I Am Autistic: An Evocation

Brent White

I have become the person I was always afraid to be. I sit here at 57, typing, and saturated with visions of the World Behind the World and my internal language. It is beautiful. I became the person I was always afraid to become and I am beautiful. My body falls through space, sometimes too big and sometimes too small: feeling the pull of gravity bending light and matter. The world too pulls at the edges of my skin or bursts through my eyes and though my ears in multiples of five. My body falls through a world that is never quiet with its architecture assembled from an infinite number of quarks dancing in and out of existence-swirling and screaming: a world that sometimes tears at the edges of my skin from the inside, a world that sometimes breaks my heart too easily; a world I feared for most of my life; a world that constantly pours itself into my body as I fall through its atmospheres.  

I am Autistic. “I am Autistic” is the kindest thing I’ve ever said to myself. It is my love song, my reason and my light.

There is a space in dreams you may know. It is an in between space, liminal, existing in the moment when you transition from a conscience state to a dream state or one dream scenario to the next. When I was a child I experienced this space by feeling my body accelerating through my bedroom; or at times, floating toward the ceiling. This is the space I live my life in, an in between space, liminal; A place of intuition and empathy; of metaphorical language where words and their meaning exist in color plus shape, solid and not solid.

A few years ago I found myself in therapy. I was trying to understand the strain and contradictions between my body’s space and the space created by others around me. My body was constantly melting with anxiety [cortisol driven electric storms]. I couldn’t sleep, I wasn’t eating. I couldn’t figure out how to be in relationships. I was isolated and lonely, and even more so when I was with other people. I felt like a ghost haunting the edges of other’s lives, but never a full part of anyone’s life. One can add shame, self-hatred, and lack of access to language to even communicate what is wrong, which in turn lead to years of alcohol abuse, depression and suicidal ideation.

None of these feelings and experiences existed because I am Autistic. “I am Autistic” is the sweetest, softest embrace I have ever felt. They existed because I did not understand that I was Autistic. I’d always understood how odd I was. The way I did things, saw things, understood things was always different than most people. I was ridiculed, bullied and shamed for who/how I was. I was given a flat two dimensional neurotypical world as my guide; a world of too many words and inexplicable social customs. A world where people said one thing with their words while saying something completely opposite with their bodies. A world that was too bright, too loud, with too many bodies moving in patterns my body could never begin to replicate. Perhaps I wasn’t afraid of who I was as much as I was afraid of who I could never be. I never fitted in, the ghost in the room, invisible, unheard, silenced.  

Therapy offered some help and a diagnosis of PTSD, which I could never really reconcile. In my efforts to find others with PTSD who were like me, I stumbled onto the amazing Autistic online community. I devoured blogs by Autistics and for the first time found others like me, others with the same sorts of experiences and perceptions. Day by day I began to see myself a little clearer. When I told my therapist that I thought I too was Autistic they told me that, while I presented as Autistic in most ways, I was far too empathetic to be Autistic. I had enough understanding to know that my therapist didn’t know what they were talking about, so I quit therapy. A month or later I was officially diagnosed as Autistic.

When I first wrapped Autism around myself, I was cautious. My head was still filled with the narratives of the non-autistic people who have so ruthlessly constructed the story of Autism for their own benefit. I feared no one would believe me and being unbelieved made me feel vulnerable. However, something exceptional happened. The world rearranged itself right in front of me and I poured out into it. My mind began to remember the colors and shapes which express my internal language. My body unfolded itself and spoke to the natural world with rhythmic gestures and flapping hands. I made friends with others who are like me, neurodivergent, fierce and so magnificently odd. I found a community, a family and a place in the world where I am seen, heard and validated.

“I am Autistic” are the most magical words I have ever spoken; an incantation which brought me back fully embodied into the world after a lifetime of floating above it or just outside of it.

For a long time I tried to conform to neurotypical social constructs in order to participate in the world-often in ways which were counterintuitive to my mind and painful to my body. Conforming meant that I folded myself up into a tiny square and hid who I was, but all that ever did was to take me further from myself and from the world. It nearly ended me. When I think of Autism Acceptance I think of something personal, self-acceptance. I am 57 years old and filled with the profound beauty of my Autistic mind and the joy of my Autistic body. I can’t say that things aren’t still difficult for me, but now I have a framework from which to view my day to day experiences that keeps me from turning pain and anger inward.

“I am Autistic” is balance as I stretch my arms out into the wind. The trees are howling a secret language and I can see past the sky, into the universe and the universe behind the universe. “I am Autistic” is an evocation; a call to return, to become; a beautiful living/breathing/space of acceptance.

This April I Won’t Fight

Erin Human

I’ve tried to write for Autism Acceptance Month a few times now. I’ve tried the heartfelt narrative, I’ve tried the listicle informational post. I’ve tried to write about what acceptance is, what it means, why it matters. I’ve deleted many drafts. I’ve been rolling it over in my mind, what exactly I want to tell the world about acceptance, and autism, and disability, and what it all means to me.

I’ve decided not to do that. I don’t want to write to an ableist world to convince them to feel empathy for us. I don’t want to argue with Autism Parents about whether we’re disordered (we’re not), whether we need to eliminate autism (we don’t), whether it’s valid to divide us up into The Ones Who Need to be Cured and The Ones Who Aren’t Really Autistic (just stop).

