Hello. My name is Chris Williams. Nice to meet you.
I recently celebrated an anniversary. If you’re reading this, thank you for letting me share it with you.
On January 7th of 2017, my doctor telephoned. My screening, my tests, my questionnaires, and interviews with my family had been reviewed and evaluated. My diagnosis was in the mail. “…Chris demonstrates pattern of behavior and impairment consistent with Autism Spectrum Disorder 299.00 (F84.)…”
I’ll introduce myself again, for the first time:
Hello. My name is Chris Williams, and I’m autistic. Nice to meet you.
My diagnosis was, it still is, mind boggling to me. Perhaps to those of you who know me. Perhaps not. To have a paradigm shift, at thirty-six years old, in self reflection, and in reflection about my personal relationships. My memories now telling me different stories. An awfully familiar stranger resembling me in mirrors. My internal cartography reordering itself, patterns forming across my strengths, my weaknesses, my ways of learning, my ways of thinking, and my ways of communicating. It’s been a cacophony of a change of perspective.
Outside my self, my genetics, looking forward and looking backwards, have been concurrent labyrinths to explore. My almost-seven-year-old daughter Calliope* is diagnosed autistic, and has significant support needs. At this time, she’s our only child with a professional diagnosis. In time, I’m confident she won’t be the only one. I’m 95% certain Caspian is; Catherina, perhaps closer to 35% sure. And casting a wider net onto my mother’s family, and onto my father’s reveals traits, behaviors, and whole individuals in different lights. Even friends start to take on new forms or more fully realized shapes, once you know the diagnostic criteria and prevalence of the condition, and not with an unreasonable eye.
You see, 1 in 68 people in the United States are estimated to be on the spectrum, and there’s talk that this is a low estimate. In his 2015 masterwork on autism, NeuroTribes, Steve Silberman writes: “…given current estimates of prevalence, autistic people constitute one of the largest minorities in the world. There are roughly as many people on the spectrum in America as there are Jews.”
That means there’s a lot of us out there. Out there in the open. Hiding within ourselves. Hiding from ourselves. Some of you reading this, maybe there’s some real questions you need to ask—or context you never thought to provide—about yourself to yourself. Or maybe about your spouse, your children, your parents, your brother or sister, your aunt or uncle, your friends, your coworkers. Maybe you’ll consider that people are built in strange ways, ones you wouldn’t expect to be so unifying. It’s a revealing thread of humanity to understand, and be attuned to.
It’s funny. Despite Calliope’s limited language, she has communicated more to me about myself, my family, and how to regard other humans than anyone I’ve known. She inspired me to learn, she inspired me to self-realize, she inspired me to seek my diagnosis, and now she’s inspiring me to stand tall and make my own truths plain for others to see. She is my skeleton key, my Rosetta Stone, my North Star in this journey.
It’s been a good year in this regard. With my vision unclouded about the best version of my self I can be, I stride towards the future with greater purpose. I am a proud autistic father of beautiful autistic children. I am a devoted autistic husband. I am Chris Williams, an exquisite, autistic human being, one with his eyes on horizons of advocacy, of leadership, and of making a difference for my family and for others. It’s a good place to be.
So on that note, happy anniversary. Here’s a toast to finding myself, and to all old friends and new friends alike. Thank you.
Editor’s note: While many people find comfort in an official autism diagnosis, getting one is not always affordable or accessible, plus the Autistic community generally welcomes people who are self-diagnosed.
If you are newly diagnosed with autism, think you might be autistic, and/or are the parent of an autistic child, we recommend the following books and resources:
- Welcome to the Autistic Community! from Autistic Self Advocacy Network
- Loud Hands: Autistic People Speaking, edited by Julia Bascom
- All the Weight of Our Dreams: On Living Racialized Autism, edited by Lydia Brown, E. Ashkenazy, and Morénike Giwa Onaiwu
- What Every Autistic Girl Wishes Her Parents Knew, from Autism Women’s Network
- Nerdy, Shy, and Socially Inappropriate by Cynthia Kim
- I Think I Might Be Autistic: A Guide to Autism Spectrum Disorder Diagnosis and Self-Discovery for Adults by Cynthia Kim
- Shift Journal
*The children’s names are pseudonyms.