I am actually autistic, but I am also an ableist. Everyday I fight with myself over what I can and can not say. I worry constantly that I am sharing too much of my autistic self. What will the neighbors think?? I worry that I am not being enough of an advocate. If I can’t stand up for myself, how can I stand up for others? I feel ashamed to be telling people I am autistic. Yet, I also feel a freedom in doing so.
Where did my ableism come from? I was diagnosed later in my life. I wasn’t a child. I was a mature adult with children. I had a lifetime of learning that being different was not acceptable. The amount of times I’ve heard “What’s wrong with you?” “Why are you so weird?” and “Can you just be normal for once?” is more than I can count. I have been called a freak, a drama queen, and mental. Hearing these things does not make one feel welcomed or loved, so the best thing to do as I was growing up was to pretend “better.” Pretend to be “normal.” Pretend to be “happy.” Pretend to dislike things that made you weird or abnormal, including your abnormality.
Learning that I was autistic gave me an explaination for all this, but it also gave other people the justification for their attacks on me. The more I looked into the layers of what being autistic actually meant, the more I was amazed I was not diagnosed earlier in my life. The signs were all there. Now that I was an adult faced with making some tough decisions, should I tell anyone? What if they don’t believe me? What if they take my kids away from me? What does it all mean? I felt like Jack Skellington upon finding Christmas Town.
It took me six years to feel confident enough to share my diagnosis. Why six years? Because I wanted to be armed with all the knowledge I could find. I wanted to be able to answer any questions that were presented – even the evil ones. I wanted to make sure my understanding was right for me, before passing it on to anyone else. That process took six years.
Even with everything I learned, since coming out as autistic, I am still learning. Everyday I am learning more about myself and about what being autistic means. Everyday I am faced with criticism. Now that I am open about being autistic, people (including myself) have felt the need to criticize my actions even more than they used to. If I am “presenting” as more autistic since diagnosis, I know it is because I am shedding a mask I spent a life time creating. The ableist in me wants to put the mask back on. There was less criticism when I wore it.
I often wonder often if I will lose friends and loved ones in this process, and whether it is worth it. If a person can’t love me for who I truly am, do I want them in my life? These questions haunt me every time I make a post on social media. But I am learning. I am finally grasping the totality of who I am. I am autistic. I have ableist thoughts I am trying to grow out of. But for now, I am a little bit of both.