After the mixed feelings of autism awareness/acceptance month in April, writes Dianne McLean, it is something of a relief to have another day in which to celebrate the neurodiversity of those of us who fall on the autism spectrum.
8 June 2020 – Autistic Pride Day on June 18 holds no pressure to educate or raise awareness or have the celebrations tainted by the less than supportive voices that are also heard throughout acceptance month and the debate that goes with it.
It is a day just for us.
A day where we can say we are proud to be autistic.
I imagine if I asked a room full of autistics what Autistic Pride means to them, I would receive as many answers as there are people in the room. We are all so diﬀerent and we all have our own unique gifts, challenges and opinions.
For me, Autism Pride is hugely significant. Receiving my diagnosis later in life in no way diminishes the impact of being able to celebrate this day. There are many reasons for this, but I have managed to narrow it down to these main ideas.
Identity and validation.
I didn’t have an ‘oﬃcial’ label growing up, but I had plenty of other less helpful ones slapped on me freely by the frustrated and unkind. I experienced bullying and isolation for reasons I couldn’t fathom, because no one could tell me why I was so diﬀerent.
I always felt diﬀerent on the inside but I never realised how observably diﬀerent I was to those around me and it always came as a bit of a shock to discover I wasn’t as well camouflaged as I thought I was.
So, my sense of self was very murky and my experiences of the world were constantly being invalidated – even by myself at times. Finding out I am autistic gave me a whole new frame of reference and with it a profound sense of relief. I’m not a failed ‘people’ after all – I am a perfectly formed autistic!
So, Autism Pride, for me, is a way to celebrate our unique neuro-type. You can’t take the autism out of us. It is who we are, woven into every strand of our DNA and I know I am not the only one who feels an immense sense of pride in being autistic despite the challenges it can present.
Stigma and stereotypes.
Thankfully, things are changing; but there are many misconceptions about autism and, unfortunately, there is still some stigma around it. Most of my friends responded admirably when I came outto them, but some felt they had to console me and remind me they still loved me anyway, as if I automatically became less loveable on being diagnosed.
Like the stigma, the stereotypes are still there – in the movies and on TV and it can be hard to watch at times.
Celebrating Autism Pride in even a small way can help to break down these stereotypes and stigmas by allowing others to see us as the diverse and colourful community we really are. That we value and love many of the same things, that we have a sense of humour and empathy and that there are many, many things that we are very good at.
Autism Pride is a way to show the rest of the world – I’m not ashamed of who I am. I don’t need a cure or pity. I love myself the way I am.
Much like ANZAC day and other memorial days, Autism Pride is a day during which I remember those who have gone before. It is with a heartfelt sense of gratitude that I take the time to acknowledge those in our community who fought to get us this far. The ones who paved the way for greater acceptance and awareness by raising their voices and insisting they be heard even in the face of opposition. The ones who have suﬀered through ‘cures’ and therapies or had their potential ignored because they were non speaking.
This is the day to recognise the eﬀorts of every autistic activist and autism ally who has advocated, spoken out, stood up and been counted, educated someone or just plain old been themselves in a world that is not friendly to the diﬀerent or disabled.
A time for us to reflect on the progress made and evaluate how and where to go next, either collectively or personally.
I have plans for June 18. Not grand ones (there will be food!), but I will be celebrating and communicating my pride in belonging to the wonderful community I am a part of with my family and my work colleagues and I’ll be taking time to quietly reflect on the deeper meaning of this day.
- Dianne McLean is a late diagnosed autistic author who lives in Thames where she happily indulges in her love of all things ‘steampunk’.