I don’t want to beg for acceptance. I don’t want to plead for compassion. I’m not going to sweet talk them into seeing our worth. I don’t feel like laying my soul bare in the hopes that bigoted people might find something in me that could soften their cold hearts. Not this April.

Instead, this year I want to say to the young child I saw whooping and hooting and joyfully stimming their way through the supermarket last month: be you. You’re beautiful, don’t ever change. I know you’re going to grow and learn so many things but don’t let anyone take your happy sounds from you because they are some of the best parts of you.

I want to tell the kid sitting in their classroom wondering why things feel so hard right now: you are not alone. There are lots of people who are a lot like you and we are waiting to welcome you with open arms. I hope you find us soon – we have so much to talk about.

I want to say to the parents who are raising autistic children with love and acceptance, I know you’re out there, and keep on keeping on. It seems overwhelming sometimes, what you’re up against. But it’s worth it, it’s worth it, every single day that your child has you to fall into, that safe space, that softness, that unconditional love.


And to the other autistic activists out there, the veterans and the noobs alike: you are awesome. I mean, literally, I’m in awe of your bravery, your strength, your vulnerability, your hard work. The way you push through overload, PTSD, and this ableist culture we’re in and you keep fighting and on top of all that, you hold on to your sense of humor because they can’t take that away from you. I want to be like you when I grow up.

And also to the autistic people who are not working as activists: you are enough, just being you. You don’t have to justify your existence. I don’t want you to have to fight for respect. I see you, and I know you are valuable; you are not obligated to prove it, through activism or being inspiring or any other way. Just be. You are enough.

Autistic people, we’re going to win this. I know I probably sound like a sap and perhaps I’m too optimistic – these are the things about me that I used to get embarrassed about, blushing twenty shades of red for getting caught out being painfully earnest – but I’m learning to embrace this, and everything else about myself they told me was wrong, weird, or silly.

I can’t stop dreaming of a better world, that’s just who I am. I can envision it, feel what it will feel like. A world where people are free to stim and script, talk or not talk, make eye contact or avoid it. Where everyone who needs an AAC device has one. Where classrooms are integrated and practicing true inclusion. A world with places of silence and soft lighting and squishy things and safe spaces. Where ABA is widely viewed as a barbaric practice buried in the past. Where it is not just illegal, but unthinkable, to hurt autistic children or adults. Where autistics who can work find employment, and those who can’t have a solid safety net to support them. Where all the research money is going into developing better supports, better technology, better access. Where autistic people have equal representation in government, where they run the autism organizations, have positions of power in the justice system and medical professions and in education. And where autistic people can be recognized and respected no matter what their race, gender, sexuality, or other disabilities may be.

Autistic people, acceptance is our birthright. It’s what we deserve, not what we earn by demonstrating extraordinary gifts or “contributing to society” in some material way or by being inspirational to non-disabled people, but by our very existence. So this April I won’t fight for autism acceptance, I’ll just take it. I’ll just celebrate, and shout from the rooftops that we are here and we’re not going anywhere.

And next month I’ll get back in there and fight again.

Erin Human is a writer, cartoonist, and Art Director for Autism Women’s Network. You can find her writing at eisforerin.com and her cartooning is at humanillustrations.com.

My Voice Is All Mine

Philip Reyes

philip reyes

As an autistic person I ask you to try to understand autism from autistic people. The people who are most knowledgeable about autism are those who live as autistic everyday. Why then do non-autistic people have authority about autism and how to help autistic people? ASAN is an important group because we can advocate for ourselves. Although we need many people to learn from, ASAN understands autism better than parent and profession-led groups. People should listen to us about our experiences, needs, desires, and goals.

Acceptance is making each person feel valued and seeing his or her importance in society. I am helping pave a way for more autistic people to be given a way to communicate meaningfully. I make a difference by blogging, answering questions, and making my voice heard. People need to know nonverbal people also have feelings and intelligence. My voice only comes out through typing with a trusted partner. I am learning to type more independently. This might take me a long time. Please respect my voice even if it has to be supported. My voice is all mine.

I have a voice now. My goal is to advocate for those who communicate like me to have more opportunities in regular education and mainstream life. I have benefited so much from a good education and lots of activities in the community. I also advocate for people who still don’t have a voice. I blog to tell people how I feel and how communication has changed my life. I do this in hopes to convince parents, teachers, and therapists to believe their children and students are smarter than they look. I blog to show that good alternatives to speaking are possible. Meaningful communication opens a world of connection to others and opportunities to learn and grow. People become much happier. Taking away my voice would be oppression. To deny validity of supported communication is like imprisoning an innocent person.

Autism is a neurological difference and disability. I cannot change the way I am wired. I am built for another planet, but I must live here. Please help autistic people by loving us as we are and not try to cure us. Peace comes when I am accepted and included.

Philip Reyes is 13 years old and attends public school in Williamsville, NY.  He authors the blog Faith, Hope, and Love With Autism.  His writings have appeared in print in The Buffalo News and the anthology Typed Words, Loud Voices.  He has also written for various web-based magazines such as Parents, The Mighty, and Disability in Kidlit.  Philip enjoys riding his bike and challenging himself to new experiences, the latest being ice-skating.  

It’s Time For Acceptance

Nora Ruth

It’s no longer time for autism awareness.

When we live in a world where functioning labels are used to either deny services or to deny agency, we’ve passed the need for autism awareness. When we live in a world where abusive therapies are used to train children into being compliment, that ship has sailed. When we live in a world where  only the spoken voice is “good enough”, there is no longer any use for us to be aware of autism. We’re plenty aware.

