Coming Out As Autistic In A Fascist World 🌎
3 Important Things I Want You to Know During Autism Acceptance Month
The photo above depicts colorful umbrellas — blue, red, yellow, purple — hanging above me, between two grey brick buildings. The patio area has antique items, stone statues, plants, hanging photos, and a water fountain. Located in Red Tree Furniture, Louisville, Kentucky.
The “Aha” Moments
During the first year of the pandemic, a younger cousin of mine told me they are autistic. I started to research autism to better understand and support them. As I read social media posts, met other autistic people and engaged in social discourse about autism, I experienced moments of resonance and familiarity.
Without fully realizing it, I was waking up from a deep sleep.
The pandemic was a climax to decades of trauma for me, as it was for so many of us. Since 2020, I have been fired from 3 different companies following efforts to exercise my labor rights and be accommodated at work. Consequently, I experienced episodes of panic, emotional dysregulation, and outbursts that lead to states of visceral exhaustion and fatigue. I could not prevent these episodes from happening. There was nowhere to hide and I felt disturbingly confused.
In response to my ongoing distress, a general message I received from friends was I needed to fit in for awhile, to stop making waves. And this hurt me. I knew on a deep level that I could not change, and there was something inherent to my being that needed to be seen. I was determined that the system needed the overhaul, not me.
I kept asking my heart to point me in the right direction. I cried, chanted, attended recovery meetings, and journaled. After months of research, hints from other autistic and neurodivergent friends, and letting the signposts guide me, it finally clicked. I realized I am neurodivergent and autistic too, like my cousin and many people I know. The episodes I have had since I was a baby are meltdowns. And social justice is one of my many special interests, certainly due to the fact the system has been harmful to me and others I love, clashing with my neurodivergent brain and heart.
Yes, there are absolutely things I need to improve about myself, including the ways I have learned to cope with trauma, but autism itself is not one of those things. And in fact, autism cannot be changed, modified, cured, or hidden without harmful consequences.
Growing Pains: An Autistic Perspective
As a Catholic-Christian, I was taught how to be ashamed of my humanness. And my religious rigidity came from the abuse of a common autistic trait: the need for rules, structure, and sameness. Rituals are good for many autistic folks; rituals that teach us we’re going to hell if we don’t complete them are abusive.
In my ignorance, I am certain that I have mistreated other autistics. I believe my ignorance came from being taught to fear those who do not fall in line with a Catholic version of white, patriarchal, cis-het, and able-bodied normativity. And those who do not conform to the status quo. And that included fear of myself.
People have often used hurtful words to describe me and my actions. I have been told I am rigid, selfish, narcissistic, arrogant, aggressive, angry, uncompromising, difficult, and too sensitive.
When the truth is that I have sensory and auditory processing sensitivities, I rely on routine and structure, I need clear communication of social guidelines and expectations, I am deeply affected by injustice, and I trust that people act with integrity and feel angry and confused when they don’t.
Since our culture stigmatizes and neglects having complex mental and emotional needs, and my parents did not model how to identify body sensations and emotions, I have been routinely punished and gaslit when I am in distress, meltdown or sensory overload.
In order to fashion a sense of safety, I became codependent, depressed and addicted as a way to meet my needs for food, shelter, employment, and connection, exchanging authenticity for perceived social acceptance.
Additionally, coming out as queer and trans proved to be difficult transitions for me, laced with family and societal abuse and trauma.
Sadly and regrettably, I have abused intimate partners during meltdowns; I did not know how to cope or understand what was happening inside of me when experiencing strong emotions, stress and PTSD symptoms.
Needless to say, I was disconnected from myself and others and became increasingly isolated and lonely as years passed.
Discovering Who I Am
Today, as a 32-year-old adult, I am in recovery from mental, emotional, physical, spiritual and verbal abuse. And will potentially endure more as I advocate for myself and my community, as much of society still believes that autism is a disease that needs to be cured.
I have already been subjected to hurtful comments from physicians and community members after sharing my self-diagnosis. A chiropractor I am currently seeing to treat back pain and cervical kyphosis suggested that autism is caused my GMO’s and Vitamin D deficiency.
