Dear Autistic Teens,
My name is Sienna, and I am an Autistic adult. I’m now 23 years old, but I still remember being a teenager like it was yesterday. And maybe understanding about Autism is increasing now – but the voices of Autistic people are still on the sidelines. That means you probably still feel alienated, like someone who doesn’t belong – but I’m here to tell you, you have a place to call home.
When I was a teenager, I was bullied a lot for being Autistic. I believe now that it was because other teens didn’t understand Autism – they were just kids too, after all – but at the time, it still hurt. And I think one of the worst things was that I didn’t understand myself.
And that wasn’t because of a lack of professionals, or caring parents, or teachers… it’s because they themselves were miseducated about Autism. Part of that was because of a lack of understanding at the time, but part of it was also ableism. They didn’t understand why Autistic kids and teenagers acted differently, and they thought that they had to teach us to act ‘normal’ (if such a thing even exists).
And that’s still somewhat true today – though things are improving. Now, through the advocacy of Autistic adults and young people, we are showing that we aren’t their definition of ‘normal’ – and that, right down to our neurotype, we differ from our peers. And we’re showing that’s okay.
I wish I could tell you that we’d already done the work, and that the world was now an inclusive place – but you already know that to not be true. We’re still advocating, every day, but there is now a place we can call home in the Autistic community. I never had an adult to tell me that it was okay to be me, but I hope that I can be that adult for you.
Now, I’m sure you already know some of these terms, or in the very least you identify these behaviours in yourself. Some of them may have caused you grief from your peers, a parent, or a teacher, because these are some of the most outwardly obvious traits of autism. But these behaviours are completely okay, and you’re not alone in having them – it’s just your neurotype.
You know when someone says something, and you find yourself repeating it under your breath? Even if it’s not a conscious decision? That’s called echolalia, and it helps us process what has just been said. If you’re like me, and did this as a child, you might have gotten in trouble for “mocking” the person who had just spoken, but I’m here to tell you, it is a completely normal trait of autism, and you never had any ill intent. Echolalia is helpful to many of us, and I continue to do it as an adult.
Sometimes, phrases might also repeat over and over in your head, with the exact same cadence as you heard them. This is echologia. Fewer science-y people know about this one because it’s not outwardly apparent, but I promise you, many, many Autistic people have phrases repeating in their heads all the time.
You’ve probably also sometimes had an overwhelming urge to move, in repetitive motions. This could be flapping your hands, shifting your weight from foot to foot, twirling your hair, bouncing up and down, or many movements. This is called “stimming,” and it’s one of the most amazing feelings in the world!
Stimming usually happens when you have a strong emotion, which can be positive or negative, and it helps us regulate our nervous and sensory systems. Again, someone might have given you a weird look for it, or a teacher might have told you to use “quiet hands” (one of my most hated phrases in school).
But you know what? If it feels good, go ahead and do it! If you’re also anxious about who you’re around, feel free to close the door of your room, and start jumping around– that way, no one’s going to see it, but you’re still going to feel great!
And then, of course, there’s the big one that I’m sure you’ve heard about many times – eye contact. If you’re like me, you hate eye contact. It’s uncomfortable and strange, and I can never understand what the person is saying if I try to do eye contact.
So, don’t bother! We don’t owe them anything! But of course, if you feel like you need to – try looking at their forehead. I can assure you, they won’t know the difference.
I guess, at the end of the day, we don’t yet live in a world that is truly and unconditionally accepting of Autistic people. I wish we did. But, we have a community now, and our community is strong. You are part of it, and you are welcome here.
Now, go ahead, demand the help you need, demand that those around you are inclusive, and that they should accept you for who you are. Have confidence in yourself and be yourself – you have a community behind you.
- Autistic Listening: you cannot tell if I am paying attention - February 12, 2022
- A Letter to Autistic Teens - January 17, 2022