I am twenty-eight years old. To the outside eye, I am deemed high functioning. I live on my own with my cat, Athena. Even though I live on my own I require extensive supports. I’m not able to take public transit – partially because the Metro isn’t disability friendly but also it isn’t cognitively accessible to me. I can’t keep straight what side of the road to wait on. I often would miss my bus stop. The noises, sights, and smells would overwhelm and overload me. I require PCA care to help with basic tasks as washing dishes and making supper.

I am told to stop stimming. That I repeat myself a lot. That I loop. That I obsess over things. That I need to stop with my more so-called childish interests and be a grown up. But what is grown up, anyway? Isn’t it all arbitrary? What’s wrong with me liking what I like? It doesn’t hurt you if I still enjoy watching certain shows or listening to certain songs as an adult. It doesn’t hurt you if my stuffed animal travels everywhere with me. So why are you so hung up about these things?

The truth is, after over two decades, I’ve finally started accepting myself. I’ve accepted that I like wearing tutus in public for no other reason than it’s frilly and fluffy. I’ve decided I like being Autistic. It doesn’t mean I’m one of the lucky ones or that my struggles aren’t very real. It doesn’t mean that I am not any more or any less Autistic than anyone else – I just am. Accepting myself as Autistic was incredibly freeing.

 

Plenty of people are aware of me. Plenty of people are aware that autism exists. It’s time to stop using fear tactics. It’s time to stop making us fit into neat little boxes and telling us that we’re missing pieces. We aren’t. None of us are. We all have voices – but you have to choose to listen to us. We all have hopes, dreams, plans, and wishes – yet you have to choose to accept them.

I am tired of you being aware of autism. I am tired of you claiming “well, isn’t all awareness good?” No, no it isn’t. Everyone is aware – yet so few are accepting. Autism has always existed – we just now have a name for it. Being Autistic is who I am. Stop being aware of me. It’s time for you to accept us. We have accepted ourselves.

The ball is now in your court.

The Autistic Mind Is An Asset…Period.

Mike Buckholtz

My very good friend and colleague Leonora Gregory-Collura, in B.C. Canada,  posed a wonderfully thought provoking question to all of us. I know many will believe this is pointed directly at the Autistic Community. However, really look at what’s being said. Here’s the question she posed: “Will people actually get it that we (autistic people) are human ? Interested in your comments and why you think awareness campaigns are not run by autistic people for the most part.”

Well, here’s what I think, Leonora. It will take diligence and time. The world of people, in general, are taught, in many cultures or civilizations, that there must be sub-human people…people that exist who are “less than” them. There will always be the frame of thinking that a group of people are “destined” to be “the subjects” or “peasants” of an elite; people whom are the cause of all the ills ‘normal’ folks experience. The people who are enslaved, literally and figuratively by this theorizing, will always be and feel put upon, disenfranchised, disrespected and ignored. Until we, as the autistic (and caregivers of the autistic), find it within ourselves to push for “complete” unity (among ourselves), pool our resources (much like many elite do), thus creating our own power, we can (and I think it’s already happening) effectively start our own campaigns, non-profits, businesses, branding and marketing designed to have an authentic populous appeal. We will get the attention of the general public, the minute we all decide “it ain’t just about US, individually.”

 

We can’t be in the business of segregating ourselves or our children as “the other people”, any longer. We ARE mainstream! Always have been. Many autistic people have participated in, discovered, innovated and invented many things in our society that we, now, can’t or won’t live without. We ain’t that different from everyone else. If anything, we hold the keys to a thinking process that allows us to survive where other people may decide they’ve had enough. We’ve got to convince the general public at large that autism is NOT the new AIDS. Too many who control the marketing, the purse strings and the “language” surrounding “awareness campaigns”, have marketed (and successfully branded) autism as the scariest thing that can happen to a child or their family. With this “cleverly marketed” branding, autism took off as the next big boogeyman for the general public, corporate business and governments to dump billions of it’s dollars in an effort to eliminate it.

 

Yes, I’m being blunt, but, I think, it needs to be said. The louder voices are often the ones better at marketing and branding. We need to understand this dynamic and push back at how we’re characterized. Push past the labels. That’s a life anyone would want; to be recognized as the unique people we are, but, for us, in a “mainstream” way. Branding and marketing…both of these things require some capital investment and a recognition that people become persuaded to believe something, if it appears…well…believable; authentic. Many folks find it hard to conceive an autistic person can be a multi-platinum record producer, because, the counter branding and marketing claims being autistic is the worst thing that can happen to a person. I want to see a PSA or documentary-styled infotainment piece about THAT guy or gal! I want to see them in their element…doing the thing that makes them a uniquely gifted asset to our society. That will make an impression on anyone. Proper marketing and branding can instill respect for a product or service. It can, also, cement, in the minds of the public, who the real authority is in a particular field or on a particular subject. Let’s brand ourselves as the experts. Talent shows and poetry readings are cute, however, we’ve got some really talented and well respected people in the Autistic Community that deserve to be invested in (and given proper high visibility recognition) so they can shine. This can be the catalyst that promotes the positive about the entire Autistic Community. We need to find ways to employ autistic folks, like some already have done. We are more of an asset than a liability.
We all need to have as frank a discussion about this issue as possible. The ugly perception of being an autistic person will not go away until regular exposure to autistic folks, across the spectrum, is done on a continued basis, in the mainstream media. However, we’ve gotta be more than characters portrayed by actors in television shows or mini-series. Movies are cool, too…for a minute. Then, everyone moves on to the next “cool” thing. We don’t need to be a Hollywood fad. We don’t need to become part of the autism cottage industry (profit or non-profit) that strips the dignity and finances of parents, caregivers and individual autistic people. We know how cool our stories are. We know how awesome our journey’s continue to be. We need to make this real to people in a way they can digest it. Sound bite this thing! Let’s put our collective heads together and not make this a movement about showing ourselves separate or better than. That’s prideful. That won’t get us anywhere. Our greatness will come from unification (becoming one true voice), reasoned marketing and the authoritative branding of who we really are. I know we can do this. Talk to me, somebody!

