An Open Letter to South Asian Autistics

Dear South Asian Autistics,

Hello! My name’s Iqra, and I’m a Muslim, Pakistani autistic woman with ADHD. You don’t know me personally, but I wanted to write this letter to you in the hopes that it can prove to be of help in terms of finding clarity and a basic understanding of your autistic identity as a South Asian person.

I was diagnosed at 17 years old and only afterwards realized how many perpetrations our culture still withholds against neurodivergent people. The lack of understanding amongst the South Asian community is telling from the reactions often recieved over things they are unsure of. The unfamiliarity results in ignorance, which is not your fault. It goes to show the depth of knowledge that needs to be brought to the surface and taught in our community in order to create a more accepting space of neurodivergent people.

As vibrant and colourful our culture is, it is still tied to untrue assumptions of us, which needs to be severed. While I cannot literally cut these ties from the culture and its traditions, I hope this letter helps you understand your value as a South Asian Autistic person. I hope you are able to start accepting, loving, and affirming yourself as an Autistic individual through this letter.

You matter.

You are valid and you are no less of your cultural identity because of your neurodivergence. Nothing about your neurodivergent identity needs to be “prayed away.” That notion is completely wrong.

You are awesome how you are. Your needs are important, your triggers and sensory requirements are important. They do not make you “fussy” or “picky.”

You are an autistic human being, who may need more support than your neurotypical peers, but that is okay. There is no shame in this, contrary to what society likes us to believe about ourselves. Independence in excessive amounts is unhealthy. Your needs matter and you deserve the utmost respect.

You’re not misbehaving.

One of the biggest issues in our community is how often things are taken personally by others. I want you to know that you are not a bad person. Your neurodivergent traits do not equal to misbehaviour, nor do they make you ill-mannered or rude.

Too often are South Asian children told that any ounce of behaviour that does not equal to what is seen as “normal” is deliquency. This is not true.

You are not insolent because you would rather not sit in a room full of unfamiliar relatives and with sensory inputs that are out of your control, for instance. You are not misbehaving.

You deserve patience.

It is not an uncommon experience for South Asian people to be forced to adhere to the culture’s traditional standards of an ideal person. This can very much lead to years of masking, preventing yourself from stimming, and learning how to suppress your traits.

As autistic individuals, you deserve to be nurtured and validated, not shamed for traits that are a part of you. You deserve to be protected and accepted. You deserve every ounce of patience from elders. Respect works both ways, not in a hierarchy, and you are deserving of it just as much as anybody else. You are not selfish or disrespectful for asking for patience, you are deserving of.

I want you to know that you are just as much your cultural identity, just as much as you are your neurodivergent identity. You are a wonderful South Asian autistic person. You are valid, you are important, you matter, and the world is in need of you.

I appreciate you, and I hope you could find some solace within my letter. You are not alone. I hope you have a blessed day.

Iqra (:

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3 Responses

  1. Thank you for having written this letter. Although I am a 3rd generation U.S. citizen, I am also ethnic Chinese. My parents were unbelievably harsh with me. I sometimes still have screaming nightmares about the abuse and beatings that I received from my mother.

    To echo what you said, I agree that we all have worth. As a child my father told me that he wishes that I had never been born. My mother repeatedly told me that in addition to being ugly, I was far too stupid to aspire to any career other than that of a garbage collector. I am now 61 years old. I am a dual certified teacher with 17 years of instructional experience as an elementary teacher and 15 years and counting as a high school Culinary Arts chef instructor. I hold three college degrees, an associates in Culinary Arts, a bachelor’s in education, and a Master’s in Curriculum and Instruction. I have been told by my colleagues and by my school administration that I am one of the best teachers in my field.

    I achieved this success through hard work and NOT BELIEVING my parents when they told me that I would never amount to anything.

    Mao Tse Tung once said, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step.” Take that first step. Start by believing in yourself. Set realistic goals. Use your intelligence to determine how you will achieve those goals. Build your education and work credentials and work towards achieving your dream.

    When I was a teenager, I wanted nothing more than to be a chef. My parents told me that this would be unacceptable because I came from a reputable family. Even though they expected me to be a complete failure, they sent me off to college with the instructions to pursue a degree in a “professional” field. I became a teacher because teaching seemed more interesting to me than becoming an engineer, a doctor, or a lawyer.

    I saved my money. In time I used these funds to pay my own way through culinary school. After working for a few years in the food service industry, I returned to education as a Culinary Arts instructor. The last fifteen years have been the happiest of my life because I am finally doing what I wanted with my life and not what my parents wanted.

    Have you heard of the story of the old man, the boy, and the donkey?

    An old man, a boy, and a donkey were walking down the road. Someone passing by laughed at them and told the old man that he was stupid for not making use of the donkey. The old man thought about it and decided to ride the donkey while the boy walked beside him.

    A 2nd person called out to them. He accused the old man of being cruel because he was making the young boy walk. After thinking about it, the old man pulled the boy onto the donkey and the two of them traveled on riding the animal.

    A 3rd person then complained that the old man and the boy had overburdened the donkey and were causing it to suffer. After thinking about it, the old man and the boy got off the donkey. They picked up the donkey and carried it down the road.

    The moral of this story is that different people have different expectations. John Lydgate once wrote, ““You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time.” In other words, stop trying to be what other people think you are. Be yourself. Believe in yourself. If you believe in yourself, it will be possible for you to have a good life. If you allow other people to tell you that you’re stupid and that you will be a failure and if you make the mistake of actually believing these people, then you will never be successful.

    The will to be successful must come from within you because you are your own best advocate. If you are honest with yourself you will know your strengths and weaknesses. Build upon your strengths. Compensate for your weaknesses. Work towards achieving your goals.

    You can do this if you only have faith. Believe in God. Believe in yourself.

    I wish all of you who read this the very best.

  2. Thank you Iqra, this was a very lovely and affirming read <3

    I hope your article reaches more South Asian neurodivergent people, I think we all desperately need the validation and acceptance you've provided us with here.

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