Andy Burns discusses growing up with autism in the UK in this video essay.
Andy begins with a brief montage of himself explaining that various places inside his house do not feel “right” to have this discussion, thus ending up in a beautiful park. Fortunately for those among you scratching your head, this is merely the beginning.
Andy explains, with a sweet picture of his young self in a park on screen, that he was diagnosed with autism in the 1990s at the age of five. It was a very different time, “Of course, there were autistic people and people talked about autism, but it was never in the best of lights from what I remember.
“I always felt I was being scored… That people had a massive checklist of all of the things that Andy needs to do to be ‘normal’ or less autistic or appear a little bit more socially acceptable,” he continues. “And a lot of the time it felt like that checklist was full of Xs.”
He explains that this way of thinking stemmed from a conversation he had with his mother at the age of 10; prior to this, he had begun to feel different to his peers, both socially and in terms of academia at school. “After a long discussion, my mum basically gave me a word for how I was feeling: autism,” Andy says.
He further describes feeling “different and alien compared to the rest of the people I was with”, and having a term for his feelings did not initially help. Andy explains he was unable to “accept myself for who I was, even though I had a word to fully explain it”. Becoming more aware of his differences and the root of why other children were cruel to him was not an uplifting experience. “I wasn’t proud of my differences,” he adds. “I wanted them gone.”
Through the experience of meeting other autistic people, Andy’s outlook on autism has changed, “I just started to accept my diagnosis. I started to accept myself, which is the most important thing.” Coming to terms with this has been facilitated by his realisation that there are plenty of positive aspects to autism. It has not been an easy journey, but Andy encourages his autistic viewers to focus on themselves and how amazing they are.
While he concludes that he certainly had many privileges in the assistance an early diagnosis offered him, he adds that it did prevent stigma from school, peers and people generally not being understanding, many of which still exist today.
“Autism is a part of me, and that’s something to be celebrated, I think.”