Autistic Identity Not Medical Mystery

Tas's opinion on clinical views of the autism diagnosis and finding your identity.


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The experiences in the autistic community are the foundation of the movement towards autism acceptance. Personal stories make the message clear for an audience that has not lived through the eyes of an autist. This article will chronicle the experiences of Tas to show the dangers of not accepting an autistic identity.


Getting a diagnosis


Tas was born in the late 80s. Medical difficulties arose swiftly that culminated into hospital stays and regular health care services. Physical therapy, speech therapy, and occupational therapy were part of the normal routine. Living the teen years in the early 2000s meant there was no understanding of neurodiversity. It was a different world for all types of developmental disabilities, but especially autism.


A diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder was stigmatized and considered an issue for society. As recent as 2018 the government put forth the effort to cure autism. House Bill 18-1223 in the state of Colorado urged the government to declare an autism epidemic. The legislator wanted a task force to collect data from the last decade to calculate the rise in autism spectrum disorder diagnosis and determine a means to stop it (“Declare Autism Epidemic In Colorado”). Autism was treated as a problem or medical condition that needed to be eradicated.


Tas lived through harassment as a child for acting too autistic. Even Though a diagnosis of autism was not confirmed until the age of 24 the stressors of being neurodivergent never disappeared. Autistic traits are innate to an autistic mind. Tas believes that you are born autistic and the doctors that provided the diagnosis agreed. The autism diagnosis did not change the society challenging the validity of an autistic identity.


Therapy to stop being authentic


Through therapeutic methods, medical staff tried to mitigate the symptoms of autism while Tas was a child. Stimming behaviors like rocking, shaking, headbanging, and humming noises were slowly oppressed. Stimming is a natural element of being an autistic child and adult. Researcher Steven Kapps theorizes that uncontrollable physical movements like hand flapping for autistic people are caused by sensory-motor differences (1784). Sensory issues being an autistic adult is something Tas knows well.


Society is embarrassed, disgusted, and uncomfortable with the autistic movement. Tas was forced as a child to oppress these actions which did not lessen the occurrence. Instead, it created mental health issues for Tas. The inability to be authentically autistic created panic, anxiety, and long-term self-esteem struggles.


Instead of the desired outcome, therapy created increased anxiety because of the requirement to mask in public. People did not want Tas to be autistic. The word autistic is a slur used to insult neurotypical people. Identifying as autistic was not an option for older generation autistics. Playing with children, talking with friends or adults that know nothing about autism is a painful process. Tas was forced to put on a mask to fit in with other children. The same masking occurred as an adult at the workplace which made office positions impossible to maintain.


Tas could be in a room full of people, but still, be completely alone. Denying a person's right to be authentic damages the mind. The Suicide Prevention Center produced studies from Denmark that show there is an increased risk of suicide amongst autistic teens (2). Neurotypical society wants to remove autistic traits and assimilate the autistic community. Refusing to acknowledge and accept the autistic identity means they are stripping away a child and adults' choice to live happily.


Clinical replaced by identity


Removing the clinical ideals around autism is important to Tas and others in the community. The autistic community sees autism as an integral part of themselves, not a disease or disorder. Having the right to be autistic means having the right to be accepted into society. The International Journal of Research and Practice conducted a study that showed autistic children thrived when the parents accepted the autistic identity (381).


Accepting autism means changing the rhetoric surrounding autism from person first to identity first. Using person-first implies that autism is something negative. A person with autism is the same as saying a person with a contagious disease. Autism becomes an adjective that describes a certain type of person instead of being part of the person's identity. The vocabulary change of "you are" to "I am" is a way for the autistic community to take back the power.


Tas is confident in an autistic identity despite the pressures faced as a child to change innate autistic traits. In time, the world will listen to voices like that of Tas and give another autist more opportunities to be active members of society.


 

Originally written as our Writ 320 assignment


“Declare Autism Epidemic In Colorado.” Colorado General Assembly, 2018, leg.colorado.gov/bills/hb18-1223.


Dunn, Dana S., and Erin E. Andrews. “Person-First and Identity-First Language: Developing Psychologists’ Cultural Competence Using Disability Language.” The American Psychologist, vol. 70, no. 3, Apr. 2015.:255-64. doi: 10.1037/a0038636.


Kapp, Steven K et al. “'People should be allowed to do what they like': Autistic adults' views and experiences of stimming.” Autism : the international journal of research and practice vol. 23,7 (2019): 1782-1792. doi:10.1177/1362361319829628


Riccio, Ariana, et al. “How Is Autistic Identity in Adolescence Influenced by Parental Disclosure Decisions and Perceptions of Autism?” Autism: The International Journal of Research and Practice, vol. 25, no. 2, Feb. 2021, pp. 374–388.


“Suicide Risk among People with Autism Spectrum Disorder | Suicide Prevention Resource Center.” Sprc.Org, www.sprc.org/news/suicide-risk-among-people-autism-spectrum-disorder.


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