This week actor Wentworth Miller took to Instagram publicly announce that as an adult, he was diagnosed with autism. His openness about his diagnosis reminds us that adults (and children) who are on the autism spectrum are not alone. And as the parent to an autistic child, to see such a visible presence out there succeeding helps to fight the lingering stigma.
“It was a long, flawed process in need of updating. IMO. I’m a middle-aged man. Not a 5-year-old,” he wrote. (Miller is 49.) He also acknowledges that being able to receive a formal diagnosis, regardless of his age is a “privilege many do not enjoy.” Getting a diagnosis can be difficult, especially for people of color. By calling this out from the beginning, he is making it clear that he isn’t just doing this for his own purposes, but to truly raise awareness.
Importantly, Miller acknowledges that he’s still new to the autism diagnosis, and says that he doesn’t want to be a “loud, ill-informed voice in the room”. Instead, he just wants to acknowledge his presence within the autism community, and points out that there’s a wealth of knowledgeable influencers all over social media.
“The #autistic community (this I do know) has historically been talked over. Spoken for. I don’t wish to do additional harm,” he said.
By not centering himself, he is shining a spotlight on the voices that are all too often unheard.
My son is preparing to enter the real world — as in looking for a job, going on dates, and hanging out late with friends. He is 14 years old, and he is autistic. Years ago, when he first began kindergarten, his teacher pointed out that he was not engaging with kids in the way she would see in her classroom over the years. She told us that his inability to use his imagination and play was limiting him. We took note.
Fast-forward to third grade and many teacher meetings later; we got him evaluated, and he was diagnosed with Asperger’s. Asperger’s is no longer an official diagnosis, and we now know (and love) him as autistic. As his parents, we work hard every day to support him, because we live in a world that does not fully understand his diagnosis — and does not particularly understand him. It is sometimes worrisome to think of how this world will react to him as he grows (and how he will react to the world).
As our son grows from an autistic child into an autistic adult, he wants to do things other teens do. He wants to date. He wants to hang out late and go to parties like some of his friends. He wants to learn how to drive a car. He wants all of the “normal” things other teenagers want. He deserves all of those too. He wants to be like other teens, accepted and understood. As his parents, we want him to do those things, to have a social life the resembles that of his friends, but at the end of the day, we must also be, a little more guarded.
My wife and I are constantly fighting the push and pull of wanting to allow our teenager freedoms, within parameters that fit for our ASD son. But we also know we need to adjust according to his needs, too. At some point, we must let him live his own life without those parameters. Let him explore and live life through his own lens. It scares me to think that in a short few years, we will have a young adult thirsty to get out there and be. But like those whom Wentworth Miller thanks in his Instagram post, we need to allow our son to move through the world in a way that makes sense to him, whether or not it makes sense to us.
Wentworth Miller isn’t the only celebrity bringing adult autism to the forefront. When Amy Schumer announced during her Netflix comedy special called Growing that her husband, chef Chris Fischer, is on the autism spectrum, I think a lot of people were shocked. Not shocked by the fact that he has ASD, but because even knowing that, Amy still married him. I believe there is this perception in our culture that people with mental health disorders, especially with ASD, are not deserving of love or intimate relationships. In her new HBO Max series called Expecting Amy, which aired on July 9th, she takes viewers into the world of what it’s like to love — and live with — someone on the spectrum.
Through films, television shows, organizations, and advocates like Wentworth Miller and Amy Schumer, we can collectively make an effort to understand ASD a little better.
The statement which touched me most from Miller’s announcement were this: “[B]eing autistic is central to who I am.” This is the very lesson I want my son to learn and embrace. And thanks to the visibility that is being brought to the autistic community, that might just be a little bit easier.