Charlene Vasquez with her Girls Write Now mentor, Caitlin Rimshnick.
Charlene Vasquez with her Girls Write Now mentor, Caitlin Rimshnick.

NEW YORK (WOMENSENEWS)– Autism. This word can mean anything to anyone. It’s such a varied term; those who have it can’t express what it is either. It is not something you can feel — or touch. Autism? Oh no, it is much more than that. Autism is color; it is complexity. It is day and night, happy and sad. It’s not one thing only and it is not rare. Although this is my own opinion that I speak, autism can be anything. There is no definite answer as to what it is or what it is not. Merely, autism is.

It never occurred to me that autism affected my whole life — oh, but I was wrong. I was diagnosed at birth, and it startled my mother. Was I sick? It was such a foreign . . . conception. I was the first child to be diagnosed in my family of three siblings, and so she cried. Tears were shed. It was heartbreaking. My mother, a warrior who ambled on burning coal since her teenage years, had no idea what autism was or if her second daughter would be . . . “mentally ill.” With the help of a psychologist, she sought and got help, and she learned along the way that autism can’t be “cured.” She continued, biting back tears and frustration, to get me to be the very best I could be. It was working, and I, at the age of 2, finally learned how to speak. “Mama! Papa!” and it was a mother’s miracle. All I could say, she said, were those two words . . . until I stopped altogether by 5 years old. When I couldn’t speak anymore, it raised concern. Most of my family members were alerted. Surely it was a mystery.

My mom brought me to the psychologist again for answers to this dilemma and the answer was given — I really did have autism. Imagine this: a friend comes up to you and tells you to get something for them, but you have no idea why they need it but you do it anyway. My mom felt this way about my autism, but she never gave up on trying to get me the right support. Support, huh? I didn’t know what that was until I turned 10, and even then I didn’t pay any mind to it. My comprehension matched the level of my general age group or higher — so why should I have paid any mind? It wasn’t until my mother explained her journey to keep me stable that I was aware of such a word; but that was only the exposure. I still couldn’t actually comprehend what that incredibly complex thing was.

Coming of age, that’s when I started to open my mind a little more. I fell into a depression at the age of 15 out of the yearning to not fail in school. Keep in mind that I had support — had. There was a battle between my preference of not wanting to travel to my appointments and the necessity for the appointments, so this caused my mom to shut down my support for about two years. This was happening around the same time that I was transitioning from the private schooling system to public, so my mom had to put a lot of thought into these decisions, which raised questions, too. Was it a mistake to remove my support? Was it a mistake to put me into mainstream after nine years of attending one private school? I was finally placed in public school, with a delicate yet intelligent mind at 13. I prospered like it was a dream that I could vividly see in my sleep. And yet this transition raised another dilemma for me. They put me in sixth grade to begin middle school and once my school guidance teacher noticed something was off, it was eighth grade for me in one year. What a transition!

Now let’s fast forward to now. One year in middle school and now I’m in ninth grade. It’s not a rare case to skip grades, of course, so I don’t have the heart to say it’s something I can brag about. Now I roam high school premises wondering who I am and why I do what I do. Bingo, I fell into a pit of darkness and anxiety. Of course I know everyone gets depressed or anxious, for they would be inhuman if that wasn’t the case, but because of this great fall, I realized how capable I am for someone diagnosed with autism and struggling. It surely is evident in my school work, and my principal came up to my mom herself and brought up how remarkable my effort is. Now I wonder, how did I accomplish this? Although, without a doubt, I am capable.

With this capability that I possess, I do notice why I went through what I did. It wasn’t easy to distinguish my intelligence and my mental state. Even to my current days, if I am to tell someone that I have this disability, they wouldn’t believe me. I don’t blame them. It is stereotyped that autistic kids are “incapable.” Even I, myself, forget. It’s something to focus on, but to not fuss over. So once it leaves your mind, then what? People forget autism, then they forget that autism is a world of differences — no two are the same and we can only acknowledge similarities. Sounds familiar, right? It should sound like the human population; something so diverse that if an alien asks about who and what we are, we would all have different answers. Science has that answer, maybe? But no, humans are not just one thing: we are many things and that applies to autistic children as well. Generalization is easy, but not right. Autism isn’t one thing; it’s many things and it’s beautiful, so that should never bring anyone down to hear, “your child has autism.” Autism simply . . . is.