Being openly autistic can be a nightmare for a number of reasons, but there are few phrases that annoy me more than…
“Don’t let your autism define you.”
This phrase cuts deep into the core of who I am, and fundamentally undermines me. When a person says this to me, it is clear that they have not taken the time to understand the lives of autistic people.
Autism is more than a diagnosis, and it is not a mental health problem that I suffer from. Yes, there are traits of my diagnosis that can be very disabling, but as we know from the social model of disability, this is largely because the world is not designed for me and my fellow autistics.
For me, and all other autistic people, autism is an inextricable part of our identity. Autism is an integral part of me. It defines my neurology and subsequently, it defines every aspect of my existence. Without being autistic, I would not be the person that you know. Every aspect of who i am is dictated by my autistic neurology.
Even as I write this, I can imagine the cries of despair from the martyr parents. How dare I suggest that autism is anything more than a tragedy? Should I not be capitalising on my struggles? Should I be lamenting my weakness for more Instagram followers? Simply put, there are those who would rather autism was seen as an appendage, a parasite that hangs on to me, waiting for quack curists to come along and bleach the different out of me.
These people anger me in a way that I cannot even begin to describe. I would even go as far as to say that it is the aforementioned despair and cure talk that contribute to the disturbingly high suicide rate amongst autistic people. When they see autism, they see something that needs to be eradicated.
When I see autism, I see beauty. I see a rich culture of fierce advocates who want nothing more than to be accepted by a society that seeks to alienate them. I see the communities of autistic people, finally making each other feel heard and loved. I see people with remarkable insights and talents that contribute positively to the world. When I speak of autism defining me, this is the definition to which I am alluding.
I do not think, communicate, or in any way behave like the neurotypical population. I have my own language, the universe is a different place viewed through the lens of my autistic mind.
In my life there has been a single immutable constant that has always been with me; I am autistic. I was autistic on the day of my birth, and I will be autistic on the day that I die. Autism is not something I carry with me. I am autism, and autism is me. We are one and the same, a beautiful symbiosis seeking to change the world into a more caring and accepting place.
Where others see suffering, I see a community and culture of autistic people who will fight endlessly for the justice that so far has mostly evaded us. That community is the face of autism, and THAT is why it upsets me so deeply when you tell me not to let my autism define me.