Loud Hands: Why “Coming Out” as Autistic is Important

As promised, I am adding autism advocacy as a component of this blog. Every other Thursday, I will post LGBThursdays on LGBTQIA (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning, intersex, asexual) topics and alternating Thursdays I will post Loud Hands on autistic community topics.

Why am I adding autism advocacy to my blog? Most importantly, because I’m autistic. I used to run a side blog just on these issues, but it wasn’t very public and I didn’t feel comfortable sharing it with others. When I came out as bisexual in middle and high school, I never thought I’d have to “come out” again, but I do. I need to tell more people that I’m autistic.

Why is it important to “come out” as autistic? First of all, I’d like to apologize to the LGBTQIA community for my use of our terminology, but I can’t think of a better way to say it other than coming out. Normally, the only people who automatically know you’re autistic are your close family members, such as parents and siblings, and the education system.

If I don’t tell people I’m autistic, they don’t know. There are several reasons for this. Autism is an invisible disability. As well, girls are widely undiagnosed as autistic, although this is starting to change with more visibility. People don’t know enough about autism to recognize it.

I want to combat ableism, but I can’t do that properly without showing what my stake is in the matter. Sure, I could be an ally in the fight, trying to help people with disabilities be more heard. But I’m not just an ally. I’m autistic myself and my own voice is often quieted by others for this reason. Just like it is important for me to be honest about my bisexuality when I’m combating homophobia, biphobia and heteronormative standards, it’s important for me to be honest about my autism.

But why not tell others you’re autistic earlier? Many, many reasons. For one thing, my autism was so misunderstood that I wasn’t even sure what it meant until I was around 19. In elementary school, I really only knew what it meant in terms of service: physical therapy, occupational therapy, reading and math tutors, and special education classes. I only knew what it meant in terms of what I couldn’t do or had trouble doing that non-autistic people could do easily.

When I was around 19, I realized what being autistic meant. It all started with a blog post about Glee. I read that post and couldn’t stop thinking to myself: “That’s me. That’s what it means to be autistic. I get it!” I went from that post to reading other autistic blogs. I finally started to put the pieces together, from the labels given to me as a young kid to the mysteries that various therapists didn’t figure out, like why I had to move my hands while I was talking or thinking. I didn’t stop reading autistic people’s blogs, until I finally understood more about myself than I ever had.

But I was still terrified. Being autistic as a kid was the Worst Thing to Happen to Me. When you hear the word ‘autistic,’ you think of the poor parents and family. You think of the struggles they’ll go through, and how sad it is that their child may not look them in the eyes or be able to say, “I love you.” When I went into middle school in a new district, we never told the school I was autistic. I was treated terribly in elementary school for being autistic. In sixth grade, I proved myself academically within the first two months after reading 100 books in a “Read 25 Books” challenge. I was asked if I wanted to move into the Honors class. I finally had a chance to do whatever I wanted because nobody knew I was autistic.

I continued with Honors all the way through high school, and was invited to be in the Honors Program at my university. Right now I’m finishing up my 2-semester senior honors thesis, which will grant me status as a Commonwealth of Massachusetts Honors Scholar. But a huge part of my project is about how marginalized groups–mainly, autistic people and LGBTQIA people–use social media to form community. I can’t connect to Honors students as well as I can to disabled students, because a part of me will always remember the way my disability kept me from the same opportunities as others when I was a kid. And these are all a part of the reasons why I haven’t been public about my autism.

The biggest reason, I suppose, is that I needed to come to terms with my own identity and be okay with it before spreading the word publicly. It’s the same process I went through when I realized I was bisexual. I knew I was bisexual at age 10, came out at age 13, but didn’t complete the coming out process until I was 15-16. It wasn’t until I was around 17 that I actually became more an LGBTQIA activist for the community. Right now, very few of the people in my life know I’m autistic and if they do, they’re just guessing based on my behavior and the way I constantly post about autistic issues on social media.

I’m in the process of becoming okay with my own identity because I want to join the autistic community in the fight against ableism. When I type in “Can autism” on Google, the first two results are “Can autism be cured?” and “Can autism be prevented?” People still give their children poisons to “cure” them of autism. People still consider withholding their children from vaccines to “prevent” autism. People still think Autism Speaks is a good organization to support despite evidence to the contrary (and if you’re just unaware–that’s fine, read up on it and reconsider).

I’m telling people I’m autistic for so many reasons. I’m telling them because they’re often unaware what autism really is or how it affects the lives of those who have it. I’m telling them because they may not know that Asperger’s and autism are the same thing; both a part of the Autism Spectrum. I’m telling them because I’m sick of being told I’m “high functioning” just because I’m a college student. I’m telling them because I want to make the issues autistic people face–from the voices of actual autistic people–more accessible and clear to the rest of the world.

I used to run a side blog here on WordPress, and I also wrote about autism on my Tumblr. If you want a long introduction to some of the symptoms of autism present for me, you can read the post on my old autism blog here. I’ll be posting every other Thursday about issues that the autistic community faces, so if you’re curious–ask questions. Suggest topics. Let me know what you’re interested in, whether you’re autistic or a non-autistic ally.

I don’t want a cure for my autism. Autism is a part of who I am, and I’m proud of that. I don’t have Quiet Hands now; I have Loud Hands. And I’m sharing those Loud Hands for the people who may not have the resources to advocate for themselves yet. 

Love Always,

Alaina

Keyyyyysmall

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