When I first got my diagnosis, I called myself a ‘person with Aspergers syndrome’. I could not, at that time, reconcile my identities. However, thanks in large part to the adult autistic community, I have come to a new place now, one where I can say this: I am autistic.
I am autistic because it took me twenty-five years to get a proper diagnosis, and another five years to get over my self-loathing enough to stop seeing autism as a terrible thing and simply see it as another identity marker, and to be able to say: I am autistic.
I am autistic because you can cut away a tumor, you can cure measles, you can remember a life before AIDs or cancer, but I cannot do that. Autism is in every cell of my body. My blood has autism in it. My toes and skin and internal organs have autism. Autism affects how I breathe, move, and feel just as much as it affects how I think, process, and communicate.
I am an autistic adult because I was an autistic baby whose mother was told to stop worrying, there was nothing wrong; I was an autistic kid told to be quiet; I was an autistic adult who did not give up nor give in, and who sought an answer as to why everything was so damn hard, and kept seeking until I found the reason.
I am autistic.
I am autistic because I claim it. I claim my place in the disability community. The disability community is a warm, welcoming place with a slightly morbid sense of humor that never makes me feel bad for being who I am. The disability community sees past my communication struggles and listens to what I am saying underneath, and shows me that my life has value and I am a valued member of this community.
I am autistic because I cannot be cured except through death, and after spending two-thirds of my life trying to figure out how to kill myself, I am only now trying to figure out how to live. To live for me is to live authentically. It is to live autistically. There is no other way.
I am autistic because I spent years in social-skills groups and speech therapy trying to ‘pass’, to blend in, to be normal, only to realize that I simply cannot. I am autistic because although I can make small talk and eye contact, it takes a heck of a lot of effort and leaves me exhausted. At the end of a day, my words will not come easily – they will be jagged, inaccessible. I am autistic because I can push myself through these times but I will not always make myself. Sometimes I do not have to rise to other’s levels. Sometimes I can wait for them to come down and talk to me.
I am autistic because I was not a brat as a child. I was not a retard. I was not a stupid, whiny, selfish, malingering, lazy jerk who ruined funerals, weddings, you name it, with my meltdowns. I was autistic. I am autistic. My reactions and responses to events would have been mitigated had people had the slightest inclination towards empathy or understanding of my autism. It was not my fault that people treated me the way they did, nor was it autism’s fault. Others are responsible for their own actions.
I am autistic because I am a Unitarian Universalist. I am an activist. I am a lesbian. I am a reader, a writer, a hugger, a do-er. I am autistic because ‘person with autism’ just sounds so damn awkward. I am autistic because I am a Firefly fan, not a fan of Firefly. I am a woman, not a person with woman-ness. I am already a person, I do not need to prove that. To use person-first language implies that there are people who would see me as less than a person. I have no doubt that those people exist, and indeed, I have met some of them, but I will not be bullied or swayed by them. If someone needs language to remind them that I am a person, then I would rather not spend any time around them at all.
I am autistic because autistics are changing the world. Autistics are creating amazing art, writing books, singing, working, helping, being – I am autistic because I refuse to be ashamed to be a part of this fantastic community. Autistics are people who experience the world differently. The world is a bit harder for us. But autistics have taught me that there is nothing shameful about being autistic, or about being disabled. Only society tells us that is so, and I’m tired of listening to the depressed messages that society sends.
I am autistic.
And there is nothing wrong with me.