As an autistic person, I do not appreciate being viewed and treated as though I am inherently faulty or damaged.
Many of us (autistics) have experienced how this plays out over a childhood, with our ways of being seen as innately wrong because they were atypical. This was, and is, happening whether or not we have the language to describe it specifically. It happens due to our atypical ways of reacting, socialising, moving, and being. It happens because we have atypical brains, and not because someone labelled our brain as such. Most (if not all) autistic people will be able to understand this feeling of the simple things you do – such as how you speak, how you eat your food, how you read aloud, how you express fear, how you express happiness, how you hold yourself when sitting, how you share stories with others, and how you show care and concern for others (among a list of so many everyday things) – upsetting people. It feels like you are just wrong. Because when everything you do makes people start devising strategies to make you stop, what else is there to think?
We have the lived experience of our natural ways of existing, being seen as wrong – regularly and repeatedly through our lives, in multiple settings. I remember how that felt when it began and how I kept trying to please others, only to keep failing because I was wrong no matter what I did. It was confusing because I was just living and it didn’t seem to me like other people tried this hard to just live and be. There were many different things I did, to try and meet the impossible standards set by those with typical brains. Even when I succeeded though, the cost was high. It wasn’t a nice feeling – that knowing that I was simply innately wrong.
As an adult, I was equipped with the language to understand my own neurology. I was happy to have a name for what I felt had always been there, swirling around as version of the confusing and unanswerable question “Why do people assume I will act like them and why do they think I am rude and awful when I do not act as they expect?“. This name was ‘autism’. I was Autistic! It was very cool to realise, yet also heartbreaking because it was so obvious then that being autistic was why I was treated as though I was faulty all my life. Not being called Autistic – just being it.
I came to realise that there was never anything wrong with me. I just lived among ableists who believed that there was a default way to live and be, and that things outside of that default way must be wrong. Some say “Use Person First Language!” Others say “Don’t label yourself/your child.” Others say “ABA broke my son out of his shell. He couldn’t communicate before then.” But whatever they say, they all share being ableist and believing that not being autistic is superior to being autistic. They may say different things, but they are all seeing being autistic as having something wrong with a person.
It sucks living among them. Pretty much every person I talk to or meet, is probably ableist and would think that people like me should be prevented from being born or should not be spoken about with accurate descriptive language because it’s uncomfortable and we all know that Big Pharma is taking over the world and just inventing stuff to medicate and don’t you know that autism is just an excuse? When I am on social media, they are the people writing about using essential oils “for autism” or the ones talking about “undoing” or “detoxing from” the assumed damage that is neurodivergence. They are the so-called feminists enabling pity parties for parents of disabled children, because disabled people are inherent burdens. They are media personalities earning brownie points by saying they would “never judge” the parent of an autistic child. They are the people insisting that someone isn’t autistic, they “just happen to have autism”. That ‘disabled’ is an evil word (because they, a non-disabled person, are making up their own definition of it). These people see autism and being autistic as inherent damage, fault. A flaw. A less-than-human half-person. A not quite Real Person. A brain gone wrong. So they’ll either squirm away from it (oh honey, you don’t need to call yourself that here) or yell at it (Autism epidemic!). It’s the same thing everywhere, and the ableists think so highly of themselves yet so little of me, never considering that an autistic person might be someone to ask about autism.
With the gaining of the knowledge that I was autistic, I decided to assist autistic children by speaking to parents and advocating for the right of autistic children to be accepted and loved as they are, and to play and learn and live and be with the freedom to be autistic and all that this involves. I do this now, and I am thrilled that many parents are willing to give their autistic children a better childhood than I had. But there are many more who are repeating the cycle that autistic adults have already seen and have already lived through. Whether you are doing it “nicer” than our parents and teachers and peers did, it doesn’t much matter. Stop calling us disordered. Stop saying we have a “condition”. Stop saying that we ‘just happen to have Autism’ as though being autistic is bad.
We are autistic and this is totally okay. It is rude to insist, over and over, that we are disordered, that we are wrong, that something damaged us, that we are broken.
Little girl me believed you and tried to comply with the impossible standards of acting like my brain was different to what it was. But now I am calling out your ableism in your beliefs of neurological purity. I am not disordered in being autistic and I never was.