Autism Makes Me Who I Am — and I'm Proud of That
I didn’t know there was an Autistic Pride Day — June 18, 2017 — until the day before yesterday! And now it’s really playing on my mind. I’ve read all sorts of comments on social media. Mostly of the “Oh, really, there is one?” variety. But there was one post…
The writer asked why they should have pride in their neurology, and asked whether an Autistic Pride Day drew unnecessary lines that divide humanity. Reading those words made my brain hum. The cognitive wheels started whirring, and I did what I always do. Parse, deconstruct and draw the meaning from the words. Cogitate, reflect and ponder. Then finally, systematize my thoughts and my response.
So here it is.
I am proud to be autistic. Due to heredity, genetically, I could never have been anything other than autistic. My sense of pride was built during a childhood being nurtured and supported as “other.” Boy, my family was different! Papa was a refugee who came here after WW2. Mum was from the country, but was a woman out of time. She, like many of her generation who were liberated by the Women’s Movement, might have felt happier and more fulfilled if she’d been born half a century later. Their family, me and my siblings, stood out like flashing red lights in our white bread and comfortably conservative neighborhood. Nah. We never fitted in! Too bright, too quirky, socially isolated, focus fixed somewhere in the distance and with weird interests, we were on the outer.
But home was different. My mother built a safe place for us, just like her mother had before her. Our interests were encouraged, our sensory challenges accepted as totally normal, and we were taught to read ourselves — in our responses to situations and stimulation, and in our anxiety. We were taught that all of this was just us. And that we were fine. The rest of the world may be weird, but home, and us, we were the sane center in an incomprehensible world. My autistic pride honors that upbringing.
Everything I am good at, all my learned skills — in particular, social and emotional skills — my acquired academic knowledge, and my hobbies and interests have been filtered through my brain. My autistic brain. And I love my brain. I’m damn smart, too. And all of those things are mediated by my autism. My drive to systematize, the ability to deeply focus on details, my drive (compulsion, really) to learn and assimilate information, my extreme empathy — and my creativity — are heightened because I’m autistic. I am so sick of the deficit model! Yes, my anxiety isn’t removable, my sensory processing is out of whack, and I’ve got quirks galore that Must Not Be Ignored. But I am a better person knowing my autism and learning to live with it. And I’m damn proud!
Now, here’s the nota bene, the coda, maybe even the mea culpa I am expected to add. Autism has its challenges. Some experiences are different because of how autism manifests in some people. All of us struggle at some level with anxiety, social skills and managing the demands of life. But these are characteristics, not autism itself. In a perfect world (Ha!, Oh, I know!) we would all have access to the right supports to allow us to function like everyone else. It’s not the autism, it’s the response of other people that undermine our abilities.
I am really starting to wonder how far we’ve come if I have to make cogent arguments in favor of autistic pride, rather than just having it! After all, we live in a world where millions of dollars are being spent on trying to “cure” autism and autistic people out of existence. That’s why Autistic Pride Day is so important. If autistic people can’t be proud of who we are, how can we argue for our right to exist? How can we fight the “cure” fantasy and the tragedy line spun by others? This is our neurology. It makes me who I am. It makes us who we are. It makes us live, do, be, feel, experience, sense, love and learn differently. Not less. Just differently. I think that is worth feeling a sense of pride.
So — Happy Autistic Pride Day. Here’s to a better one next year!
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Thinkstock image by m-gucci