In the light of it being Autistic Pride day today, I’ve been reflecting on what autistic pride means to me.
When I first got a diagnosis all of the initial reactions I received from people were negative. People didn’t see it as an answer. They didn’t see it as an identity. Instead, they saw it as excuse. As if I had woken up one day and decided I wanted a get out of jail free card for whenever I wanted to cover up social mistakes or avoid normal adult responsibilities (whatever that really means :P ). For me though, like many others finding out I was autistic wasn’t finding an answer to a small part of me or a reason for broken or dark parts of myself. Finding out I was Autistic meant I knew the name of the prism through which I had always seen and experienced the world. Most of that is light and colour not darkness or uncertainty. The uncertainty mostly comes from the outside in not the inside out, from the experiences we’ve had of being misunderstood and told we’re not good enough or something ‘other’ or ‘lesser’ and I think that’s one of the key reasons we need Autistic Pride.
As a child and young adult I spent a lot of time trying to be perfect. Now my wiser and more experienced self often worries that I’ve replaced perfectionism with productivity. But I’m trying to remind myself whenever and however I can, that the value of who we are isn’t about what we are and aren’t able to do on a given day. Because truly being authentic means that Autistic Pride is also about accepting ourselves. I think that individual acceptance allows us to be more effective as a vibrant and diverse community of imperfect and invaluable people in demanding that society accepts us for who we are both as individuals and as a community. That doesn’t mean we don’t contribute to change, or try to learn and grow into better versions of ourselves in ways that are meaningful to us. But it means we’re allowed to have down time, to have unproductive days, to not always be on high alert or focused on others needs or all the things that need to be done when we’re running on empty ourselves.
Photo credit: https://www.pexels.com/@evie-shaffer-1259279
Image description: A clear glass rivoli cut and faceted like it's a diamond with a rainbow extending from the bottom of it as it refracts the light.
Autistic Pride isn’t just about us as individuals. It’s not okay if only some of us are accepted. It’s not okay that not all of us are accepted for who we are and able to be ourselves in all the various situations and circles in which we find ourselves. It’s not okay if masking or being a quiet, partially hidden version of ourselves is the cost of acceptance.
We’re all equally valid whether we mask or not. Many of us don’t and those of us who do often do it more because we’ve become used to doing it or have had to in order to survive rather than because it’s what we want or intend to do.
Autistic Pride is important because it’s not always safe to be openly autistic. True acceptance means all of us. It means both loud Autistic people and quiet Autistic people. It means Autistic people who have more obvious support needs or communicate differently to us. It means Autistic people with vastly different experiences and views to our own.
For those of us who mask a lot, masking is costly and it often isn’t conscious or a real choice. Masking isn’t always possible and even when it is it drains our limited emotional and mental resources. It can leave us confused about who we really are and what we really want. We can become so used to being the one expected to change that we lose sight of ourselves. Lose sight of our values, our hopes or our limits. I personally think that burnout is often a symptom of not having our needs met and not getting to be who we really are often enough over an extended period of time. Autistic pride is about believing in a world where we can be ourselves authentically and unapologetically often enough that burnout doesn’t feel so inevitable, and acceptance doesn’t feel so conditional on us putting continued pressure on ourselves to extend beyond our limits and compromise our wellbeing.
I’ve written this post from my own experience as a white, cis-het, well-educated and meaningfully employed Autistic woman. I’m aware that I have privilege and acknowledge that a key part of Autistic Pride is also about celebrating and amplifying the voices of others in our community – and especially the LGBTQIA+ members of the autistic community during June which is Pride Month. So thanks for the time take to read these musing but please also take time to read or watch the following resources and follow some of the following amazing humans (just a few of a great many in alphabetical order):
- Alyssa Zisk - @yes_thattoo - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MThHggSoqX8
- Jae Evergreen - @EvergreensSys - https://www.amaze.org.au/2019/06/what-is-autistic-pride-day/?fbclid=IwAR1p2DlwFFAI0eXnIa4m8Izaibv63pG3jvnQASEGX2OFJj6RvQBzhDjDn9g
- Jarad McLoughlin - @jazer1985 - https://radioadelaide.org.au/program/de-stigmatised/
- Madge Woollard - @funkiepiano - https://www.autism.org.uk/advice-and-guidance/stories/celebrating-pride-month-madge-woollard
- Lyric Holmans (Neurodivergent Rebel) - @NeuroRebel - https://youtu.be/JWcfXB4BVpM
- Ruby Mountford - https://youtu.be/JWcfXB4BVpM
- Samson Rose - https://www.reframingautism.org.au/amplified-episode-6-sam-rose/
- Sonny Hallett - @scrappapertiger - https://medium.com/@sonyahallett/some-things-that-make-me-weird-bd821e090584