Autism Acceptance

Emma Zurcher-Long

There’s an idea that people seem to think they like, but in reality are unsure of.  This idea is about the desire for creative thinkers.  Artists have often been seen as “before their time.”  Their creative output is praised and their quirks are overlooked. Neurological differences are all around us, but when someone falls too far from the norm people become frightened and concerned. They say you cannot accept what you do not know so during this month of April learn about autism by reading and listening to people who are autistic.  You might be surprised by what you learn.  There are many of us writing about our experiences of living in a world populated by people who do n

ot share our neurology, but all of us, whether we speak, do not speak but type, or some version of the two, have unique ways in which we survive in this world.  I can say things, but am mostly reliant upon typing to communicate. My creative brain thinks differently than most. This can cause challenges, but also puts my thinking as far “outside the box” as one can be, while still being anywhere near the “box.”  I, and those like me, think outside the box all the time.  Praise for our creative minds is not what most people do when talking about autism, but with more knowledge and acceptance this could become a trend.  Dare to be a trendsetter and join me in thinking creatively! ~  Emma Zurcher-Long

You can read more from Emma at https://emmashopebook.com/.

#AcceptAllOfUs

Morénike Giwa-Onaiwu

We live in an ableist world.

It’s the truth. And it’s so ingrained it’s shameful.
Having lived the majority of my life not knowing I was even disabled, I was mostly unaware of how deeply ableism was – is – entrenched in our society. Once I started to recognize the reality, my mind was completely blown. It was like my own personal “Matrix” (as in the movie) and I had just taken whatever color pill shows you the way things really are. I could scarcely believe how I hadn’t noticed it before.

Ableism can be unlearned, though. People can be shown how to be accepting of disabled people. They can be taught to speak and act more respectfully about disability. They can work to reform policies and work to transform perspectives. They can amplify the messages of the disabled community.

And it doesn’t take a great deal of power, money, or influence to do so (although having more sincere, like-minded individuals of influence and/or means who are supportive of our cause would be great). It doesn’t take any of those things, though; it simply takes concern. NOT pity. Not a savior complex. Just genuinely caring enough about us to view and treat us like the human beings that we are. Not “in spite of” our disabilities, but WITH them.

Caring.

I’m a teacher. I teach in a school that has primarily non-disabled students, but we do have a sizeable percentage of students with various disabilities who attend our school as well, including a very small number of autistic students. I shared very early in the school year with my students that I am autistic, probably the very first day of school.

Why?

Well, why not? We’re going to be together for a whole nine months; at some point it would be evident (if not right away). To me it made more sense for them to understand early on why I was different than their other instructors. So I told them.

But you can’t stop there. That’s just “raising awareness.” You have to go deep. You do have to make people aware, but that’s merely surface level. Awareness isn’t even close to enough; it’s just a jump start. Next, you have to equip them beyond only knowing/being aware. Awareness is only the “what.” But it isn’t the “why.” People need to have a “why” to connect the what – to be able to apply it to their lives. Applied learning is effective learning. It has to be made relevant.

Since awareness is a “necessary evil,” yes, you should do it. So you start off by raising their awareness. You follow up by taking it to the next level – raising their understanding now that they are aware. Lastly, you raise consciousness.

Here’s another way it can be explained:

First they’re aware.
Then they understand.
Then they care. (Hopefully.)

Everything should be building up to having people recognize your humanity and therefore caring about what happens to you. Caring about what happens to people like This is where you transform the relationship from casual to committed. From passive to active.

From awareness to tolerance to acceptance.

I should know. I’m a living example.

My students are aware that I’m autistic. And they don’t just tolerate it; they accept it.

They know I can’t handle pen clicking, desk tapping, and similar unexpected noises, so they work hard to “police” one another to reduce the assault on my senses. I have given a few of them stim toys to be sensitive to their need to stim while also addressing my own needs…and some of them have brought their own items for stimming, such as Play Doh, slime, and other things they like.

That’s not all, though. There are so many things. Little things. Big things. They show their acceptance in so many ways. For example, my students know that I need things a certain way in the classroom in order to function, so they help straighten things for me. They don’t give me problems when I need to hold class using natural sunlight (with the overhead fluorescent lights switched off, or even outdoors). They know I can’t discern what is being said when numerous voices speak at once saying different things, so they try to avoid doing so to allow me to understand them. They’ve learned how to “read” my facial expressions to determine when I am overstimulated or having sensory overload, and have learned to give me a few moments to regroup in those instances. They know that I block my ears when the school bell rings, during fire drills, or when I’m overwhelmed.

They have worked hard to remove offensive language from their speech (i.e. “That’s so g*y,” and, “That’s r*tarted,” etc) based upon feedback I have given them about bigotry. They know I need to stim and move around while I teach, and they sometimes join in with stims of their own.

