Thursday, August 25, 2011

"Wouldn't your life be easier if you didn't identify as autistic?"

I've heard that question a lot lately. Well, enough to justify thinking & writing about it. It sounds like a simple question, but when you think about it, there's a lot of complicated nuance involved.

Yes, my life would be easier if I didn't identify as autistic. No, my life would not be easier if I didn't identify as autistic.

People have a great deal of prejudice about autism & other developmental disabilities. I've been bullied out of activities and classes because I am autistic; I've been discouraged from even trying others. People and professionals who are 'familiar' with autism but unfamiliar with me assume that I am less capable of many things than I am-usually in a patronizing & insulting way. It is often assumed that I cannot be good at some of my hobbies and simultaneously assumed that I have some sort of magic autistic savant skill. That part of being autistic really sucks-having to prove my humanity & my individuality over and over and over and over again is exhausting.

The thing is, I don't really pass. I shouldn't have to, either, but even if I wanted to, I just don't. There are things about who I am that scream DIFFERENT. People probably don't peg me as autistic right away-they aren't used to thinking of autistic and adult in the same sentence-but they know damn well I am not of their tribe. Abberation is a crime whether there's a name for it or not.

Distancing myself from the term 'autism' doesn't mitigate the problems (or strengths) that got me the label in the first place. I am going to be labeled in some way whether I let my neurodiversity freak flag fly or hide it in the back of my junk drawer. Being oversensitive, undersensitive, unaware, overaware, strange, belligerent, overly predictable, unpredictable-all of these things are unsafe to be, regardless of diagnosis or lack thereof.

The fact of the matter is, I am autistic. If I didn't identify as such, I would be doing myself (and I like to think the autistic community as well) a huge disservice. It's who I am, easy or not. Owning who I am is a big part of getting other people to accept that I and people like me are really real human beings rather than damaged goods. If it's something that is so bad that I cannot acknowledge that it's part of me, why should I expect people to treat me and mine as equal? The short term convenience of possibly almost passing just isn't worth the long term consequences to me and my autistic peers.

Call it what you will-my brain is autistic and my experience is autistic. It isn't the easiest identity or neurology to live with, but it is mine.

I think the answer just came out to "no, it wouldn't be easier. It'd just be hard in different ways".


dc said...

When working with children who are autistic I never make any assumptions or make a specific plan until I get to know that autistic PERSON. The word autistic does alert me to things I need to be considerate of but it doesn't tell me who that person is. So looking at it from the other side it helps to know a person is autistic but I don't make any judgements or assumptions. I simply get to know them as I would anyone else. I have a brother (deceased) who is autistic, my adult son is autistic and many of my friends likewise. However they have very little, if anything, in common. So what does it tell me if a person says they are autistic? Not much, but it helps.

Φίλοι της Ειδικής Αγωγής said...

Reading all the useful comments, I come to a serious conclusion. It takes two to accept diversity. Well-intentioned people who focus on the outcome rather than 'labels', 'accepting or refusing them' 'irritabiliity', 'accusation', 'denial', 'defence' and even more !