What does autism mean to me?
A question that if you asked 12-year-old newly diagnosed me, I’d have probably declined to answer. Truthfully, I knew very little about autism and anything I did know, I didn’t relate to at all. All I knew was the stereotypical representation of a young boy who was very matter of fact and not academically able. That wasn’t me, and so I found it hard to understand what it meant by being told I was autistic, and for at least a year I completely ignored it.
Nowadays at age 19, I still don’t know completely what autism is apart from something I am so completely proud to be. It’s not easy to explain autism because it doesn’t affect any two people in the same way. My dad always used to say, “once you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism” and I agree. Sure, there can be similar traits and behaviours, but being autistic isn’t about being your Sheldon Cooper characters or being deemed “weird” by society, it’s so much more than that.
Autism to me is about strength. In my case it’s about being strongly opinionated, having a strong work ethic and a strong sense of justice. All these traits are recognisable by people who know me, but there’s also strength within myself - strength to mask; strength to subvert stereotypes and strength to regulate emotions.
Being an advocate for autistic people
Something I have strived to do in the seven years since my diagnosis is to educate myself and be an advocate not just for myself but for other neuro-divergent individuals, as I feel that society bases their views on autistic people through stereotypes and outdated harmful misinformation, meaning it is made harder to engage in education and wider society.
Autistic people face enough barriers by just having to function within neurotypical society and the lack of diverse representation of autistic people makes this so much harder. I spent most of my childhood masking and feeling left out socially, and I spend so much time now having to regulate when I mask my behaviours so that I do not become emotionally exhausted.
I want to change the idea that autism is a burden on society, and really demonstrate how amazing it is to be autistic, whether that means succeeding in the conceptual societal manner, or going against that completely.
About the author:
Etta is a 19-year-old and a member of our Youth Network. She is about to finish A-levels and is hoping to study History at university. She has her own personal blog where she explores her journey as an autistic woman. She is interested and passionate about musical theatre, music in general and advocating for disabilities.