One of my proudest moments this school year was when one of my autistic students (there are only seven or so in the school, and I teach most of them) found the courage to tell his classmates that he, too, was also autistic. They (his classmates) had known for some time about this student’s epilepsy diagnosis, but he had kept the fact that he was autistic hidden from them – until now. He is no longer pretending to be something other than who he is; is no longer scared to identify himself as autistic. He is living in, and walking in, his authentic truth. I believe that at least in part having a constant, visible autistic adult in his life (in my case, as a teacher) helped him to come to terms with who he is and helped him to gain enough confidence to stop hiding. For a preteen, that’s monumental. For anyone, really. It’s hard to reveal things about yourself that others might scorn – but he was able to do so.

My little autistic “brother” is very different than I in many ways. But despite those differences, he is part of me, and I of him. We’re connected. We’re family. We are one.

One.

I’ve shared many ways that my students they make accommodations for me. I am grateful that they do. But our relationship is not one-sided. They make concessions for me, for my differences. No doubt. But they also benefit from my differences too; a great deal, actually.

I’m an instructor. But not just any instructor. I’m a Black instructor; an autistic instructor; a female instructor; a progressive instructor, and all of those things permeate the way that I think and act – and teach. My examples are raw and visceral; my role-play scripted, yet real; my lectures animated and interactive. I not only permit, but embrace technology, movement, music, and multiple means of communication in my classroom; recognizing that people learn differently. I’m not afraid to dive deeply into a concept; I’m not afraid to challenge my students; I’m not afraid to admit when I have majorly, royally screwed up. I am intense; I am hardcore – and no student is the same after leaving my classroom. I don’t know how to do anything halfway, and my teaching is no exception. Love me or hate me, you can’t help but learn once you walk through the doors of my room, because I will settle for nothing else.

I am here to open minds and to open hearts; to fill minds and to fill hearts; to change minds and to change hearts. That’s why I do what I do. I don’t care about my students memorizing dates and places (though those things/certain facts can certainly be of use at times). I want them to understand concepts. I want them to recognize patterns and draw conclusions. I want them to get the “big picture” rather than to obsess over details they won’t recall next year. I want them to know how to think – and I want them to think about the world outside of themselves and to respect people different than themselves.

It is not by accident that I have incorporated the work of women, of people of color, of disabled individuals into my students’ lessons. I want them to know that I am not an anomaly. I am unique, yes; I am me – but I am one of many. I am part of my tribe, my neurotribe. We are similar in some ways, but we are different as well. Some of us speak with our mouths and others are nonspeaking; some of us “pass” and some of us don’t; some of us are intellectually disabled and some of us are intellectuaßlly gifted; some of us live interdependently and other live “independently;” some of us are self-diagnosed and others acquired a medical diagnosis; some of us appear to be “successful” according to conventional societal standards while others are perceived as less so (eye roll).

One neurotribe. We don’t agree on everything. We don’t all sound the same, nor look the same, not act the same. We certainly don’t all think the same. But we are a family nonetheless; all of us. And we need you to acknowledge all of us. Respect all of us. Presume competence in all of us.

Accept all of us.

I am very different from any instructor my students currently have and probably any instructor they’ve ever had. But my students have learned to relish my differences. The students work with me, and in turn I work with them. We support one another.

They are not “tolerating” my weirdness; they ACCEPT it. They are not learning a lot “in spite of” me being an autistic educator; they are learning a lot BECAUSE I am one. My perseveration, my different way of thinking, my pattern recognition, my focus, my bluntness, my ability to come up with unconventional ways to address an issue – it all works for the classroom. Just like it works in my advocacy, for in a sense educating others is a form of advocacy. Helping young minds to see the value in difference and to be supportive of such difference…this helps us all. I am hopeful that when my students, autistic and non-autistic, grow up and enter the world they will carry our message in their hearts and on their lips. They will fight behind us, alongside us. They will add strength to our cry for the world to Accept ALL of Us.

My classroom represents what acceptance can be; what acceptance should be. It’s not perfect, but it is sincere, and it is beautiful. Neurodivergence and neurotypicality, dancing artfully together. Sometimes we might trip over one another’s feet, smash our respective toes. Sometimes we lapse into a dissonant gait rather than a rhythmic twirl. But usually, we flow together. In the dance of acceptance.

I am not unique, and I am not alone. There are others doing what I do. Using their spheres of maximum impact to promote the idea of acceptance. They do it in clinical settings and in technical settings and in boardrooms and in the field and in sports and in research and in visual/performing arts and in media. And they do it in classrooms too. This fills me with joy, all of us making change in our own ways. But it’s not enough. We need more.

Children need to be exposed to more disabled teachers, musicians, politicians, athletes, actors. More disabled role models, period – whether the child is disabled or not. Disabled people currently alternate between perceived non-existence and fodder for disability porn; neither of these is acceptable. We need to have meaningful, increased visibility. They should know we’re out there, and get to know us as people. As authority figures. As people to look up to. As people who have always been here and aren’t disappearing any time soon.

Building our children’s acceptance of those of us who are disabled can only help them to blossom and grow. And as they grow, so will society.

Let’s grow love and leadership together this Autism Acceptance Month. Help me and help us – usher in acceptance. Total acceptance, with no conditions and no preconceptions. With no exceptions. Acceptance for ALL of us.

#AcceptAllOfUs!

