Autism and Acceptance – Of Myself

CN: Discussions of unhappy childhood, mention of institutionalization, mention of ableism.

It’s Autism Acceptance month, or Autism Awareness month, depending on who you ask. This means people like me are facing a lot of misunderstanding right now, along with obnoxious blue porch lights and blue puzzle pieces on Facebook. Rather than awareness, which has a troubling tendency to dehumanize and stigmatize autistic people, acceptance has been key to my own journey. A major aspect of autism acceptance for me has been coming to terms with my own history. I was a troubled, misdiagnosed, and unhappy child, and understanding autism and my own relationship to it has been crucial to acceptance of the way I was back in those days and in my adult life.

It’s hard to explain as an adult how much I struggled as a kid. A lot of this is because a big part of my struggle was real problems with self-understanding. I did not know why I was so unhappy, and so easy to set off into rage or tears. People would demand I explain myself, and some of my most difficult memories are of being in terrible trouble because I could not explain why I responded to things the way I did. I struggled in school academically and especially socially. I switched schools repeatedly, my parents always trying to find a place where I might fit in better, or be less miserable. My family relationships became difficult to the point that I was sent away to a residential treatment program, and even that failed when I was kicked out of the program (it was a staggeringly bad fit for me). I spent my teen years medicated, socially isolated, and deeply unhappy. I did not achieve my culturally expected milestones, like prom and high school graduation.

I was a “problem child,” a “troubled teen,” and labeled with every mental illness diagnosis in the book. Though evaluated for neurological problems on several occasions and put through rounds of psychological testing, I was not diagnosed with autism or Asperger’s Syndrome as a child or as a teen – I believe largely because by my teen years the later was only being recognized in boys, and before that neither were recognized often in highly verbal children.

My self perception, going into adulthood, was that I was a bad kid and that I would never be allowed to live an independent life. I blamed a lot of my problems, especially being expelled from the residential school, on my queerness for a long time, as a way to protect myself from the idea that I was inherently broken. If the rest of the world was too homophobic and transphobic to deal with me that was their problem, not mine. It was partially true, too – many of the institutions I dealt with WERE unfair to me because of my queerness. It just wasn’t the whole story.

This story got me through for a long time, as I matured and developed much better social and life skills. In many ways adult life was easier for me because I had more control and because adults are more forgiving of weirdness than kids are. I got my GED. I found people who shared my interests and who didn’t mind my quirks. I found jobs that were far less overwhelming in terms of stimulus (noise especially) than your average high school. My emotions mellowed. I was doing pretty well.

Then a few years ago someone asked me if I thought maybe I might be on the autism spectrum. The question had occurred to me before, but this person had good reasons to know what they were talking about, so I took it more seriously coming from them than from myself. Since then, further research and consultations with multiple mental health professionals has confirmed this. Unlike every previous diagnosis, this one fits. I firmly believe that if I was born 20 years later I would have been diagnosed as a kid, but instead mine came as an adult like man others like me.

As I got to know other autistic adults and examined the ways in which autism impacts my adult life, I also came to greater acceptance of myself as a child and teen. I now know what I did not as I was growing up – I was not a failure or a problem. Yes, I did a lot of confusing, unproductive, and even hurtful things, but now I have a much better understanding of why I could not be like the other kids. I also have a better understanding of myself as an adult, and a much easier time accepting things about me that I previously saw as deficits or flaws.

I’m incredibly glad that I was already vaguely aware of the autism acceptance movement before understanding how it applied to me, because I never went through any phase of wanting to rid myself of autism. This is who I am, and how my brain is. I am different, and it has caused me trouble – but I also see how a lot of that trouble was the consequence of other people not understanding me, not me being a bad kid. It has made a world of difference for me.

Autism and Acceptance – Of Myself

Help Me With My Research!

My University requires students to do a major capstone project before graduation, and I’m working on mine. You can help!

Please help an undergraduate student researcher by filling out a research survey about gifts you have received in the past.

We are conducting a research study because we are trying to learn more about the environmental impacts of gift giving. The survey will include questions about books or movies that you have received in the most recent holiday season as a gift. We will also collect some personal information about you such as age, gender, and state of residence. If there is a question you do not want to answer, you may skip it.

This study will take about 10 minutes of your time. Research data collected from you will be confidential.

Participants will be entered to win a $25 gift certificate.

Follow this link to the Survey.

Thank you in advance for your participation!

Help Me With My Research!

Frivolous Friday: Hiker’s Spring Fever

Frivolous Fridays are the Orbit bloggers’ excuse to post about fun things we care a lot about that may not necessarily have serious implications for politics or social justice. Although any day is a good day to write about our passions outside of social issues, we sometimes have a hard time giving ourselves permission to do that. This is our way of encouraging each other to take a break from serious topics and have some fun.

Spring is here! Although Chicago had an incredibly mild winter this year, it’s still exciting to have the weather warming up and flowers start to appear along my walk to work. My winter was a little darker than usual due to working overnight full time and spending a lot of my time in classes and studying, but the winter classes and weather have passed.

I love spending time outdoors when I can, and spend much of my free time fantasizing about camping trips and hiking excursions. The lead up to spring is often full of spending time looking at hiking gear, planning camp food, and searching for fun places to get out of the city. In recent years I haven’t gotten out as much as I’d like. The combination of work, school, and family responsibilities has kept me from camping more than two or three times a year, and kept me from any serious hiking for several years.

This year I don’t have any more free time than I have in the past, but I do have a slightly more predictable schedule, which helps enormously in planning. I also have a few more friends who enjoy this kind of outing, so I have planned weekends away with friends, with partners, and by myself. I’m particularly excited to explore new state parks and try out some new gear, including my new hammock which I hope will be a lighter alternative to my backpacking tent.

In the long run, I’d like to start doing some more serious hikes, possibly starting with the 160 mile River to River trail in Illinois. This summer, though, I’m going to test my newer gear, work on freezer bag cooking recipes, and just get out of the city as much as I can.

As spring and summer advance, keep an eye here on Frivolous Fridays (and any other time I feel like it) for reviews of gear, vegetarian backpacking food options, and maybe some pictures of pretty places I get to visit. Hopefully I will only encounter the fun kinds of bears.

Frivolous Friday: Hiker’s Spring Fever