A lot of people don’t realize that most autistic people don’t really like the puzzle piece or “lighting it up blue.”
Some of that is because of the association with Autism Speaks (yuck), while for others it’s because there’s trauma associated with the fact that people think we’re “missing pieces of humanity” or “broken” – actual words said by the keynote speaker at a conference I once attended and presented at.
April, for me, can be one of the most exhausting months of the year.
It’s also one of the months I dread the most, because I know I’ll hear a lot about how “hard” and “difficult” it is to deal with people like me.
For someone with chronic depression, PTSD, and still grappling with the loss of my brother – I’m bracing myself for a bad mental health time.
It’s hard to spend a whole month surrounded by people trying to spread “awareness” about people like you – but you’re never included. Or worse, you’re only ‘included’ for optics, but not listened to.
For a month all about autism, it really does feel like I don’t exist in the room, let alone having a seat at the table.
Because our presence is only welcome and tolerated if we are compliant and agree.
Even as an AAC-using autistic, I never feel as voiceless as I do then. Surrounded by the overwhelming cascades of blue and multicolor puzzle pieces, each one reminding me of the symbol’s original intention and just how broken the world sees me – how I don’t “fit.”
Both a sensory nightmare and the reminder that people like me are “puzzling” – and years ago, locked away in institutions to never be seen again. Because to them, why should we be in public?
Most people are “aware” of autism, or the concept of autism that the tragedy narrative has been pushed out for years. But acceptance, or even, dare I say appreciation of autistic people? Not even close.
People see me in public, and I can feel their eyes burning a hole in me. Some are nice, some people offer pity to my caregiver, some whisper “they actually let people like her out?”
But the ‘aware’ ones say: “why aren’t they stopping her from stimming?”
The shouts for a “cure” and the words of “tragedy” and “burden” echo in my head over and over, as I see fundraisers pop up in my newsfeed – asking me to donate to the organization that contributes to the stigma. The same organization that pushed the “autism is a boy’s club” narrative. The one that supported the JRC until they got caught. The organization that has never fully apologized for their origins. Their defense of parents who have murdered their autistic children.
No rebranding can make us forget.
I’m tired of the stigma and being seen as a burden. I am autistic. I am not broken. I am not a puzzle. My brain is different, and that’s okay.
I may have more trouble with things compared to other people my age. Most people my age don’t have a full-time caregiver, use a table to communicate, can’t drive, are at risk of being placed in a group home, etc.
That doesn’t matter to me. My life doesn’t have to look “normal” to still be important.
My existence isn’t a tragedy.
What can you do for Autism Acceptance Month?
- Go #RedInstead, gold for ‘Au’, or ‘Tone It Down Taupe’. I also like the infinity symbol instead of the puzzle piece because it represents neurodiversity!
- Amplify autistic voices! Follow, share, and listen. This is especially true for people who are especially marginalized – such as BIPOC autistics and nonspeaking autistics.
- Respect that some autistics are dealing with a lot of trauma this month. It’s a hard month.