Thanks for making this an awesome Autism Acceptance Month!

ACCEPTANCE IS:  Assistance Compassion Communication Empathy Patience Trust Accommodation Nuance Cooperation Equality  Inclusion Support

[Image description: An acrostic poem spelling out ACCEPTANCE IS with a word for each letter:

Assistance
Compassion
Communication
Empathy
Patience
Trust
Accommodation
Nuance
Cooperation
Equality
Inclusion
Support]

autismacrostic

[Image description: An acrostic poem spelling out AUTISM with a word for each letter:

Advocacy
Union
Tolerance
Inclusion
Support
Momentum]

What do I like about being autistic?

by Alanna Rose Whitney

Nearly everything.

I do NOT like my neurology being compared to cancer, being told I don’t look autistic, hearing non-autistic people speak about us without us – I could go on – but those aren’t really things I don’t like about autism, they are things I don’t like about the attitude towards it.

Much the same can be said for having meltdowns in public; I highly doubt any autistic people enjoy the experience but the underlying cause is typically a lack of supports and understanding, not just autism itself. Beyond that, sensory overload is inextricably linked to hypersensitivity – and hypersensitivity can be a very good thing for all sorts of reasons.

Like many autistics, I can take a great amount of pleasure from just stimming or from simple sensations that many often take for granted. I have never needed to be told to “stop and smell the roses,” “savour the taste” or “look at the big picture” because those things are just in my nature.

I am also able to employ my attention to detail in many practical applications. Visual and pattern-thinking both are very useful in many ways for many different purposes.

I like the intensity of my emotions, too. When I feel happy it is like pure, effervescent joy. Yes, I also get very sad or very angry sometimes, but those feelings just serve to underline issues that I am passionate about and help direct me towards a better purpose in life.

I am open-minded even though I am set in my routines, I am philosophical, I am excited to learn and do and try new things and I am kind without being a total pushover. I am an artist because creativity flows through my veins and an entrepreneur because that freedom to exercise willfulness is as essential to my well being as the very air I breathe.

I am disabled and not only am I okay with that, but I am PROUD. The difference in how much better I feel after accepting my limitations is astounding and learning how to accommodate my disabilities is precisely what makes it possible for me to fully pursue my interests and talents. Overall, the disabled community is welcoming and tough, wise and determined, supportive and honest – and I am lucky to be a part of it.

I like having special interests, stimming and doing things repetitively, experiencing the depth of complexity within things like food or music, being able to remember tons of useful facts and finding unique ways to say or do things.

I have never once wished to be normal – I have only ever wanted to be accepted for who I am. But never having had some desire to alter the very essence of my being to suit social norms doesn’t mean that I haven’t hoped to feel included and understood. Of course there were and still are hardships, many of which fall into the category of preventable injustices, but it’s less about overcoming obstacles than it is about appreciation and perspective.

#LoveNotFear

 AUTISTIC:  Amazing Unique Thoughtful Insightful Solitary Truthful Individual Character

[Image description: An acrostic poem spelling out AUTISTIC with a word for each letter:

Amazing
Unique
Thoughtful
Insightful
Solitary
Truthful
Individual
Character]

LOVE NOT FEAR:  Learning Openness Vigor Emotion  Nurturing Optimism Time  Flexibility Elation Acceptance Respect

[Image description: An acrostic poem spelling out LOVE NOT FEAR with a word for each letter:

Learning
Openness
Vigor
Emotion

Nurturing
Optimism
Time

Flexibility
Elation
Acceptance
Respect]

“I’ve Got Something”

by Gabriel Call, Grade 4

I’m different from the class, and the class doesn’t know it. I think differently because…

I’ve got something,

I’ve got something.

The thing I have has its own day; its own month.

The symbol is a rainbow puzzle piece.

The thing I’ve had from birth.

I’ve got something,

I’ve got something.

You cannot buy the thing.

You can’t take the thing away.

You can’t ask for it.

I’m different.

People don’t know how to get it.

It is given by birth.

I don’t know where it came from,

Or who gave it.

The thing I’ve got is…

Autism.

 Numinous Effervescent Understanding Random Opinionated Dramatic Intelligent Valuable Eventful Rueful Serious Eccentric

[Image description: An acrostic poem spelling out NEURODIVERSE with a word for each letter:

Numinous
Effervescent
Understanding
Random
Opinionated
Dramatic
Intelligent
Valuable
Eventful
Rueful
Serious
Eccentric]

Acceptance is valuing one another…
by Jenn Jones

When my son was diagnosed with Autism at 2 years of age, I was already aware of what Autism was. I had a friend in my neighborhood whose son had been diagnosed a few years prior to my son being diagnosed. As I sat in the psychologist’s office after the 4-hour assessment, listening to the psychologist describe my son, I felt like someone finally saw him; saw him as I saw him, with all his wonderful attributes, quirks, and inflections, his patterns of thinking, his unique way of reasoning and seeing. I cried. I cried because someone was finally telling me what I already knew, instead of, “He’ll grow out of it,” or “My son did that, and he’s fine.” I didn’t cry out of sadness; I cried from relief. Now we could move forward.

The psychologists recommendations for my son were speech therapy, occupational therapy, and floortime if he had not had two older sisters constantly engaging him. And then she talked about specific things I could do at home, one of which was not allowing him to engage me in repetitive conversations; she said I should mix it up and say something crazy and outrageous. I was surprised, and I asked why. My son loved these repetitive conversations; it was one of the few times I could get a good belly laugh out of him. The psychologist said he was getting trapped in that comfort zone of repetitive conversations and it was a form of stimming. My mind parted ways from hers at that moment, and though I wanted to help my son be all that he could be, I didn’t want to change him or withhold the joy he took from our give-and-take.

