As weird as it may sound, this is a love letter to myself firstly - which, as I am discovering, is many years overdue. Let me back up and tell this story from the beginning. As you can imagine, I intend for this post to reveal some highly personal truths, and I will likely cry multiple times while writing it. Fortunately, my tears won't influence the readability like it would if this was on paper instead of your screen.
Over the past several months, as I become more conversant with ASD, I have become increasingly aware that I am neurodivergent and likely autistic. However, I shied away from sharing my suspicions with people close to me (or even admitting it to myself) for many reasons - not the least, the fear of appearing fraudulent and attention-seeking.
Then last week, I traveled to the Liberated Learners Conference in N.J. with Bridget, a DRC board member. One of the workshops, "Supporting Autistic Youth at a Liberated Learners Center," was facilitated by JayJay, an autistic staff person from Bay State Learning Center near Boston, MA, who is also an activist. I should also mention that they presented via a virtual platform.
I honestly don't remember much of the actual presentation - because after they explained how, unfortunately, society, at large, views autism as a disorder - a pathology that needs to be fixed - they began to talk about traits that many autistic people share. They listed all the usual suspects associated with ASD and then finished the list with "dyspraxia and face blindness."
One more step backward in this tale - during our nearly seven-hour drive to the conference, I had mentioned in passing that I am extremely clumsy and always feel like I am not quite centered in my body - just a "half a bubble off of plumb," as the saying goes. And that I also experience a mild form of face blindness. I mostly recognize people by their mannerisms and the way they move.
When JayJay uttered those words, I turned to Bridget, and she turned to me, and I burst into messy, snotty, throat-clogging tears. I couldn't get it together enough to ask all the questions. But, I did manage to say (and gesture), through the lump in my throat - "that is me."
To say everyone in the room (including JayJay) was overwhelmingly supportive would be an understatement. The hugs were tight. The unconditional love, acceptance, and understanding of all my pent-up emotions and years of frustration were in plain view. And most importantly, they all acknowledged the validity of my statement, "I am autistic." This is just one of the many reasons I am so very grateful to have these people in my life.
To be clear, owning this label does not change the essential me. What it does - is allow me to fully embrace and unmask that quirky, weirdly geeky, smart, socially awkward, sensory sensitive, creative, "half a bubble off of plumb" little girl inside - who has been hiding (for 57 years) because she never understood her place in the world.
This leads me to my final two points: Autism is not a disease. Full Stop! We are not sick - just differently wired. Which doesn't make us any less - only different. We don't want or need to be pathologized, remediated, or "fixed" in any way.
And secondly, we can advocate for ourselves - as a group and as individuals. We don't need or want neurotypical (conformists) to lead the charge - needless to say, all you neuro-"typs" are more than welcome to join us as a support network. We want to be completely clear that we are not puzzle pieces waiting for you to fit us into the spaces you deem appropriate because we make you uncomfortable.
Autistic people are fully capable of self-advocacy and activism. We are also permitted to, individually, take our places in this world that feel right to each of us - that allow us to be our unmasked, authentic selves.
It is not lost on me that autistic people generally have a shorter life span. This is accounted for in several ways - 1) we are often forced through behavior therapy (ABA) to become "normal" versions of ourselves. 2) this often results in serious mental health issues, and 3) we are shunned and not given a legitimate place in society, which means we are often pushed aside without homes, work, or healthcare.
This is the main reason I requested the above workshop. A good number of the young people who find DRC are autistic - many undiagnosed. I wanted to know how DRC can help them be themselves in a world that desires and forces normalcy and perfection.
In a roundabout way, I found my answer - we simply do what we have always done - provide a safe environment and support them with as many accommodations as they need to joyfully celebrate their purely, unmasked, and fiercely genuine selves.
*Note: JayJay's FB page can be found here. It is a great place to begin learning about ASD from an autistic person.
Weekly Creative Meditation
Summer Programs: The DRC-East three themed programs begin on July 11th. Currently, we do not have a minimum number to make the program financially viable, and if that is the case, we will not run it. Please get in touch before Tuesday the 5th if your child is interested.
I have been updating the DRC website over the past few days. Please take a look and let me know if there any links not working - thanks. PS - I know that the Navigation Menu is not showing up on the blog page. Apparently, it is a Weebly issue that has occurred for other folks too.
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