If You Took Away My Autism...
“Can you tell me something about yourself?” If you got scared this was a job interview, don’t worry. I just wanted to get you thinking about the things that make you, you. Go ahead, take your time. While you’re busy, I’ll tell you some things about me. I like to knit. My favorite animals are llamas. I hate bananas. I love playground swings. I’m very sarcastic. OK, I’m done. Do you have a list sort of like mine? Now I want you to think of your list… and throw half of it away. That’s it. Half of who you are, all gone. How are you feeling? Hold that feeling in your heart while I tell you that’s how I feel every time someone suggests that it would be better if I cured my autism.
There are certain groups of people who are very vocal about how they believe autism is some terrible ailment that needs to be cured. I’ve noticed these people are rarely autistic themselves. Family, friends, partners; I won’t deny these people have a stake in what happens to autism. Autistic people like me are often told they need to empathize with these people, recognize their struggles, even validate their experiences. Which sounds reasonable. Until you realize that in some cases, their struggles and experiences have resulted in them wanting you dead.
OK, maybe not dead dead. Not physically dead. But in “curing” autism, they’re removing every part of me that’s autistic. Take that away, and I’m not me anymore! My autism affects every part of who I am. It colors all my experiences. Look up at the things about me in the first paragraph. If you remove every trace of my autistic self, the only thing left is the llama bit. The llama bit is just hardwired into my brain. So the llama part survives. What then, am I losing? Knitting is gone, because I use the soft yarn and the rhythmic needle clicking as a stim. And bananas? The worst texture you could ever imagine. The smell is pretty offensive too. Swings engage my proprioceptive senses. And my sense of sarcasm? I rely heavily on scripting and mimicry to get by socially, and my dad is the most sarcastic guy you’ll ever meet.
I am proud to be autistic, so I try to embrace my strengths and raise up my community. But I don’t want to give some idealistic impression of what goes on in my brain or my life. I can be proud of who I am, autism or not. Embracing myself as a whole doesn’t mean everything is perfect. Some things about autism suck. It sucks that to be accepted, I have to change the way I communicate, every time. It sucks that I have to spend mental energy managing my sensory input. And it really sucks that sometimes I lose my words. I get stressed and all of a sudden the words in my head won’t come out of my mouth.
These are all very legitimately terrible things. And while when asked if I would take a magical Autism-B-Gone pill, my answer is an adamant no, if given the choice to temporarily dull or block some of these symptoms, I might say yes. Just think if I got to be the one to set the communication tone. If I could go see bright fireworks or loud concerts. If maybe my words could come out 100 percent of the time…
A lot of this is hypothetical. There is no magical autism erasing pill. Nor is there a symptom reduction / eradication pill. And as much as I hate speaking in hypotheticals, I’m doing it because this is an important topic, and it needs to be discussed. Not just by doctors or therapists or parents. Autistic people need to be a part of this conversation, because the future is coming. Magic pills are coming. And if we’re not actively discussing the morality of things like this, they’re going to become a reality before we know what to do with them. So please, neurodivergent types, make your voices heard; make people listen. And parents, partners, professionals: just listen.
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Getty image by Haryigit.