|David Gray-Hammond, photo courtesy author|
[image: A white man with short brown hair, a beard, and
glasses. He is wearing a teal shirt and light brown pants.]
When I found the autistic community, I found thousands of people who understood my experience in a way that others simply could not. It was in this understanding that they taught me the vocabulary that I needed to describe my strengths and struggles (in fact, I did not even know the words to describe my most basic autistic behaviours, such as ‘stimming’). Truth be told, after diagnosis at the age of 26 I was largely left on my own, not knowing any other autistic people, and not even understanding my own behaviours. I find myself ashamed to admit that I started to get sucked in by cure talk (not quack cures, in my mind there would one day be an answer from REAL science).
One of my first introductions to the autistic community was a website known as Autistic Not Weird run by the wonderful Chris Bonello. Between his articles and the Facebook page of the same name, I was able to start to learn about what it meant to be autistic. Chris created an environment online where autistics and their neurotypical counterparts could learn about autism and celebrate it. I also discovered the work of Sara Harvey, also known as Agony Autie. Sara’s What’s That? Series on YouTube was vital in giving me the language I needed to describe my autistic behaviours. This was crucial; prior to this I had spent my life believing that I was completely alone in my behavioural experiences, doomed to forever be an outcast.
The more time I spent in the autistic community, the more I felt my own internalised ableism slip away. As I learned about my neurology, I learned to love myself for who I was, this self-acceptance has slowly led me towards a place where I have been able to advocate for my own needs. These days I am proud to stand against cure rhetoric, fully accepting of my own mind. Of course these days I face the people who tell me that I should not label myself, or define myself by my diagnosis. To those who say that diagnoses and labels are bad, I ask you this; How can a person accept themselves if the do not know who they are? Yes, I am defined by my diagnosis, and I was defined by it before I was diagnosed formally. Being autistic is an inseparable part of my neurology, without my autistic brain, I would not be the person I am.
By meeting those who supported me to be myself, I learned to accept myself. Learning about autistic acceptance is to learn of self-acceptance for the autistic mind. A prime example of the importance of the autistic community for me, was when I attended my local autistic pride picnic for the first time. I was able to be around other autistic people, celebrating a growing culture of acceptance. I was also lucky enough to meet Emma Dalmayne, a huge player in the world of autistic rights advocacy. People like Emma have shown me that not only are we a proud group of people, but we will defend ourselves and those like us fiercely, standing up for what is right, and standing against the abuse of quack cures and therapies.
In a perfect world, all those on a path to diagnosis, or who have received diagnosis, would be directed to the autistic community. Unfortunately, autism professionals still have a lot of work to do when it comes to listening to autistic voices. Until that time the community at large must make itself as visible as possible, such that all who need us can find us.
There is no shame in admitting that we have previously existed in a lack of knowledge, but it is vital that those of us who have found the knowledge of self-acceptance pass it forward, making the world a better place for all autistics and those to come after us. We owe it to the next generation to show them that the world has a place for them, and that in this place they will always be welcome. All autistics deserve to accept themselves for who they are.