I was diagnosed in late 2018, at the age of 22. Meaning, I lived 22 years without knowing who I was. I spent 22 years behind a mask, having to be someone I wasn’t, like a human forced to live the life of a lobster. It hurt, a lot. And I didn’t realize how much trauma had been shaped around that masking until I discovered who I was. Finding my identity let me take my first breath. Today, I am grounded in my existence. I am absolutely in love with my Autistic identity. It is everything that I am and more. I quite literally would not exist without it. So, I guess you could say it’s pretty important. I share my existence with others through autism and queer education and support on Instagram. It gives me such a purpose to do so, and it selfishly helps me to better understand myself. I desperately want other Autistics to know and fall in love with the depths of their Autistic soul. I also want to help parents of Autistic children, professionals, and the rest of society understand what it really means to be Autistic, and what they can do to create an accepting and accommodating world for all of us. And, of course, I have my service dog, Albus, by my side through all of it.
What is life like for you on a daily basis?
This is not so easy to answer, as every day looks vastly different for me. I have various mental illnesses that affect me differently each day. A single day could involve training Albus, coping through a meltdown or two, hyperfocusing on creating content, playing an instrument, sleeping to get rid of my suicidality, and watching an episode of some random show my dad is hooked on at the end of the day.
What is the difference between awareness and acceptance?
Ah, yeah. There’s a huge difference. Awareness of something is knowing of its existence on a superficial level. Like how society is aware that Autistics exist, but they don’t really know what autism truly is. They’re just…aware. And it ends there. Acceptance is when you take awareness and add education. Acceptances means to receive a person as they are, and not as someone you expect them to be. And you know who they are by listening to them.
What are some common misconceptions about autism?
MANY. Where do I even start? Autism is not an illness, a disorder, or anything bad. Autism is an entire identity. Being autistic is everything that a person is. It is not something we have. We do not carry it around with us, like a handbag. It is a different way of existing. A different neurotype. Autism is not a linear spectrum, from least to most Autistic. It is more like a color wheel, on which all of our traits are constantly moving. We are all equally Autistic, just with different traits. No Autistic trait is inherently negative. Hard? Yes. But never bad. Autistics do not lack empathy. A lot of us actually experience hyperempathy.
What does it mean to be “only human?”
To me, it sounds like to be only human is to be absolutely infinite. There are an infinite amount of ways to be human, and I think Autistics are proof of that. I mean, think about the millions of identities that exist, whether it’s religion or race or culture or neurodivergence or disability or gender or anything else that exists. Then take every person who has the same identity, let’s say Nonbinary. Not one single Nonbinary person experiences being Nonbinary the same way as someone else. That makes every person’s existence the most unique one to ever…exist. So to be only human, I think that it means to be infinite.
How can individuals be an advocate for those living with autism?
The biggest and most meaningful thing to do is to listen to Autistics. Listening brings everything else to fruition (accommodations, support, education, celebration). We don’t want people to advocate FOR us. We want people to stand beside us.
Tell me a little bit about the intersectionalities within your life.
All of my identities smoosh together. They move with each other. I’m Autistic, queer, nonbinary, mentally ill, disabled, and so much more. A lot of those identities I had to come to discover. And I’m still learning about them. Who I am is enormous, and none of my identities will ever be able to be fully understood, not even by me. Humans are too complex for that. I strongly believe that I was able to find my queer identity through my Autistic identity. Being Autistic makes me understand the world and myself in a really cool and different way than others. I think that this way of understanding helped me to accept my gender and sexuality. My mental illnesses? They’re all comorbidities of being Autistic. In every moment, I am all of my identities at once, which is really cool to think about.