Anita Lesko is a Columbia University graduate with her master’s in nurse anesthesia and has been working full time for the past 28 years as a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist. After getting diagnosed with autism at age 50, Anita has become an autism advocate, author, speaker, researcher, blogger, married to her autistic husband, and recently spoke at the United Nations.
“I recently had the distinct honor of speaking at the United Nations for World Autism Awareness Day 2017. It was an overwhelming experience to be there with such distinguished autism experts from around the globe, such as Professor Simon Baron-Cohen and many others.
I was on a panel of 5 people, moderated by Caren Zucker, journalist, producer, and New York Times Bestselling author. The topic of our group was dating, relationships and marriage. When it was my turn to speak, Caren turned to me and said, “Anita, you are the expert of all this! You have mastered everything! You have a highly successful career, and you are married! What’s your secret? What’s the myth about autism that you want to change?”
I began my response by sharing with the audience that I went the first 50 years of my life not knowing I’m on the autism spectrum. I always knew I was different and never fit in. I always felt like I was on the outside of life looking in. I couldn’t figure out how to get in. I never felt accepted by anyone other than my mother. To best describe the feeling of not being accepted, it’s seeing how uncomfortable others get when being around them, a feeling of rejection that they don’t acknowledge you, and don’t allow you to join into a conversation or listen to what you have to say.
I then talked about the misconception regarding love and autism. People think that individuals with autism have no interest in love, relationships or marriage. That’s simply not true. In fact, we have the need for all of that just like everyone else. Only we don’t express those feelings on our faces nor via body language. The saying ‘still water runs deep’ is a true idiom for individuals with autism. We don’t display our feelings on the surface yet underneath we have extremely deep feelings, needs and passions.
I think people will have an easier time to accept us once they understand that what they see on the surface doesn’t reflect what’s under the surface. Also, people need to understand that how we do express our feelings won’t be the same as others. We may appear or sound awkward at times. There may be a delayed response. It’s simply different. Every human being wants to feel accepted. We are no different. Society must not expect us to change, for then they are wanting us to pretend to be something we are not. Instead, society simply needs to open their minds and their hearts to those on the autism spectrum, and accept us as we are. Acceptance is a conscious decision each person makes. If a person has difficulty accepting others who are different than themselves, perhaps they need to pause and reach deeper inside their mind and heart. Diversity is what makes the world a great place. Individuals with autism are the splash of color in an otherwise gray world! Accept us as we are, let us be free to be ourselves, and we shall continue to share our gifts , making the world a better place.”