The other day, someone said to me “it’s so inspiring that you’re overcoming your autism!”
Not surprisingly, I hear this one a lot.
“Despite” the autism.
“Don’t forget; you’re a person with autism.”
It’s something that always throws me off, really. It’s as if autism is supposed to be a roommate – you know, the one who eats all your Goldfish crackers and leaves the fridge door open. Or the cat in your home that won’t stop stealing your toaster strudel (thanks, Leia).
When someone says this, they usually think they’re complimenting me or giving praise – which I understand and appreciate. I can’t deny that it’s hard sometimes to do things.
But – let me make one thing clear.
I’m not “overcoming” autism.
I’m not anything “despite” the autism.
I’m not “fighting” autism.
I am autistic.
I don’t need to overcome autism, because autism itself isn’t something to overcome. Allow me to explain.
This past June (2018), I attended the Autism Campus Inclusion program that was led by the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network.
I spent an entire week immersed in autistic space, and it was life-changing. I was in a room surrounded by only autistic people across the spectrum. I saw no tragedies – only wonderful friends who embraced and loved being autistic.
In turn, I remembered that I love being autistic too.
You see, autism isn’t a roommate.
Sure, autism is also meltdowns. It’s sensory overload, migraines, occasionally insomnia. Autism is the sometimes reaching milestones later than you’d like to admit.
But no matter your neurology, life presents itself with challenges. Autism is the same.
Autism, like life, also presents with joys and gifts – and not necessarily in a savant way.
Autism is the intertwined web that connects me with a beautiful and loving community – people who are like me. It’s special interests, passions, and getting lost in your own senses. It’s non-compliance, non-conformity, celebrating different!
Autism isn’t some otherworldly entity; it’s how I’m wired. I’m neurodivergent – my brain is a bit different from the status quo. I’m not broken, not less. I’m just me!
Before I learned I was autistic, my mental health and depression was at its absolute lowest point. I knew I was “weird” and couldn’t do things everyone else could do, but I (and others) attributed it to laziness – contributing to a vicious depressive cycle.
Learning I was autistic was not a tragic moment; it was liberating. It was also a process, slowly emerging with more determination and acceptance for myself. I’m still in that process, but I treasure this part of me – the reason I am myself.
When I embraced the fact that I’m autistic, things started looking up.
I stopped thinking of myself as a burden.
I became less suicidal, a little less depressive.
I accepted that I am just me, and that’s okay.
I had a name for my difference, a community to belong in.
I tried “fighting” autism all the time as a child. I tried to do things “despite” the autism. I tried “overcoming” the autism. I didn’t have the word for it, but I hated this odd part of my personality and brain who couldn’t seem to grasp things that everyone else could. I thought I was just bad at life – because everyone around me said so.
When I’m learning to stop fighting myself, that’s where the healing begins.
You can’t compare yourself to other people’s progress, especially when you’re autistic. And if your kid is autistic, you can’t compare their progress to others.
We develop in our own pace, in our own way. Remember, I’m not able to live alone, drive, or do a lot of other things that most college kids do. I can barely even cook unless I have someone who is walking me through it and there with me. Maybe one day, I’ll get there.
I stopped thinking, “I wish I was able to be as self-sufficient as them.”
When I accepted the fact that autism is just how my brain is wired, I asked myself a different question.
“What can I already do? And what things am I able to learn right now?”
And that’s the key: autism isn’t a tragedy – it’s a difference. It’s okay if I don’t have a life that is identical to my peers. That’s not my path; I make my own, just as everyone else does.
My existence isn’t a tragedy. I’m learning that I’m not a burden, as I felt for so many years. I love this part of me. While the world is not quite accessible for me yet, I am learning that loving myself (including autism) is a radical and rebellious act.
Autism is just one of the many components of me, and why should I fight a part of myself? Why put myself under pressure just to conform to neurotypical standards?
I’d much rather just be me – my authentic, autistic self.