taking its time to catch up. The media does little to abate this misconception, with depictions of autism that are few and far between and often couched in the language of autism as an “epidemic.” While those who live with autistic people and those who are autistic may know differently, the uninformed and uninitiated may think the adjective autistic refers to a homogenous group.

One of my responsibilities as an autism advocate, I feel, is to dispel this myth of autism as describing a narrow range of individuals. The experiences of one autistic person can be very different from the experiences of another. The range in ability and disability within the autistic community is almost as large as the number of people in the community itself. What one person may find as their strengths, another person can find as their weaknesses and vice versa.

I recall working during my summer between high school and college with a student with whom I had such a gulf in life experience. He was nonverbal, had gross motor skill difficulties and was intellectually impaired. While he and I shared certain common experiences—we both have difficulty eating certain foods, both have difficulties with crowds and loud noises and both need structure and order in our lives to be comfortable—we also had great differences in what we had experienced, what we were capable of doing and what we were unable to do.

When I write this column, I always try to write from a first-person perspective. I am the ultimate authority on my own experiences, and so I write about who I know best: myself. However, I am also an advocate for a large and diverse community. I have been given opportunities that others have not, given resources others have not had and as a result now have a platform through which to speak my mind to a wide audience. That is a privilege I do not take lightly. So while I think it is important to speak to issues that affect all autistic people, I fear speaking to experiences I have not had. For instance, I don’t know what it’s like to be nonverbal, or to have difficulties with my gross motor functions like the student I worked with during the summer. His are experiences that many autistic people have had and continue to have, and it would be wrong of me to speak for those people and their experiences I do not share.

I began this column with the hope that I could give voice to an often voiceless community. My fear has been in addressing experiences I have never had I will take away the very voice I sought to give—That I will be a part of the problem I sought to correct. However, I think that addressing all autistic experiences is important. I do very little to expel the myth of the autistic monolith when mine is the only perspective being heard. I hope to do more to speak to autistic experiences outside of my own in the coming months and years. Unfortunately, I, like many autistic people, find change difficult. So I may need some time to adjust.