Today has been like an emotional rollercoaster so far. I’ve laughed, cried, felt powerless, dumb, and too hyper. And that was before lunch. I have a date to see Pete’s Dragon later, and have changed my mind about going several times in the last hour alone. I’m trying not to berate myself. It began with discussing an upcoming hashtag game with some friends on Twitter. It began as an idea to raise awareness of Autism, but after some discussion, we agreed people are already aware, and likely know someone who’s Autistic.
Instead, we’re focusing on demonstrating the fact that everyone has quirks, and they’re nothing shameful. It allows everyone to relate, and play along. I’m excited to play, and am honored to have been included in brainstorming the idea. I’ve never helped host a hashtag game, so it’ll be a new experience. When we began, I found myself in tears while trying to express myself. I wanted to tell two parents of Autistic kids that their fears about their Autistic children’s futures are valid, but only to a point. At some point, it becomes necessary to focus on training children how to manage self care. The sooner this begins, the better prepared an Autistic child will be to transition into adulthood.
It’s difficult and frustrating, because we all fall on different places on the spectrum. Some Autistic children won’t progress to living independently as adults. This is a goal that’s natural for any parent to wish for their child. However, it’s not the only goal. It’s not the only option. I wasn’t able to find the words to explain my thoughts, and burst into tears out of frustration. Even now, I’m struggling to get my point across. I hate it when we’re categorized by our presumed levels of functioning. I hate it because it’s pragmatic, but also limiting. It’s a harmful mindset. It hurt me a great deal as a child, because I believed my worth depended solely on my ability to live independently as an adult one day.
I suffered under the pressure to cease the behaviors that made living in this world possible for me. To me, they’re not odd behaviors, they’re coping skills. They’re what make it possible for me to interact with others. They’re what make it possible for me to exist. Refraining from things like rocking, fidgeting, and allowing my eyes to focus on what’s natural for me isn’t an option. I do these things because it’s how I comfort myself. It helps reduce my anxiety. It helps me listen for comprehension, and process a response. It’s as necessary as breathing for me. None of my quirks cause harm to anyone. They’re things that should be accepted as part of who I am, and nothing more.
Have you ever seen someone from a distance whose behavior seemed bizarre? Imagine someone sitting on a bench in the park. Suddenly, they start waving their arms around, and running in circles. You begin to make all sorts of assumptions about what may be going on. You might even wonder to yourself if that person has something “wrong” with them. All you know about them is this odd behavior they’re exhibiting. What you don’t know, is that this person has an allergy to bee stings, and is frantically trying to escape being stung. There’s nothing wrong with this person. They are behaving that way because they don’t want to experience the trauma of going into anaphylactic shock. How utterly reasonable.
This is how I feel when I witness people who see an Autistic person, and immediately begin making negative assumptions merely because they’re ignorant of why those behaviors are utterly reasonable. It’s reasonable to comfort yourself when in anxiety provoking situations. It’s more than reasonable, it’s natural. It would be ridiculous to ignore a bee landing on you if you are allergic to their sting. Sure, it would look more “normal” to casual observers, but it could also potentially land you in the ER, or even end you. To me, any person who expects the man on the bench to refrain from exhibiting behaviors that society views as odd, even though doing so could result in their untimely death, is an ignoramus.
Autistic people, like myself, have behaviors that many view as odd. They view them as odd because they don’t understand them. They don’t see the bee we’re frantically dodging. They don’t realize we’re not trying to disturb people, we’re merely trying to exist in a world that misunderstands us. I rock back and forth when my anxiety levels elevate. I don’t think about it, I just do it. It’s how I comfort myself, and maintain a tolerable level of anxiety. I used to run in circles a lot when I was a child. This behavior was shamed out of me. I did it to express joy and excitement. The urge remains, but I’ve been trained to suppress it. I’ve been trained not to express my joy and excitement in the manner most natural to me, because it makes strangers uncomfortable.
