So we’re reading The Speed Of Dark in my sci-fi class next week, and I’m going to be sharing some information about autism. Yays. I’m still scripting various things out, but right now I’m working on a way to counter the common argument “if you can say ‘I’m autistic’ you aren’t”.
Which is, frankly, bullshit.
It’s like saying that, in order to be depressed, you can’t know it–or you can know that something is wrong, but not know what. It’s like saying that if someone with amnesia can say “I don’t remember,” they can’t have amnesia. It’s illogical, it’s wrong, and it’s profoundly destructive.
Here’s the thing: I can say “I am autistic” because I’ve spent half of my life being shuffled from shrink to shrink and learning how to put words to what I feel and experience. I can say “I am autistic” because I learned about autism from my first diagnose at twelve and had several years to acclimate myself to it and read, and read, and read and study up on what it meant. I can say “I am autistic” because I spent years reading various works by various autistic people and although nothing matched me perfectly, enough resonated, enough fit to give me the right words to describe what I experience. I can say “I am autistic” because when I was diagnosed again at 16, my doctor took the time to teach me how to explain and interpret what I experience in terms of the framework of autism: “this is called sensory overload. This is called pragmatic difficulties.” etc. I can identify what I experience because many people took the time to teach me.
The kids I work with don’t know that they are autistic–or, perhaps, they don’t know what that means. And it’s a travesty. They have all of these experiences and no words to put on them, and it renders them helpless–not the best word, but the best I can do. It makes it so that, in addition to having an experience that is already difficult for them to deal with, like sensory overload, they don’t know what it is or why it’s happening or how to fix it because no one has ever bothered to just teach them. It’s not a hard thing to do, but for some reason it doesn’t get done.
When you have experiences you don’t like, don’t understand, and can’t explain, you suffer psychologically. You lack a positive and cohesive self-image, you lack a steady place in the world, you lack any way of ordering your world in such a way that you can understand it.
That’s why so many people self-diagnose. That’s why so many adult autistics want a label. Because it gives you a starting point. It makes one thing in your life clear and unshakable, and you can build on that. Figuring out who we are is a human drive, it seems to me. To deny someone that, however inadvertently, is wrong.
Autistics are people just like everyone else. We want to know why we think the way we do, why our lives work a certain way, how to understand it, what to call it. Many of us eventually learn to use our label as an explanation. Some neat verbal trick shouldn’t–doesn’t– discount our lives and identities.
Julia Bascom’s A Neat Verbal Write-Off appears here with her permission. Julia currently blogs at flashback dream sequence.