Every time I try to write about my experience as an autistic person, I fail miserably. I get overwhelmed by the very thought of organizing all of that information into something palatable and succinct enough for neurotypical people to remain engaged. Do I begin with my childhood, during which my queerness and neurodivergence were all too evident to everyone but me? During which I remained blissfully unaware that others did not experience the world as I did, until—little-by-little—I learned the hard way that my way is not the only way, that I am not always right, and that no one really wants to hear me talk about Ghostbusters for three hours? Or do I start with telling you about my here and now, about how the last several years have taken me to the darkest corners of autistic experience—where most would have me stay—and brought me back to one of the most fundamental lessons of my millennial childhood? “You are awesome, and fuck the part of the world that dares to tell you anything different.”
I still don’t know where to begin, which I suppose is in itself a very autistic thing. I remain stuck on the same idea, going over the same list of pros and cons in my head ad infinitum. Unless you give me a place to start. Tell me what you want me to write about, specifically, and I’ll have a hard time stopping. Even to sleep.
Let’s just pick something and say fuck it.
Delayed understanding of friendship? Incredible memory? Obsessive? Executive dysfunction? Speed reading? Visual thinking? Experiences of abuse? Being erased? Feeling broken or inhuman? Intense creativity? Comorbid mental health disorders? Well, fuck, here we go again.
I’m sure you’ve noticed a pattern here. Most of the items on the list are inherently negative. Many of them conjure images in my head that almost instantaneously lead to flashbacks of traumatic experiences—flashbacks from which I can rarely escape, with or without help. Therein lies the problem. Almost no one believes that there is anything positive about being autistic, unless you count those who fetishize certain “extraordinary abilities”. I’m a disorder. A disease. A sub-human creature who lacks the understanding necessary to be treated on par with my neurotypical peers with regard to human relationships, employment, education, and healthcare. I’ve been the subject of abusive situations more times than I can count, often believing that I deserved it because it wouldn’t happen if I weren’t like this, if I understood the lessons they keep trying to teach me, or just because people like me need to be treated that way in order to function in this world.
Even in trying to discuss my positive experiences as an autistic person, my mind is invaded with intrusive thoughts about how absurdly non-positive most such experiences have been. [Experiences removed for the internet because I'm not ready for that.] I try to remember, experience, and feel happy things. Positive things. Even okay things. But they are immediately tainted by these memories. I don’t even have to try. They’re always there. I mean, I still feel horrendously guilty about shit I did 20-25 years ago. My emotions are almost always all-or-nothing responses.
I keep getting drawn back into endless conversations about how I just don’t see things clearly, I’m misunderstanding something, or about how it’s not worth it to try to talk to me “when I’m like this”. (You mean always, then. Just because I can hide it doesn’t mean it’s not there.)
My mind doesn’t let go. It can’t. I’m trying my best to be proud of who I am. What I can do. But these things are inevitably overshadowed by past, present, future, and imagined negative experiences.
It’s hard not to feel broken this way.
I want to be in a place where I can write a narrative that isn’t going to evoke feelings of pity or make people really glad they aren’t me. Each time I think that I’m ready, I’m not. But maybe I can try.
I am an autistic person. I see the world in ways you couldn’t fucking imagine, from the intensity of colors and sounds to the images and thoughts that move too fast for words to the being logical to a fault. My experience in this world is not one of deficiency. I am not lacking something essential that neurotypical people possess, for if I were to define any of those qualities as essential to my being a complete person or even a person in general, I would inevitably be denying my humanity and that of others like me. I would be justifying the abuse and manipulation of autistic people. The myriad research papers that describe me as a burden to my family, “caregivers”, and society in general. I am a scientist considered by science to be incapable of acceptable existence, whose self-awareness is regarded as pathological in someone like me but as an example of “practicing mindfulness” in others. My experiences and words cannot be trusted. I cannot be trusted. I am invalid. I am inhuman.
Take your blue ribbons and shove them up your ass.
I don’t need your fucking ribbon. I don’t need your awareness. Like, you can be aware that you’re hungry, but unless you do something about it, you’re still going to be hungry.
I need you to listen when I tell you that, no matter how many times I force myself to go out when I’m on the edge of a meltdown—whether I successfully avoid one or not—it’s never going to get easier. I can break your fucking leg a dozen times, and it’s not going to get any easier to walk on a broken leg. In fact, the more I do that to you, the more problems I’m going to cause, and they’ll likely last quite a long time. I need you to just accept that I have to do things my way sometimes or they’ll never get done in any reasonable amount of time. I need you to stop asking me the same questions or wanting to explain the same reasons for things over and over again, like you’ve never heard me mention them before. I need employers to understand that you should judge people based on their qualifications for the job, rather than based on how much fun you have talking to them during the interview. I need society to stop equating the worth of a human being to their productivity or palatability. “You can’t make money for us, so you deserve to die.” “Your life isn’t worth living if you can’t amount to anything.” I need people to stop thinking that asking kids with disabilities to the prom out of pity when you have no interest in pursuing a relationship with them is manipulative, self-serving, and cruel. I need doctors to stop screaming at me. Or talking about me like I’m not even in the room. Or ignoring my concerns. I need people to start caring about autistic people once they aren’t cute little kids anymore.
I need people to stop thinking that my right to exist comfortably and be a part of this world is my fucking problem. That I have to earn my right to be treated well. To not be subjected to pain, isolation, etc.
No, I don’t need people to understand that “we’re all the same”. I need people to understand that we’re all fucking different and that this is actually okay. I don’t need to have my unique experiences erased or glossed over to be considered human. I need people to stop being shitty assholes that think that the world shouldn’t be welcoming to as many people as possible. I need people to stop believing that, if only I weren’t autistic, I could have all these things that other people have. To stop believing that being in a relationship with me is a favor. A gift. A miracle. That loving me is a sacrifice. That I’m lucky no matter who dates me because I’m lucky to have anyone at all.
This could go on for quite some time. I meant it to be a bit more organized. Intellectual. I meant to use more clever phrasing and take my time.
Instead, I needed to be angry and let you know that I don’t need you to decide whether my anger is justified. That you don’t get to decide that, and I wouldn’t care either way.