It pisses me off that I had to spend years unlearning a natural behavior that did no harm. All because I live on a planet where appearances are valued more than me. It pisses me off that two friends of mine are afraid of what the future holds for their children, merely because they’re Autistic, and this world presently sucks for Autistic people. It made me cry, because I know their children are far more aware of this than they’re able to express. I remember when my own parents tried to hide this fear. They don’t trust that this world will provide a place for their children to thrive in as adults. Most of all, I hate that their fears are still valid. I hate that in reality, Earth is a very hostile planet for Autistic people.
But what levels me is the fact that there isn’t as much I can do about it as I’d like. In my heart, I want to embrace every Autistic adult on their 18th birthday, and shelter them from all the pain I’ve endured. I want to teach them in their own language how to become a productive member of society, because I know it’s possible for all of us. The biggest barrier is not Autism. It’s ignorance. Ignorance keeps trying to kill me, and it’s really pissing me off. Ignorance wants eugenics, because it’s so much easier to eliminate Autistic people than it is to understand, accept, and embrace Autism as a natural human trait. Ignorance is, and has been my enemy from the day I was born.
The worst thing about ignorance is that it’s voluntary. Sure, there are still people who don’t have access to the internet, but that number is going down steadily. With the internet, we have access to a lot of information. Some of it is harmful bullshit, and must be waded through and weighed against logic, evidence, and uncommon sense. Uncommon because so few actually possess it. I’m looking right at the people who forced their Autistic children to ingest bleach in an effort to cure their Autism. There is no justification for such a horrific crime. I’m looking at the parents who murder their Autistic children for being Autistic. Fuck all of you, you fucking murdering fucks. You have no right to steal the life of an innocent human.
I’ve heard the excuses about doing anything to “help” their child. Or how their child is “severely Autistic”, and they don’t know how to cope with them. These are just excuses. A loving parent will protect their child from harm, not inflict it. A parent that is capable of reading misinformation on the internet is also capable of reading the warning label on a bottle of fucking bleach. That noise is nothing but. Protecting your offspring is an instinct. It’s incredibly basic human behavior. Yet, societal values can have a startling impact on human behavior. It’s so disgusting. And it’s not an excuse. Think of the Dying Rooms in China, and you’ll see what I mean.
I have no patience for people who want to tell me what their Autistic child can’t do. When you tell me what they can’t do, you’re really telling me that you’re failing as a parent. You’re failing because you’re allowing yourself the time and energy to focus on inabilities, rather than finding solutions and teaching abilities. We don’t fit in society without a lot of creative brainstorming, a ton of effort, and most of all, the firm belief that can’t doesn’t exist unless you accept it. I can do anything. My methodology may surprise you, but that doesn’t change the fact that I can.
I’m not special, or unique, or high functioning, or any of the other words some people may be thinking. I’m an adult Autistic woman of color who has been fighting for my right to exist for far too long, and I’m fed up. I’m fed up for myself, and for everyone else on this planet who has to fight against ignorance, astonishing levels of dumbassery, and the fear that feed them both, merely to survive. We’re people. We often grow up to be adults who have to struggle all the time, not just because of any disability or difference, but because far too many people are too fucking lazy to bother educating themselves, and don’t grasp the fact that we have as much right to be here as they do.
If you’re able to read this, you’re able to educate yourself on the differences between yourself and those around you. If you’re afraid of someone because they’re different than you, it’s time for you to evolve. Don’t think that you can continue to be an ignoramus without consequences. That privilege is being revoked. We with disabilities and differences that in the past have been hidden away in asylums and institutions are finding our voices, and we have a lot to say about the bullshit we’ve had to endure on our journey thus far. We’re the ones who have been fighting our entire lives for the things you take for granted. We’re networking, learning, voting, bonding, and advocating. The internet has given voices to many of us who grew up silently. Together, we’re going to change the world.