One of the first, and most important, things to be said about existing in society as an autistic person is that it’s tough. In my time in the autistic community, one of the main things that I have seen that brings us all together (sadly), is ill-treatment and violence towards us at the hands of allistic (non-autistic) people; I have never met an autistic person who doesn’t have some experience of this. Autistic people don’t get spoken about this way very much, but we’re some of the most brave and resilient people – we shouldn’t have to be, but we are. The fact that the majority of us have post-traumatic stress is a clear indication of what we are put through over the course of our lives. There’s a saying in the community online, that it is very telling that the diagnosis criteria between a deeply traumatised person, and an autistic person, is so blurred – our current society is not capable of raising an autistic person that is not traumatised in some way. So I want to start off by giving you the credit you deserve for your strength and determination to still exist in this world. Doctors, and the people who get their ideas about autism from doctors, like to speak about autism like a list of deficits, as though autistic brains were disordered or ill. But it’s important to know that autism is not a disorder, not a ‘condition’, and you don’t need to be cured. You are not broken, and there is no part of you that is missing for being autistic. You aren’t a piece short of a puzzle.
You are a whole person, and you are wonderful just as you are.
Our natural way of being is not accommodated in society – being autistic disables us because allistic society is deliberately designed to exclude us. At every point in our lives when interacting with the world, we are met by the coldness and cruelty of ableism – we face closed doors when we try to fulfil our dreams, and we have our wonderful potential stifled by the suffocating mould we’re forced into. An autistic is like an oak tree in a garden of box hedges, held back and trimmed and pruned in order that we fit in, but so that our full potential height and spread are never reached. One of the most common ways allistics go about this is through behavioural ‘therapy’ – it is usually called ABA which stands for Applied Behavioural Analysis. The practitioners of this look at natural autistic behaviours and try to figure out ways to train it out of autistic people, usually children, into altering their behaviour and suppressing their autistic traits, at great cost to the autistic child’s mental health. Therapy is meant to be helpful and healing, and can sometimes be useful for autistics to help us to learn certain skills and cope with certain issues. But ABA is not therapy. All behaviour based practices of this nature (to iron out autistic behaviour) are abusive – it’s not just that the methods involved are cruel, which most of them are, it’s also simply the principle of trying to force autistic children to abide by allistic standards of behaviour and communication. But if someone is wired a different way in their brain, of course this isn’t going to do anything but distress them. Many other autistic adults will tell you this is awful, and if you’re reading this and you’ve been through it, I want you to know that you did not deserve to endure it. Growing up autistic can instil a lot of shame within us. The only advice I can give you about how to deal with this is to connect with other autistics in some way, which this blog speaks about here. Another great idea is to consume content that reinforces the fact that autistic brains are great and not broken; for example, reading books with well-written autistic characters or movies or series with non-stereotypical autistic characters (usually found when the actor is autistic themselves off-set!). These can be rare, but you can find some lists online, curated by other pro-neurodiversity autistics. The process of working through internalised shame is a long and difficult one, in my experience – don’t worry if you’re taking a while. It takes a lot of time to untie the long deep well of webs that society has sown within you and around you, telling you that you’re not amazing and not meant to be exactly who you are. Maybe we will never fully be able to sort through it entirely, but a lot of it comes from within. The more you can apply an alternative voice, internally and perhaps externally, to argue back against the discrimination from society, the more confident I think you could feel.