I am autistic. I don’t have autism and I am not a person with autism. I am autistic and I am proud of it.
Why language matters
The way we talk about autism is so important. I prefer to say I am autistic, rather than that I “have” autism, because autism isn’t an illness that you “have” - It is a part of who I am. We can’t separate it from me; I am autistic and the way I act and behave is influenced by my autism. I was born autistic in the same way I was born with freckles; I cannot change this and it is just part of my identity. Neither my freckles nor my autism define me as a person, they are just a part of me that makes up my identity as a whole.
I don’t see myself as broken or like there is something wrong with me either. I see autism as just a different way at looking and viewing the world. I see the world in my own special way and that’s brilliant.
Although autism can make certain aspects of life more difficult (I struggle making friends, I don’t always understand social cues, everyday life is completely exhausting, and I feel pain both emotionally and physically much more strongly), it also means we have so much to offer. As a result of my autism, I have a greater empathy with those who struggle, I have developed different ways to communicate other than just focusing on verbal communication, I have an immense attention to detail and can focus in on things that others may overlook, I am creative and love expressing myself though art and fashion, I love writing and sharing my thoughts to hopefully help others to feel less alone, and most importantly I have the best soft toy collection!!
My journey to a diagnosis
My journey of discovery and acceptance of my autism has been a long, rough and bumpy road. A general lack of understanding of ‘girls’ with autism meant my struggles went unnoticed and any concerns raised were brushed aside as me being ‘shy’, ‘quiet’ and maybe a little ‘anxious’.
It came to a head in my teenage years when my mental health spiralled out of control due to not knowing who I was. I was labelled ‘difficult’ and ‘untreatable’. I was confused and scared - why didn’t I ‘get’ life like everyone else? Why was life so much more difficult? How did everyone else have friends, understand social cues and just seem to enjoy everyday life? For me a diagnosis of autism saved my life.
To begin with I was sceptical and quite frankly unwilling to believe. My brother is also autistic and I am nothing like him. My own warped sense of what autism means delayed my self-acceptance.
I started reading about girls with autism and autism in general, which opened my eyes. Suddenly my whole life made sense. The reason I did, thought and said certain things suddenly made sense.
For so long I thought there was something wrong with me. That I was ‘weird’, a ‘problem’. During my teenage years, I had several long stays in mental health units as mental health services tried to shoehorn me into various boxes and explain my behaviour. Being diagnosed has helped me understand who I am and how I see things and begun to help me value the person I am rather than trying to be someone I am not.
We need acceptance, not awareness
April is Autism Awareness month; however we don’t need awareness, we need acceptance - real acceptance of autism in all its presentations. I do not believe autism is a spectrum, but a paint pallet. A pallet full of a range of colours. We are not all ‘a little bit autistic’; people may have some traits of autism but that does not make them autistic. Being autistic doesn’t make you more special and being neurotypical doesn’t make you better - it just is what it is. However, the prejudice some with autism face can be so detrimental to their mental health and wellbeing. As a society, our idea of autism – and how autistic people should be treated - needs to change.
There is an old-fashioned belief that the severity of someone’s autism is reflected by their ability to communicate verbally. This antiquated view of autism means that for many like me our struggles are overlooked and our mental health deteriorates. I wish people understood that just because you can verbally communicate effectively, it doesn’t mean you don’t struggle and find life incredibly hard sometimes.
By accepting an autistic person, it doesn’t mean you have to change for them; just like neurotypical people we all have our flaws or behaviours that others can find annoying. But it’s important to be understanding of things we do that may appear strange or different to you. The bottom line is that we deserve to be accepted for being us, and allowed (as long as we aren’t hurting ourselves or others) to live our lives the way we want and need.
By accepting yourself and your place in society you can change people’s opinions about what autism really is. So be yourself, and be proud.
Author: Hannah, 20
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