So while my neighborhood friend was on a mission to find a “cure” for her son, I followed my own path with my son; one of acceptance, support, love and patience. We were both aware of autism, but I chose acceptance. My son is now 4 years old, and we still have the same repetitive conversations. They slowly change over time; new conversations are added, and old conversations drop off. Granted, we have lots of other conversations as well, but I won’t deny my son his method of communication and connection simply because other people deem it atypical. I will continue our funny, quirky, repeated conversations as long as he wants to repeat them.

Solidarity Education Love Freedom  Activism Diversity Victory Opportunity Change Answers Community Youth

[Image description: An acrostic poem spelling out SELF ADVOCACY with a word for each letter:

Solidarity
Education
Love
Freedom

Activism
Diversity
Victory
Opportunity
Change
Answers
Community
Youth]

Singular Prolific Empathetic Comfortable Tangible Radiant Utile Magnificent

[Image description: An acrostic poem spelling out SPECTRUM with a word for each letter:

Singular
Prolific
Empathetic
Comfortable
Tangible
Radiant
Utile
Magnificent]

Thank you to everyone for all of your submissions and for joining us in celebrating neurodivergence and promoting acceptance this April! We now have a total of 1,039 signatures from people pledging to only attend, speak at or otherwise participate in autism panels, conferences and events that meaningfully involve Autistic people. Now that Autism Acceptance Month is over, it’s up to all of us to keep the momentum going and spead acceptance all year round.

Autism acceptance is liking who you are!

Alanna wears red sunglasses and holds a sign that reads:

[Image description: Alanna wears red sunglasses and holds a sign that reads: “#LoveNotFear  #PeopleNotPuzzles  #acceptanceNOTawareness  #autism  #AutisticPride   #Autistic  #ActuallyAutistic  #AutismAcceptance  #NothingAboutUsWithoutUs !!  #selfadvocacy  #Neurodiversity  #WalkInRed  #BoycottAutismSpeaks  #understanding    #IDontNeedACure  #AAM  #disability  #AcceptanceIs  #AutisticSpectrum ~ with added doodles of hearts, a star, a rainbow, a flower, a peace symbol, yin yang symbol, infinity symbol that also looks like a pair of eyes, a crossed-out puzzle piece and a brain with a hashtag in the centre of it.”]

[Image description: Sign reads “I like being Autistic Because: I like myself, all complexities and human traits that make me, me. -Amy Sequenzia”]

 Ben Maurice Jacobson likes being autistic because

[Image description: A person named Ben Maurice Jacobson wrote on a sign that says “I like being autistic because ‘Nobudy else in my family has atusum and my family all is juish!'”]

[Image description: A person holding a sign reading “Autism Acceptance is: Love & Patience & Encouragement”]

[Image description: A person holding a sign that reads “Autism Acceptance Is: One Love * No Limit * Acceptance * Equal Rights * Education * Learning”]

autism acceptance is "Love & Family"

[Image description: A sign reading “autism acceptance is Love & Family”]

[Image description: A sign reading “Autism Acceptance Is: When you see me, you respect me. When you hear me, you respect me. Acceptance is Respect. – Amy Sequenzia”]

Acceptance is valuing one another
by Jenn Jones

When my son was diagnosed with Autism at 2 years of age, I was already aware of what Autism was. I had a friend in my neighborhood whose son had been diagnosed a few years prior to my son being diagnosed. As I sat in the psychologist’s office after the 4-hour assessment, listening to the psychologist describe my son, I felt like someone finally saw him; saw him as I saw him, with all his wonderful attributes, quirks, and inflections, his patterns of thinking, his unique way of reasoning and seeing. I cried. I cried because someone was finally telling me what I already knew, instead of, “He’ll grow out of it,” or “My son did that, and he’s fine.” I didn’t cry out of sadness; I cried from relief. Now we could move forward.

The psychologists recommendations for my son were speech therapy, occupational therapy, and floortime if he had not had two older sisters constantly engaging him. And then she talked about specific things I could do at home, one of which was not allowing him to engage me in repetitive conversations; she said I should mix it up and say something crazy and outrageous. I was surprised, and I asked why. My son loved these repetitive conversations; it was one of the few times I could get a good belly laugh out of him. The psychologist said he was getting trapped in that comfort zone of repetitive conversations and it was a form of stimming. My mind parted ways from hers at that moment, and though I wanted to help my son be all that he could be, I didn’t want to change him or withhold the joy he took from our give-and-take.

So while my neighborhood friend was on a mission to find a “cure” for her son, I followed my own path with my son; one of acceptance, support, love and patience. We were both aware of autism, but I chose acceptance. My son is now 4 years old, and we still have the same repetitive conversations. They slowly change over time; new conversations are added, and old conversations drop off. Granted, we have lots of other conversations as well, but I won’t deny my son his method of communication and connection simply because other people deem it atypical. I will continue our funny, quirky, repeated conversations as long as he wants to repeat them.

Jenn Jones

[Image description: A person holding a sign reading “Autism Acceptance is: No limit to LOVE.”]

