Wednesday, July 18, 2012

To Young Autistic Males: You Are Awesome

Gen Eric

I know you, but I don't know you. I'm not you, but we have more in common than you may think. For one thing, we are both Autistic. For another, we're both male; though you may identify as mostly male, or partly male, or a combination of male and female, or neither whatsoever and that's awesome either way. Just like your autism, that's part of what makes you you, and you are awesome.

There's something you need to understand from the outset. A lot of what's happened in your life, a lot of difficulties you've encountered and things that others may have objected to, they aren't your fault. All this time you were running on a radically different OS than your peers, and no one ever told you. You were expected to be just like the others and, when you couldn't do that, you were told it was a moral failure. Maybe you were even abused for being unlike the others. You may well have been brainwashed into believing you were broken.

You are not broken, not one bit, in fact you're probably fucking awesome, but you do need to realize that you are disabled. In fact, take a moment right now to say the word to yourself a few times, disabled. You might want to look in the mirror and say it “I am disabled.” Understand that I want you to say this to yourself, not as a put-down, because disability isn't a put-down or a deficit, but as an affirmation. I want you to become comfortable saying it to yourself, saying it to others, and embracing the identity. You are part of a disabled community, a disabled culture. There's an entire disabled history for you to explore, and become a part of.

Males grow up saddled with a cultural expectation of strength. Disability is seen as a sign of weakness in our society. In reality that couldn't be further from the truth. When you have a disability, your brain and body are different than what society is built for. The “normals” have the privilege of living in a world that was custom designed for them before they were born. Their preferred method of communication, their particular stress tolerances, their sensory tolerances, the way their bodies naturally move, and everything else was taken into account from the very beginning. If this is a video game, we're playing on expert level and they're playing on tutorial. Some of them will dare call you weak, because you can't jump through some hoop as easily as them, but don't let them get away with it.

You need to learn to say “I can't” and “I need,” and that will be one of the hardest things for you to do. I remember the first time I made multiple requests for accommodations, in grade school, and I was so berated I eventually suffered silently. The world doesn't realize, or doesn't care, that it's often easier for us to simply go ahead with their plan for us than to say no and demand the world work within our limitations. But you need to make a stand, and you'll need to do it multiple times. The world will tell you to move, and your job, to quote Steve Rogers, is to tell the whole world “no, you move.”

You need to embrace your disability, and embrace your autism, and that won't always be easy to do. The world is dead set on convincing you that autism is the worst thing ever, that you need to see yourself as an object of pity, and that you need to be desperate for a cure. My sincere, well-thought-out response can only be as follows: to hell with that! You are perfectly awesome the way you are, and without autism the person you are would not exist. By right of birth you are a member of the Autistic community and Autistic culture, and you have a place in Autistic history. Embracing your autism is an act of rebellion.