Today, Sunday 18th June, is Autistic Pride Day 2023. This is a day which was started by, and is still led by, autistic people to celebrate autistic people.
This year’s theme is ‘Transforming the Narrative’. Whilst it is incredibly important that we work on changing the narrative of what autism is – and what it isn’t – in society, it is equally as important for autistic people to work on changing our own narratives. Many of us grew up either not knowing we were autistic, or being fed a harmful narrative. This means that we need to work on how we see ourselves and our autistic identity.
Autistic pride is a journey, and is certainly not linear, nor a final destination.
I was diagnosed when I was almost seventeen (and I say ‘almost seventeen’, not sixteen, because at sixteen I was stuck in a psychiatric unit who did not recognise that I was autistic, until we pushed for an assessment six months later). I suppose I was lucky in that my initial reaction was not confusion, but overwhelming relief. I knew the diagnosis was right immediately, even if people who knew me weren’t so sure – because, after all, I didn’t appear autistic in the way that society expected. Nevertheless, the emotions came and went in waves, with a whole lot of shame (I wrote about that here).
Five years later, and my knowledge and understanding has grown immensely. Autism has practically become my special interest. Autistic pride is something I feel a lot more often.
So, what IS autistic pride to me? Well, I see it as encompassing a range of things:
Embracing my autistic identity (or at least feeling okay with it)
Gaining a new understanding of who I am and how my brain works
Learning that everyone’s brains are different and that is wonderful
Rewriting my own past and the narrative I have been told about myself
Shouting to the world about what autism actually is and what it isn’t
Meeting and forming friendships with other autistic people and learning from each other
Unmasking in places which are safe and comfortable to do so and becoming my authentic self
Basking in the glorious feeling of autistic joy
Uncovering the shame I have grown up with and being able to express my authentic autistic reactions
Being able to enjoy and talk about my special interests without feeling ashamed
Feeling proud of myself for getting to where I am
Not forcing myself into situations which make me uncomfortable anymore
Learning that what society expects isn’t always achievable and being okay with that
Changing the narrative that autism = bad, to autism = ME and I do not need to change, and I deserve for my needs to be met
What is autistic pride to you?