The idea of “Autistic Pride,” like the concept of “Gay Pride,” is often misconstrued. Pride can sound like self-congratulation to those who accept neither autism nor the inevitable evolution of language. Maybe you think “pride” has to reflect some sort of accomplishment. If that is the case, then what right have we to be proud of something we haven’t worked for?
For more than half of my life, more days than not, I wished I were dead. At sixteen, books about suicide lined my shelves. I knew I would do it one day. The reason was shame. I was, in too many ways, not like the others, somehow broken. I heard it at home and at school. I overheard it at the doctor’s office and in the shops. I didn’t have to work for shame, it was just mine.
When I talk about pride, I mean that I survived.
I have had the opportunity to meet a lot of young autistic people. So many of them hate themselves. They have been placed in segregated classrooms. They have been subjected to hours of “normalizing” therapies. They have rarely heard anything positive about autism or being autistic. They have seen themselves represented by puzzle pieces.
I wonder what is on their shelves.
I wonder if any of them sneak into their parents’ room and hold a loaded gun to their heads while watching in the mirror. Getting used to it. Wondering when. Do you think my parents ever knew or suspected?
When I talk about pride, I mean to tell every one of them, there is nothing wrong with you. You are as valuable as anyone. It is okay to flap. It is okay to pace, to rock, to repeat, to communicate in whatever way works for you. You are not broken. Not broken. Not broken. Not broken.
When I talk about pride, I mean as in lions. How we need a group of others like us, to support us, help us grow, show us the way. It takes a lot more than one voice to push back the blue light brigade (“broken, broken, broken,”they say.) That’s why I pick up the pride flag. I wave it. I roar.