Finding pride in your autistic identity
I have not always been aware that I am different. I was aware that other people didn’t like me, but not that it was because the wiring of my brain is different.
At different times in my life, I have thought that this neurological difference meant that I, as a human being, was flawed. When I was first seen by a psychiatrist, she diagnosed me with social anxiety because I was scared of going to school, and nobody there seemed to like me. But even then, I had the sense that that wasn’t everything there was to me: I wasn’t always shy or scared of approaching other people, it was more that I didn’t know how to do it - but also, nobody but my best friend gave me a chance. Shouldn’t other people have made the effort to try to embrace my difference? If my interests were unusual or not mainstream, shouldn’t they be welcome with curiosity? Why wouldn’t other people want to learn new things?
But at the time, I thought this was my fault. I was ostracised and bullied until year 10, during which I had a huge meltdown over something and I was taken out of my new school and transferred back to my old one. Looking at this situation now, I remember how scared I was, but I feel retrospective pride for having continued being the way that I was, no matter how much easier it could’ve been to try to like the things everyone else liked. Masking can be convenient in the short term, but in the longer term, it is exhausting and miserable.
I really needed to be told that I was okay being this way, which is why I want to highlight that for you right now.
Being autistic is, at the best of times, logistically challenging. You don’t know the rules of socialisation, or you only realise that you’ve made a mistake once it happens. At worst, though, it can make you really dislike and resent who you are - but it doesn’t have to be that way. Being proud of being autistic goes much further beyond than accepting that what you enjoy is okay - it’s about realising that we have many strengths and can find joys in ways that our detractors cannot.
Finding joy and being proud of being autistic
Although society’s understanding of autism is evolving, it still doesn’t feel like it’s made with us in mind. We take comfort in our special interests when things get tough - and don’t you think it’s amazing that we can enjoy things this much? People may call them restrictive or obsessive, but the intensity of the joy that a special interest can bring is unparalleled. When I visited a JoJo exhibition in Japan, the happiness was such that it seemed to ignite something in my body.
Our sensory issues are another difficulty that we face no matter how suitable our environment can be, to the point that they can be exhausting - at the same time, I am thankful for my acute senses for strengthening memories no matter how old. The level of enjoyment that I take from my favourite stims makes me feel thankful to be alive and experience all of it.
Finally, you should take pride in what you’ve achieved. Surviving all forms of hardship, building relationships, persevering at a hobby, following a routine, and even getting out of bed are things that many neurotypical people will take for granted, but that can be impossibly difficult when it seems like the whole world is against people like us.
It’s more than okay to be autistic - it’s amazing.
About the author
Josefina is a former member of the Ambitious Youth Council and a current Patient Representative at the Royal College of Psychiatrists.