For Autism Acceptance Day/Month, we often think of acceptance in terms of how the rest of the world sees us. As we should, that’s incredibly important. But I find myself turning inward instead and reflecting on my own path to acceptance.
When I first became aware of, and later active in, the autistic community several years ago I felt like I had embarked on a revolution. And I suppose in a way, that’s exactly what it was. I fought hard to accept the things about myself I had spent over 20 years trying to smother. It was exciting, exhilarating and empowering, and often still is. What I didn’t realize was how exhausting this battle could become over time.
It wasn’t a losing battle, I loved myself more each day, but it was tiring nonetheless. That’s just the nature of things, I suppose. Energy expended is energy lost. But I found myself in some kind of uncomfortable limbo. I was no longer unaware of my own self-reproach and not yet subconsciously comfortable in my identity, no matter what I understood intellectually. I didn’t spend too much time thinking about how my feelings would change over time. When it comes to emotions, I’m much better at reflection than prediction. But there are noticeable changes when I look back at how I felt in years past, especially around April.
The negative self-talk, a product of internalized ableism, has receded— to my immense relief. It still pops up, especially if I have a meltdown, but day-to-day that nasty little voice tends to remain silent. I find myself stimming in public without admonishing myself about how odd I look. I don’t look odd when I stim. I look autistic and that’s quite alright, isn’t it? I like looking autistic. It’s who I am. And I like seeing other visibly neurodiverse folks out in the wild, it makes me feel happy and not alone. Why shouldn’t I grant myself the same acceptance I have for others?
I don’t ignore and push my limits anymore. Every time I ran out of spoons, even though I could and would usually take time to retreat, I still had an internal debate about the validity of my needs. For the past few years I’ve demanded acceptance of my limitations from the people close to me but I still couldn’t get my brain to follow those same rules. I can’t pinpoint when the shift in thinking became noticeable but I know it happened gradually. Maybe my brain just finally took the hint.
There are other little things I’ve noticed upon reflection. I don’t feel self-conscious when I go on and on and on about my special interest. After all, they’re very interesting. I’ve found myself being more forthcoming about my needs with people outside of my close family and friends and I really, truly understand that they are needs and ignoring them won’t help me or anybody else. Mostly, I find myself just feeling genuinely happy about who I am. That’s new.
This is where I am this year. I’ve never regretted being on this journey of self-acceptance, even when I was tired, but I’m certainly glad I’ve evolved a little bit. Maybe you’re here with me or at the start or at some place on the path that is unknown to me. Wherever you are, I hope you know you’re not alone and that in the exploration of self and the journey to acceptance, there is no loss—only gain.
I can only hope that this same journey is reflected societally and slowly but surely we will experience fully realized equality. We deserve absolutely nothing less, from ourselves and from anyone else.