Someone at the grocery store saw me walking with a cane and mentioned he was proud of me that I learned to walk, ignorant of the fact that I’ve known how to walk since I was a toddler and am using a mobility aid for neurological and psychological conditions.
During my first autism assessment, the psychologist said I don’t meet criteria for autism because I make eye contact and have a high IQ. I explained that many autistic people learn to mask their traits and that our IQs can range from low to high. She refused to:
- Re-assess me
- Refer me to another psychologist
- Send me the record of the evaluation itself.
Further, she told me I was victimizing myself with an autism diagnosis because I am not confident enough in myself. And that I simply need to go back to school to get my Master’s because she and my therapist know I am smart enough.
This ableist commentary ignores the fact that autistics can be smart and may need extra support to meet their goals. In my case, I need a diagnosis so people don’t think I’m making up being in distress so I can request accommodations that will be taken seriously in public settings.
Although I have been experiencing imposter syndrome due to 32 years (and counting) of people telling me they know me better than I know myself, memories that were blurry become more clear as I learn about autism and connect with people in the community.
My story is starting to fill itself in.
As a child, I would get vertigo and throw up on long car rides. I would get excruciating migraines that lasted for hours, and would become dehydrated from vomiting. I used to get ear infections often. I had difficulty hearing when people spoke to me. I used to have meltdowns in grocery stores and at church.
I was incredibly curious about the world around me and was naturally creative and mechanically-minded. I loved playing by myself for hours, building Legos and Kynects or crafting without making a peep.
Although I practiced to become a good athlete, I struggled with coordination and injured myself too many times to count, with numerous concussions, broken toes, sprained ankles, jammed fingers, dislocated ribs, torn muscles. I was clumsy and accidentally broke many of my own items and others’ personal items, too. I still cut my fingers frequently when chopping food and cooking.
I have always been sensitive to sensory environments, often engaging in sensory-seeking or avoiding depending on the day and innumerable conditional factors. I love tight hugs, wrestling with friends and keeping my body moving. I love spicy and crunchy foods.
I am avoidant of loud noises that I do not create myself, probably due to the yelling that occurred in my household. I did teach myself to play the drums in 5th grade and would play loudly for hours on end.
And as many autists can say, special interests take up the majority of my headspace and daily energy. Star Wars has been a special interest of mine since age 8. I still have my figurines lined up in my apartment and watch the canon of movies and shows on repeat.
Language is another one. I am very perceptive of accents, tones, body language, and find the culture of languages very fascinating. I started learning Spanish in 8th grade and studied abroad, receiving a minor in college.
My friends, acquaintances, and partner can attest I am hyper-verbal and often info-dump about my topics of special interest such as mental health, capitalism, gender, Christianity, Buddhism, psychology, labor organizing, Titanic, art, etc. engaging from an often heady and philosophical approach.
Although discovering I am autistic feels like the start of an exciting new journey, my trauma still needs to be tended to. And in the meantime, I will practice accepting and celebrating my neurodivergent self.
3 Important Things I Want You to Know
I feel grateful to the autistic community, those who have been living their truth while being oppressed, ridiculed, dismissed, gaslit, ostracized and bullied. Many are unable to mask their autistic traits and thus cannot hide from stigma and social abuse. Many have died by suicide or have even been killed by family members. And so many have persevered in our often harsh and violent society.
As a newly out autistic living in what feels like a precarious and unstable world, here are 3 important things I want you to know during Autism Acceptance Month:
1. We are living in a fascist climate.
Because I don’t immediately subscribe to social norms, I have been labeled difficult, aggressive, rude, arrogant, and selfish. However, this is where autism meets authoritarianism: the circumstances in which I am viewed in these ways involve abusive power dynamics.
If I disagree with a man’s opinion, he may lash out at me for threatening his “authority.” If I challenge a boss because my rights or basic needs are being disrespected, I may be fired. If I denounce a religious belief that is misaligned with my values, I may be threatened to hell or ostracized from that community.
As free-thinkers and neurodivergent beings, autistics are often mistreated for existing in a system that refuses meaningful critique and suppresses non-conformity.
Even though we have rights to our ideas, opinions, and autonomy, I have been punished for asking too many questions to know the reasons why things are the way they are, often in an effort to know what I am agreeing to put my energy towards, especially while employed.
