As the cool autumn days come rolling in and the leaves turn and change, I reflect back upon the year. For, you see, it was about one year ago that I learned I was autistic. One year since a word entered my life that seemed to change everything.
I am autistic, but I didn’t know that for most of my life. I had fallen for the myths of autism, and I never saw myself in them. Sure I struggled socially, but that’s just because I was awkward and weird. Sure I never really made eye contact, but did people actually do that? I could never stop moving, a foot always tapping, hands twisting and wringing and tapping and occasionally flapping, but that was just more of my strangeness.
Then I learned. I learned about atypical presentation of autism, the non-stereotypical autism. I saw myself in every line I read, each symptom, each trait. Suddenly I saw my life in a whole new light. Old memories now seen through new eyes and all the pieces of my life began to come together.
I voraciously read as many blogs as I could find written by autistic women. I read through posts that seemed to echo my own life. I learned about autism as it actually is, not the version pushed by Autism Speaks. I learned about dyspraxia, alexthymia, stimming, special interests, and so much more that helped my life make more sense.
Not long after this knowledge entered my life, the stresses of life began to pick up. Soon I was having meltdowns daily. I couldn’t recover from one before the next one hit. I felt like I was becoming more and more autistic as my nonverbal episodes became more frequent and lasted longer. I felt like everything was falling apart. That is when I learned of autistic burnout. There was a name for this experience and others had been through this as well.
I bought myself stim toys. I started using them at work. Slowly but surely overcoming the shame and fear I felt about openly stimming.
I learned to take time for myself, to remove myself from situations that where overly stimulating, to take care of myself and my needs, even though, maybe especially because, they are different from most peoples.
I started to let myself flap more, and I mean really flap. I let my hands express my emotions, something I had mostly been bullied out of doing. I learned the joy of letting my body express itself. I learned the peace that can come from the right stim. Slowly, but surely, I learned to be more me.
I started a new tumblr after a few years absence. I found the autistic community and continued to learn.
I found a group of people who were proudly and unapologetically autistic. Through their confidence and reassurances, I began to become more confident in myself. I stopped hiding myself when I went out in public. If I got overwhelmed I flapped without regard to what others may think. I started to wear noise cancelling headphones in public. I started to accept myself as I am, though it is still an ongoing journey.
I also learned from these wonderful people about the difficulties and dangers that face our community. I learned about the murders of our autistic siblings at the hands of caregivers and family members and police. I learned that far too often our murderers get away with it. I learned about ableism and the impact it has on our daily lives. I learned the social model of disability, and started to see the world differently.
I became passionate about our community and the fight against ableism. I began teaching those in my life about ableism and ways they can help fight it. I taught my friends about the power of language and had the joy of watching them transform their own speech to avoid damaging words.
I wrote an article about everything wrong with Autism Speaks that got thousands of views. I received feedback that my post had actually changed peoples’ minds.
It’s odd to think that it’s only been a year. Only one year since I learned the information that changed my life. One year since I began to live more authentically. One year of autistic discovery.