I’m Not Your Inspiration

The posts are all over the internet, giving people warm, fuzzy feelings.  A grocery employee squishes a loaf of bread and the patron writes a letter to the grocery, but she isn’t angry, she praises the grocery for hiring an Autistic employee.  A man buys a cake and asks for something written on it, but when an Autistic employee writes on it in spite of not being supposed to, he shares the story with the world.  A disabled man wets himself, but a non-disabled person comes to the rescue, escorting him to the restroom and calling for clean clothes.  I could give hundreds of examples that circulate daily.  But I won’t like a single one because I hate them.

A friend recently shared the story about the lady in the grocery with squished bread.  The employee counted her change multiple times, squished her bread, and she went home and wrote a letter to the grocery praising them for hiring an Autistic employee.  I won’t like it because I don’t want to give them traffic.  But I do want to discuss it and posts like it.

What is wrong with it? First of all, the lady assumed the guy had Autism. She didn’t know, he could have been having a bad day, he could like numbers, he could have anxiety, he could have Tourette’s or a stutter or OCD. Maybe he is bad at math or it was his first day at work or he miscounted his drawer yesterday and was nervous?  Maybe he justed liked squishing bread or was bad at bagging.  I mean repeating stuff and squishing bread isn’t exactly in the DSM 5.

Now, that part aside, let’s look at what makes this story worth sharing. Is it because someone with Autism did something awesome? Because it is spreading awareness or acceptance about Autism? Because it is helping others understand what it is like to live with Autism? Nope, none of those things. It is literally shared because it makes “normal” (ie. non-autistic or non-disabled) people feel warm and fuzzy inside because they aren’t Autistic.

Let’s replace the guy in the story with a non-disabled person. Suddenly, the story is uninteresting, isn’t it? It’s pretty boring when it is about a normal person writing about a normal person who counted some stuff twice and squished some bread. It is only when a normal person acts like a decent person should to a disabled person that non-disabled people get all squishy inside and feel the need to share the story.

Imagine you were the cashier – would you want this story shared about you? What if it were your child? Your parent or sibling? We might be Autistic, but we are people. We have lives and feelings and emotions and believe it or not, we don’t exist solely for your inspiration.

This type of story is known in the disability community as “inspiration porn.” They are at best pointless and at worst ableist and objectifies the disabled. The sharing of this type of story needs to stop.  A good way to draw the line is to replace the disabled person in the story with a non-disabled person.  Does the story suddenly become really boring?  Then don’t share it.  That story about the grocery store is a great example of this.  On the other hand, the story I just read about the four Paralympians who ran faster than the Olympians at Rio in the 1500m?  That is pretty darn cool disability or no!

I am Autistic

Person-first language is common among those who work with anyone with any type of disability or diagnosis.  It is taught in classes, seminars, and more.  But I am NOT a person with Autism, I am Autistic.  This is called identity-first language and is common among Autistics.  There may be some who prefer person-first language (she has autism, he is a person with Autism), but I would say a majority prefer Autistic.

Autism is a big part of who I am. It is very different from many of my other diagnoses. For example, if you were to take away the kidney stones, nerve damage, latex allergy, etc. I would still be Amber. The core of who I am would be the same. Experiences and abilities might change, but I’m still me. On the other hand, if you were to remove Autism from me, I wouldn’t be the same person, I would be someone completely different. It isn’t like I’d just be a neurotypical Amber, I’d be someone new and very different person. A not-Amber person.

It is because Autism is such a vital part of who I am that I say I AM Autistic rather than I have Autism. I’m proud of being Autistic, regardless of the public’s perception, the hate I get, and the negative connotations with saying that.

I wasn’t officially diagnosed with Autism until about five years ago. Prior to that, I felt extremely awkward, like I didn’t belong and couldn’t fit in no matter how hard I tried. Once I finally got the diagnosis, it was such a lightbulb moment when I finally realized that not only was I not “the weird one” but there were others like me!

I know other Autistics of varying abilities and we are all working toward better awareness and more importantly acceptance of Autism, especially Autism in adults since most people think of kids when they hear autism. Even after my diagnosis, I didn’t tell many people, I was afraid of the stigma that goes along with the word Autistic. Eventually, I realized that the stigma can never change if others can’t see people who are actually Autistic and if we don’t ever challenge those stigmas.  This is the first time I’ve felt open enough to mention it on my blog.

I tell people now that I’m Autistic. I tell them when I’m having issues with a crowd and start crying and they are worried. I tell people when I’m able to explain genetics in a way that makes sense when no one else has been able to do that. I like to show the awesomeness of being Autistic as well as the struggles.

I AM AUTISTIC and I’m not afraid to say it.