Everyone who knows me well knows that I am autistic, however as autism is a hidden disability, when I am out dealing with the public things can be really tough. Quite often I get tutted at by cashiers as I fumble about trying to find my wallet, notice the eye rolling as I take longer than most to pack my shopping and get accused of being rude when I don’t say thank you to someone for waiting for me so I could go past (I don’t always realise that is what they are doing!). I have been followed in shops by staff and security guards, possibly because I look ‘shifty’ and suspicious (also because at 4’9″ I look like an average 11-14 year old!) and have had misunderstandings with members of the public that have escalated to a point where I end up having a meltdown.
I was sick of it. Sick of always having to explain my condition. Sick of the common response ‘oh everyone has that nowadays…’ when I explain my autism. I went online, searched ‘autism awareness badge’ and a couple of pounds later, a badge was being delivered to me. Initially both me and my carers were sceptical as to whether the badge would make much of a difference, but as we went for a walk around the park, we noticed that everyone’s eyes were being drawn to the bright yellow badge with ‘I have AUTISM Please be patient’ written on it.
One day, queuing up to buy something, I got into a muddle again, dropping everything and getting anxious about holding up the people behind me. The cashier smiled at me and said ‘Don’t rush darling, you’re okay’. I looked up, smiled and said ‘thank you’. Much more slowly (and more accurately) I pulled out my purse, paid and packed my shopping away. I was shocked, but this time in a good way! I have noticed other things too. People laughing at me from afar (a common occurance) who then spot my badge as they get closer then look super embarassed, less passive agressive ‘huffing’ from fellow shoppers as I make social faux pas left right and centre, less horrified staring as I jump up and down and squeal because I get overexcited. Just generally, less negativity!
It is amazing how something as simple as a small badge can completely change how strangers treat you. It also shows that there is definitely a lot more autism awareness now as people see the badge and know what it means and no longer seem confused by the concept. Wearing the badge has allowed me to be myself when out and about without worry of getting mistreated. Obviously the badge can’t protect me from everything, but on the whole it has made life a whole lot easier!