After discovering that I am Autistic, I had to decide who I wanted to tell. Finally having answers after so many years of feeling defective left me wanting to tell the world about my discovery. Of course, I knew that Autism is highly stigmatized and that it isn’t actually safe for me to just go around telling everyone.
The first person to know about my discovery was, of course, my husband. He was a part of the process from the very beginning. It was his words that actually led me to continue researching Autism. One of his sisters is Autistic so he was already fairly familiar with it. He has been an incredible support throughout the process and continues to learn with me as we discover more about how my brain works.
I think the next person I told was my best friend. I actually don’t really remember her reaction.
One of the next people I told was my mom. She had come to visit me and while we were chatting, I told her about the research I had done and that I was pretty sure I was Autistic. Her first response was “But you have friends!” After a bit more conversation (and a better explanation of Autism), she agreed that this explained a lot. We talk about it from time to time and she has continued to be supportive of me and has made an effort to learn more about Autism as well as sharing some of my posts with her friends (well, the ones I’m willing to share with her).
I’m not sure if I ever actually told my dad. I know that he knows, but I’m pretty sure that’s just because my mom told him. My dad and I have a more strained relationship (he’s an avid Trump supporter which I think is explanation enough) so I don’t speak as openly with him.
My sister has been supportive and, after some of our conversations about Autism, she has come to suspect that she is Autistic as well. We both agree that she definitely has ADHD and we plan on exploring whether or not she’s Autistic more together when we have time (she has two young children and is pregnant with the third right now, so this isn’t exactly high on her priority list).
My grandma, Ding, has been wonderful, as always. Ding has always been the family member who has been the most accepting of me. I don’t think I directly told her. I think it was my mom who first introduced the concept to her, but we’ve since talked about it. She’s asked me to explain what Autism means for me and how it affects me. I made sure to focus mostly on the positives because she already worries enough about me, but she has been great. She actually bought my first AutistiCat and AutistiBat plushies!
(Ding is super awesome in general. She’s 97 years old and still pretty mentally present. She is incredibly kind and loving and, despite her age and life experience, she is incredibly accepting of those different from herself. While she sometimes says things that sound racist, she genuinely means well but struggles to keep track of the changes in acceptable language. But, she is incredible. She taught in a one room school house after living through the Great Depression. She gives generously to everyone around her and treats everyone with love and compassion. Basically, my grandma rocks. Ok, I’ll get back to the point of what I was writing now)
About a year ago, I was meeting with my supervisor at work and, while we were talking, he revealed that he’s Autistic (which I had suspected for awhile). In return, I shared that I am Autistic as well. His response was “You must be really high-functioning” *cue eye roll* I wasn’t really surprised by his reaction though as he often treats me as inspiration porn.
Back in December, I approached the director of my department to ask if I could put up signs about Give the Gift of Stimming. She allowed me to do so, and we ended up chatting for awhile. She asked me if I had a friend or relative who is Autistic (basically trying to figure out why I care so much). I told her that I’m actually Autistic. Her response was great. All she said was “Oh! I never would have guessed”
I want to stop for a moment to explore her reaction. Autistic people often talk of the less than satisfactory responses we receive when others learn that we are Autistic. One of the common complaints is those who respond by telling us “You don’t look Autistic” or “You must be really high-functioning” or “Oh, you mean you have Asperger’s, right?”
All of those responses invalidate our experiences. These responses all have the underlying message that we’re not really Autistic, at least not like “those” Autistics (whatever their ableist view of “real” Autism is). When people respond by telling us that we are wrong about our own identities, there is the message that they somehow know us better than we know ourselves and, in many cases, that they know more than the professionals who diagnosed us. Not only is this ableist, but also arrogance.
However, my director’s response, though it may seem similar at first, is very different. She didn’t try to tell me that I was wrong about my diagnosis nor did she invalidate my struggles by trying to say that I must be high functioning. Rather, she simply was expressing that she would not have guessed that I am Autistic if I hadn’t told her. To me, her statement conveyed that my efforts to pass as neurotypical at work are at least somewhat successful.
Further, she has not treated me any different since learning I am Autistic. She interacts with me just as she always has. Honestly, her response to my revelation is a great example of how people should react when discovering that someone they know, but aren’t close to. Of course, someone could say the exact same words as my director to very different effect depending on tone/facial reactions/etc. With my director, her reaction was great not necessarily because of the words she said but, rather, the way she has continued to interact with me. She has not treated me any differently because of this information. She continues to be friendly and kind.
I don’t really have any other memorable instances of coming aut. I have some other friends I’ve told, and, mostly, the reactions have been ok. Overall, I have been very lucky in my experiences of coming aut. Even the less than stellar reactions I’ve received have been fairly tame.
I hope that, one day, revealing that one is Autistic will no longer be a frightening or dangerous experience.