Sunday 18 June is my first Autistic Pride Day – that’s because it’s the first to occur since I was diagnosed Autistic at the end of 2022.
Wikipedia tells me: Autistic Pride Day is a pride celebration for autistic people held on 18 June each year. Autistic pride recognises the importance of pride for autistic people and its role in bringing about positive changes in the broader society.
Now while I am 100 percent for “bringing about positive changes in the broader society,” as I type, I don’t feel particularly proud.
In fact, the overwhelming feeling I have at this moment is one of relief. I have often wondered throughout my life why I struggled so much to fit in, to feel confident, to push beyond a certain almost inexplicable ‘limit’.
I believe Autistic people can excel and achieve the same things as non-Autistic people, because I have. But there has always existed a certain sort of self-sabotage in everything I’ve done. I’ll give you an example.
Once upon a time I won a writing award while still studying at film school in Sydney. The award event organisers flew me to New York, put me up in a hotel not far from Central Park, wined and dined me, stroked my ego (something I could see at the time becoming quite the drug), presented me with the award and prize money (no less than Sir Peter Ustinov himself did that bit!) at a global television event, then flew me home again. There were even a couple of newspaper and radio interviews with media back home in Australia.
And with all this happening, with this incredible opportunity presented to me – that I had created for myself – I barely spoke to anyone, I stayed in my hotel room for large periods watching US television, sleeping. I called home a lot, walked around the city on my own, ate in Seinfeld-style diners on my own, and did some sightseeing. (Yes I did that on my own as well.)
This pattern of behaviour – achieve something, feel overwhelmed by what I have achieved or the position I have put myself in, and essentially turn my back on it – has played out in various guises my entire life. That the reality of my existence hasn’t always matched the potential hasn’t stopped me completely, and as I say, by many of society’s metrics, I am relatively successful – even if I have struggled, for large periods of time, to be happy.
I’m not suggesting here that every Autistic person is only capable of achieving a ‘certain amount’ of success and no more.
Anthony Hopkins, Temple Grandin, Elon Musk, Dan Aykroyd, Susan Boyle, Daryl Hannah, John Elder Robison, and many others who excelled in their areas of expertise and who are suspected as having been Autistic from before the condition even had a name, including Mozart, Emily Dickinson, and Albert Einstein, have gone, or went, to the very top.
What I’m saying is that because of how I have felt, emotionally, I couldn’t. Whether or not I would have achieved more (or even less) had I known at a much younger age that I am in fact Autistic, is difficult to say.
But would I change it? Do I wish that I wasn’t Autistic? Well, the answer to those questions is clearer today than it was even a few months ago.
The simplest way that I can put it is this: I wouldn’t wish for anyone to be born Autistic into our world as it currently is. That’s because there exists a prevailing culture for sameness. So much so that a quick search of the internet (bastion for opinions of every shade that it is) for Autism reveals a philosophy among some, including some very high-profile ‘Autistic’ organisations, of something called Applied Behaviour Analysis, or ABA.
Essentially, ABA is the same sort of ‘conversion therapy’ used to ‘rid gay people of their gayness’. Worst still, it’s practised by groups that claim to be “helping” Autistic children by forcing them to change their behaviours so that they appear non-Autistic, rather than taking the time to figure out why they’re displaying that behaviour in the first place.
I can tell the people out there applying ABA to children right now that it doesn’t work. Without even knowing it, I tried to change my behaviour, to bury my Autism, to hide it from society, to behave and feel like everyone else for almost 52 years. And all it got me was depression, anxiety, stress, doubt, and, ultimately, burnout, until my eventual diagnosis.
So what I know categorically is that there is no cure – be it via ABA therapy or otherwise. And, far more telling, is the realisation that even if a cure did exist, I wouldn’t want it. Despite my struggles, recent and past.
Looking for a cure for Autism is like looking for a cure for being short, something else that I’m certain has affected my life and the way that I feel – whether I like to admit it or not.
What I want is to learn more about Autism and how it affects me, so that I can heal from a life lived unknowing, and become the most authentic version of myself that I can be. That isn’t pride, but it isn’t shame either. I think it’s acceptance – perhaps the greatest sentiment we can offer ourselves, or any other human being.
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