In April, actually autistic advocates spend a lot of time emphasizing the importance of accepting autistic people for Autism Acceptance Month, rather than simply tolerating them and spreading awareness for Autism Speaks’ awareness campaign — which, yes: spreading awareness for autism, lighting it up blue — Autism Speaks puts most of its donations towards its marketing, which allowed it to get a whole month dedicated to autism through fear-mongering and mainstream “lighting it up blue”, and the puzzle piece, to represent autism.
Congratulations. By celebrating Autism Awareness Month, you are buying into capitalism! Because that’s all it is for them. You want to support actually autistic people? Choose red instead.
Back to what I was saying.
Actually autistic people go through all this trouble to advocate for the rights and autonomy of autistic people who perhaps cannot self-advocate — whether it’s because their caregivers silence them, they don’t have the tools, and/or personal reasons unique to themselves. All situations are different, and that’s what complicates self-advocacy in regard to ableism.
Both in and outside of the autistic community, we are expected to advocate for ourselves. The same can be said of other mental illnesses, conditions and circumstance. You are hard-pressed to advocate, to be an advocate, to share your story — even when it’s traumatic, even when it’s detrimental to your mental health, even when you should really be focusing on yourself. You’re pressured both inside and outside of the community, and the guilt eats at you until you explode.
Advocacy is so fucking exhausting that I can’t actively engage in it anymore. There are several factors adding up to this conclusion, but stepping back from actively advocating for myself and other people like me has been amazing for my mental health. Not everyone understands it, especially since they love the benefits of advocacy, but to churn out post after post stressing the importance of accepting people as they are — not in despite of but collectively because it’s what makes them who they are — drags you down in the drama and keeps you riled. There’s never a break. You see it everywhere, even where it isn’t, and all you think to do is fight against it with fervor.
Then there are the functioning labels. If you can advocate for yourself, how could you possibly be like their autistic child who stutters and refuses to wear pants? Functioning labels are bullshit. I should blog about that again. 🤔
In all of this, there is one important key factor: accepting ourselves.
What self-acceptance means to me, with respect to being autistic
- I stim when ecstatic or stressed, and I’m okay with that. People give me weird looks and have actually pulled their kids closer to themselves because I was dancing a little or dance-flapping my arms — a stigma that perpetuates shit — but I accept myself in these moments regardless, because I am okay with who I am. Their prejudice does not define me.
- My style includes mismatched socks and using baby BAGGUs as purses instead of having an actual purse. I cut the tags off my clothes, which makes them difficult to resell or give away or even remember my own clothing size because no tags. I wear loose tops and tight-ish pants. No matter how non-slip the shoes, I will still slip — so I wear Vans, because I find they slip much less and I love their slip-ons because I always forget how to tie shoes or tie them too tight. This means I don’t “dress my age”, but I find that bullshit anyways.
- The workplace is seldom accessible, filled with many microaggressions, and I don’t lower my standards for how I treat people or they treat me. I adhere to them, and I uphold them — that is a boundary for me.
- A lot of people in the world see me as a burden because I’m autistic. Regardless of the reason, the case is the same: they are not my people, and I owe them nothing — I don’t have to justify my right to live, to exist, just because they don’t understand why autism is not what they’ve been taught it is.
I aim to accept myself on the daily, because I know what happens when I don’t. It’s not so much a goal as it is a necessity for survival. Everyone — neurodivergent or not — has to accept themselves for who they are, or else their mental health will suffer.
Things I have done to be more accepting of myself
- I partook in neurodivergent chats and panels towards the end of my major advocacy days. Connecting with like-minded people who not just knew of their autism, but also were keen to be the best versions of themselves they could be — even if the best version changed over time — helped me realize that the non-autistic people who wanted me to believe 1) autism is a burden, 2) my autism is not me, 3) autism = struggle were the wrong ones.
- While I occasionally partake in #actuallyautistic discussions, my activism is on the back burner. I don’t know if I’ll ever get back into it. Why is it that disabled people who self-advocate for themselves are expected to engage in activism?
- I actively corrected people when they were wrong about me/autistic people. I still do this. If a non-autistic person uses person-first language (PFL), I will purposely reiterate identity-first language (IFL) by constantly using “autistic”. 😅 I do be hella petty like that.
- I stopped following people and sites who didn’t support autistic people.
- The Mighty was the first to go. They bank on the stories of unpaid disabled writers, accepting a particular inspiration porn narrative regarding life while disabled.
- I unfriended and unfollowed non-autistic people who viewed autism as something someone needs to “work on” to “get over”, who supported cure culture, autism moms/dads/siblings/etc., and/or who infantilize their autistic loved ones by viewing the autism as something horrible. Like, I don’t need that kind of toxic negativity in my life. 💁♀️
Of course, I did lots of other things, like publish blog posts about autism, but the most important thing for me when it comes to self-acceptance is prioritizing myself. 🥰
Tips for accepting your own autism
Accepting my autism as a part of who I am, as much as being a lesbian is, changed my whole fucking world. I am who I am. I’m not a person with lesbianism — I am a lesbian; therefore, I’m not a person with autism — I am autistic. I was gaslit and stonewalled by people who are not part of the autistic community, which is wholeheartedly different from the autism community.
- It’s not enough to surround yourself with actually autistic people. Immerse yourself in the community. It’s your birthright. The non-autistic people in your life, my life, and the whole world are part of the autism community, but you are part of the autistic community.
- Follow actually autistic bloggers! Reading fellow autistic people’s stories and getting to share your own (if you want, even if it’s in the comments) is delightful and connects you to the people in your community.
- Don’t enter intimate relationships when you’re figuring this out. If you’re in one…good luck. I was low-key in a relationship when I struggled with self-acceptance, and this rings true for my familial relationships as well: Post-self-acceptance me was not appreciated.
- The people in your life before you develop into a different version of yourself — especially if that version of yourself attracted closed-minded people who gaslight/stonewall disabled people because of their own issues — are not going to like/love/enjoy the company of the new version of yourself in the same way. It will essentially be like having to fall in love with you all over again. Not everyone has the emotional and mental capacity to accept and grow from this.
- Character development goes both ways. Say you’re conservative, but then you realized you’re actually apolitical and don’t lean either way. Your conservative spouse doesn’t appreciate this, and you don’t appreciate the toxic political discussions. Your conservative spouse doesn’t want to stop discussing their views, and you soon realize now-pro-choice stance is incompatible with your spouse’s pro-life stance.
- Inevitably, you may find yourself hurt by their previous stance regarding your autism, or at the fact that they continue to tell you you’re “more than your autism” 🙄 because they still don’t see it the same way and/or don’t believe you should accept this part of yourself that makes you you. Because they’re still caught up on awareness and not acceptance.
- Autism is not cancer.
- You do you, boo, but the concept of person-first language (PFL) is ableist. The term itself came from non-disabled, or able-bodied, people.
I will leave you with this:
“If you “see the person not the disability” you’re only getting half the picture. Broaden your perspective. You might be surprised by everything you’ve missed. DISABLED. #SayTheWord” ~Lawrence Carter-Long
Self-acceptance is a previous topic for #autchat, a weekly Twitter chat for autistic and similarly neurodivergent people. I can’t keep up with chat groups, but I love the topic ideas and decided to apply them to blog posts. I’ve been struggling to figure out what exactly to blog about re: autism, so I’m hoping the former #autchat topics will help me figure that out.
P.S. I created a newsletter that has stuff not on my blog.