Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The Island Myth

After spending a month on the road presenting to schools and listening to many stories I have learned that the myth of the island is alive and well. While often times the thought of an island conjures up thoughts of a tropical paradise this island I refer to is alone, desolate, and thousands of miles from anywhere. In other words, it's the most lonely place in the world.

When I got my diagnosis 10 years ago I went to that island, metaphorically speaking of course, and it was the worst trip of my life. Each and every day I was on the shores of that island silently yelling wondering if any one would ever hear me or see me as I knew that I was alone in this world. Think of this; think about what it would be like to know beyond a shadow of any reasonable doubt that you are alone and that not a single person in the world has ever felt what you felt or dealt with what you are dealing with. This is the island that many people on the autism spectrum feel as if they're living on.

There are others that live on these islands and it isn't isolated to those on the autism spectrum but also family members. For a student in school who has a brother or sister that is on the autism spectrum they may also feel as if their life is something that no one has ever gone through and that no one can relate to what it is like.

So how do I know that this island is still alive? Last month I spoke to over 7,500 students and I heard many stories from those on the spectrum and those who have siblings, but there's a moment in my presentation that truly lets me know just how vast this island is. At some point in my Q&A segment someone usually asks, and if no one does and time is running out I'll ask it myself, "How many people have autism?" To answer this I start with asking the audience, "Okay, by a show of hands, how many here knows someone or knows someone that knows someone that is on the autism spectrum?" What do you think the show of hands would be? Do you think that students would not want to admit to knowing someone on the autism spectrum?

The next 10 seconds are priceless as, from my vantage point on stage, I can see the desolate land of the island vanish as it's a guarantee that at least half the room will have their hands up and most of the time it's at least three-quarters. What was thought of as something that only they know about and no one else does quickly turns into something that isn't taboo or isn't isolated to just them but something real to everyone. An eerie hush comes about as everyone, students and staff, look around to see just how many people have known someone that is on the autism spectrum. After that hush people seated next to each other whisper, others gaze around the room with an apparent sense of disbelief, and after that the questions asked become much more intimate and real. Those on the spectrum, as they ask a question, proudly proclaim that they do, indeed, have Asperger's or autism, and the island myth has vanished and they know, as everyone knows, we're not alone.


  1. This is a great message Aaron - am going to give it to my 10 year old ASD son to read later.
    Thank you.

  2. This is a great message Aaron. I am going to give it to my 10 year old autistic son to read later.
    Thank you.

  3. For the life of me I don't know why Autism has had a social stigma attached to it. Is it because there's typically not an outward, physical sign to it? Because you can't look at someone and say, "oh look, that person has autism. You can tell because..."? No one would ever think to tell someone with Down Syndrome that they'll "grow out of it" and don't worry about it. No one would ever try to "spank" the cancer out of a child. Why is Autism treated like a naughty child? You stated that the difference between how we look at Autism now versus 10 years ago is how we'll probably view now, 10 years hence. I hope by that time we've grown as a society and we can stop blaming people for being born different from us.