I am here to tell you, dear reader, that we do not live in a free, fair, and democratic society. Autistic and allistic (non-autistic) citizens alike are routinely punished for exercising our rights and excluded from decision-making that affects our daily lives.
*I want to be clear that exercising our rights is not the same as violating someone else’s rights or safety.
Radical acceptance of our identities and individual needs challenges a system that caters to an elite few who envision a world devoid of the vast and diverse physical, emotional, psychological, and neurological needs of millions of human lives.
2. Autism Speaks is NOT an autistic-friendly organization; social discourse endorses a cure for our brains.
First of all, not all autistic people speak nor can speak. So the name itself is harmful, implying that speaking is desirable over non-speaking.
Second, although I don’t know every detail about its workings, a consensus among the autistic community is that its mission is founded in abled saviorism; the promotion of autism as an affliction, a burden, a disease that humanity needs to be saved from.
Third, the organization does not have a single autistic person in leadership, the allistic (non-autistic) CEO makes loads of money, and millions of dollars of funding goes to research to cure autism rather than to support autistic people and their families.
Lastly, historical and current discourse on autism is abysmal, claiming autism to be an epidemic, as if our brains are infected by a virus. These deeply-rooted fears can be traced to the fascist history of autism research.
“Under Hitler’s regime, psychiatry — previously based on compassion and empathy — became part of an effort to classify the population of Germany, Austria and beyond as ‘genetically’ fit or unfit. In the context of the ‘euthanasia’ killing programmes, psychiatrists and other physicians had to determine who would live and who would be murdered. It is in this context that diagnostic labels such as ‘autistic psychopathy’ (coined by Asperger) were created.”
The DSM-5 defines autism through a deficit pathology and the current research has hardly strayed from the narratives of Nazi scientists who were not explicitly autistic themselves, violently biased about “normal” ways to exist and behave.
We have a long road ahead of us, as society has dedicated beliefs about us being defective rather than normal and simply neurodivergent.
3. Much like gender, autism is a spectrum. And there are countless autists who are unrepresented and undiagnosed.
Not everyone is autistic. But any person you meet could be autistic. Autists embody all types of identities and can be any race, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, religion, disability, body size and type and often have co-occurring conditions and disabilities, whether neurological, psychological or physical. And many trans and gender-expansive people are autistic!
In addition, women and gender-expansive people are under-diagnosed. And Black, Latinx, Asian, Southeast Asian, and Indigenous people are under-diagnosed and thus, less visible in the overall social discourse.
More marginalized autistics may struggle to live safely and comfortably in a society that is not accessible to them and does not even know they exist.
Further, our individual autistic traits vary greatly and manifest in several areas including social interaction, sensory and auditory processing, executive functioning, sleep and rest, hobbies, school and work. And our support needs can fluctuate from day to day.
Although the medical and psychological research detailing autism is often pathologizing and the language used to describe our neurology is incredibly dehumanizing, autism does exist as a neurotype. And accepting that we are normal, valid, and beautiful as we are is necessary for our survival, to live full, comfortable and vibrant lives.
Hope for Autistic Futures
Although I accept that I am autistic, life feels difficult right now. I am grieving years of feeling ashamed about myself, attempting to mask, and not understanding why I have been uncomfortable, in pain, confused and frustrated. What I need moving forward is accessibility. And to be heard.
What if we made a commitment to be pleasantly and respectfully curious about others instead of judgmental of our differences?
What if schools, businesses, jobs, libraries, churches, malls, public spaces made it accessible to our sensory needs?
What would it be like if we did not have to hide our authentic selves so others will not harm, bully, or exclude us?
What if the spectrum of our humanness was embraced and loved for being a part of nature, of neurodiversity?
Easy community actions for establishing an accessible world are slowing down. Breathing. And listening to and learning from autistic people. Creating space for us to make decisions about our own lives and environments. We need and deserve autonomy and self-efficacy. And society needs to relinquish harmful, dehumanizing and degrading narratives about us.
To truly practice acceptance, may we each create space to heal deeply, in psychological, spiritual and emotional realms. And know that feeling enraged at this system and how it has harmed us, and ashamed of how we have harmed others, is normal and valid.