[Image description: A sign reading “I Like Being Autistic Because: It’s Part of who I am. My friends are autistic, too. (We’re mostly on the same wavelength because of it.) Being Autistic has helped me endure” This sign is signed, “Kyla was here!!!” with an abstract face drawing next to it.]

 

 

Autism In Our Own Words

Awakening Our Power
by Meg Evans

Today’s world is far busier than at any time in the past. Everywhere we look, we’re faced with many choices to make and complicated details to track and organize. It’s no wonder that so many people lead lives of constant stress, always worrying that there’s too much going on and no good ways to keep up with it all. Making wrong choices, losing track of things, and not getting enough done seem inevitable.

Of course, anxiety only makes everything worse; but if we don’t feel in control of our daily lives, then how can we get those worries to go away? And until the worries go away, how can we feel more confident? Many of us struggle with this dilemma. It can be especially challenging for people with disabilities, whose needs are by definition (under the social model of disability) not adequately supported in present-day society.

Autism, in particular, often is associated with anxiety. Definitions of autism generally mention self-calming repetitive behaviors. Many people view such behaviors not as an intrinsic part of their autism, however, but as symptoms of anxiety caused by living in a world that can feel overwhelming and extremely difficult to navigate, with information often coming too fast to process.

I believe that it’s helpful for any of us, whether or not we have a disability, to keep in mind that we do have the power to change our personal environment. Even though we can’t control much of what happens in the world, we can create peaceful, nurturing homes and workspaces that lovingly support us as we go through our days. We can awaken our power by making small positive changes to our routines and surroundings, which reinforce and build on each other as time passes.

When I feel stressed about something I’m trying to do, I stop and ask myself: Does this need to be done now, or at all? Are there more comfortable ways to do it? Should I ask for help instead of trying to do it myself? Sometimes anxiety makes us forget that we have other options; but in reality, there are almost always better alternatives, if we take enough time to discover them. Rather than letting ourselves get overwhelmed, we can step back from the situation for a moment and consider ways to simplify it.

Awareness Has Done Its Damage
by Daniel Obejas

(Editor’s note: This piece comes with trigger warnings for child abuse and murder.)

We are gathered here to celebrate Autism Acceptance Month, while recognizing that we are describing the celebration by an unpopular name: Acceptance, not awareness. We understand this because awareness is not only history, but the present that we hope to change.

Awareness on its own is not a bad word. It’s important to know about issues that affect the society around you, especially when you’re among the affected. Knowledge is generally preferable to ignorance. Knowledge is also a component of acceptance.

The problem in the world of autism is that the popular model of an awareness campaign originates, and perpetuates, within a medical perception of autism. The parent and professional community has taken note of popular campaigns regarding breast cancer, HIV, smoking-related conditions and so forth, and simply copied those strategies, under the assumption that autism is correctly classified as a disease or disorder.

This sort of campaign typically focuses on the protections that prevent spreading the disease, medical treatments, and the ill effects that incentivize avoiding contagion. Of course, there are no precautionary measures against catching the autism virus, and no method for the equally absurd notion of a cure. Perhaps most obviously, autistic people do not suffer from autism.

So what is left to be made aware of? A comprehensive map of autistic behavior and experience? In practice, we’ve been far from successful at that. I was once told in a report from a certified psychologist that “no repetitive movements were observed” after watching me one-on-one for an hour, stimming continuously. I have been told that I “don’t look autistic” or that you’d “never suspect” I was autistic while wearing a battery communication necklace, spinner ring, a chew toy, a noise-reducing hat, sunglasses, and flapping.

I contend that autism awareness accomplishes nothing more than repetition of the word autism. With that in mind, I must ask who has not already heard the word autism. Is there some Amish family in the mountains, living off of a tofu farm? Is that who we’re raising awareness for? I jest. I know that the real beneficiaries of autism awareness are the various corporations with “autism” in their names.

When awareness continues to be promoted after we’ve already learned the word, the nature of the message usually transforms into one of burden and tragedy. We need to keep bombarding you with these messages until you’re adequately scared of this horrible affliction! Even my friends and family can think of me as less of a person because of an identity that constitutes the entirety of my being. It is not difficult to imagine how that would be harmful to someone’s relationships, opportunities, and self-esteem. Awareness is the cause of this harm, not the antidote.

When Daniel Leubner’s mother burned him alive, she was aware that Daniel was autistic. When Kyle Dutter’s father shot him, he was aware that Kyle was autistic. When Scarlett Chen’s mother drowned her, she was aware that Scarlett was autistic. When Katie McCarron’s mother suffocated her, she was aware that Katie was autistic. When Marcus Fiesel’s parents suffocated him, they were aware that Marcus was autistic. When Glen Freaney’s mother strangled him, she was aware that Glen was autistic. When Daniel Corby’s mother drowned him, she was aware that Daniel was autistic. When Melissa Stoddard’s parents suffocated her, they were aware that Melissa was autistic. When Randle Barrow’s mother drowned him, she was aware that Randle was autistic. When London McCabe’s mother threw him off a bridge, she was aware that London was autistic. If the length of this list bores you, let me remind you that those people no longer have the luxury of being bored. Their lives were lost because the people who supposed to ensure their safety were instead afraid. How many times does a parent have to murder their child before we realize that the problem isn’t that we just haven’t raised awareness enough?

Acceptance is not just a positive attitude. It is a necessity. It is a matter of urgency. We the Autistic understand this, and we will not be safe until you understand as well.

 

To learn how to submit your own writing about what autism and autism acceptance are, click here.