Even though I’m diagnosed with autism, I wasn’t allowed to be autistic.
By Dana Trick
In my late teen and early adult years, I avoided groups and websites that mentioned support for people with autism. Ironic … since I’m autistic. The reasons for doing so were unknown to myself so it was hard to admit my autism problems to both strangers and close loved ones. After some reflection in lonely solitary, I think I can now admit the subconscious reasons.
The first one was the conflict with school. Both middle and high school brought a lot of homework that demanded my attention and energy more than having support from and creating bonds with other teens with autism, except for group therapy that lasted for most of middle school. Being the big geek that I am, I love learning things – mainly history and literature – and thought that going to autism support groups and group therapies would greatly hamper my grades, which would not do for me.
The second reason was that even though I’m diagnosed with autism, I wasn’t allowed to be autistic.
I’ve known since I was a child that I could never be normal and was fine with all of that. It all started when I confided to one of my friends that I was autistic during our last year of elementary school. As a result, she started to teach me how to be a “normal” teenager girl. I believe she did this to help me – thinking it would help me survive middle school. She made me watch the Disney teen sitcoms, the annoying popular pop music, the cringe-worthy teen movies – all the things a tween is supposed to like.
I was forbidden to watch Veggietales or any cartoons, listen to my rock music, and do any things that I like! Even though I hated the things that “normal teenage girls” are supposed to like and tried to convince that friend that I can never be normal, I became “normal” . . . to some extent.
It would have gone on forever until my first year of middle school when my mom dragged me to a therapy group for teens with autism. Obviously, in the height of that “normal” masquerade, I didn’t want to go but had to. It was there that I met my best friend, who I shall call Hatter (here for her safety). She was unapologetically weird and proud of it. I remember during one of our therapy sessions she said there is no such thing as normal people, it’s just that one person is weirder than the other. My mind was blown. I felt validated and emancipated.
When I told my “normalizing” friend about this on the way to school one day, she just dropped the subject and repeated I had to be normal. We argued over this until we reached the school. Our friendship, which was starting to decay at this point, quickly ended after that.
I made new friends, who were just as weird as me. Hatter and I eventually became friends, even after we both left the therapy group, and remain so to this day (though adulthood is constantly seeking ways to end all my childhood friendships).
Nevertheless, the “normal” mask continued to poison myself when I tried to be myself.
You could say this is reverse ableism in a sense. I was fine with the friends who didn’t have autism and, except for Hatter, didn’t want any autistic friends. If they noticed my autism sneaking through my parasitic “normal mask,” they may have ignored it and treated me on how true friends treated each other. However, as I became more aware of social pressures and prejudices, I started to copy certain traits from my friends to make me more likeable, you could say, so that they wouldn’t find me annoying or hate me enough to leave me.
I found myself distancing myself from other people with autism though I refused to laugh at ableist autism jokes.
My mother tried to get me to join support groups with teens with autism, but I refused her suggestions. When I got into college, all my friends went to different colleges/universities and the precious connections we built over the years suddenly came crashing down. I was alone for the first time in my life. Though this loneliness was painful, it left me a chance to reflect on myself.
I began to explore my Mexican and mixed-race identities that I’d neglected for so long. I was still hesitant to explore my autistic identity, almost to the point of denial, until I read the late Donna Williams’ book Nobody Nowhere. Donna, who was a woman who had autism and who liked to write poetry like I did, made me be aware of my autistic identity. With the help of Donna Williams’ book, I started to accept my autistic identity or what was left in that disaster of being “normal.” Yet I still adamantly refused to search for others who had autism such as I.
When my mother first showed me The Art of Autism website and suggested that I’d write blogs on here I declined out of habit. In my defense, I plan to be an author in the near future and wanted to be an author who could stand on their own work by her own artistic style and skills—not on her disability identity.
Eventually, due to my mom’s stubborn persistence and persuasion, her offer won and now I’m writing here. I guess I still have some form of reverse ableism plaguing my mind and my heart, but maybe this is the first step in the right direction.
by Dana Trick
When you live as long as I,
You realize you’re a mound of clay.
Stretching, folding, squishing oneself
On the whims of fear and loneliness.
To a stranger,
this mangled figure of lies—
Symmetrical contorted webs of
Limbs, face, and mind—
Is the standard norm.
But the big question is—
Is the clay dry yet?
Dana resides in Moorpark, California. She spends too much of her time reading books (fantasy, fiction, history, poetry, comics), drawing weird things that suddenly appear in her head, writing stories and poems (obviously or how the heck did this poem get in here?), and listening to a strange assortments of music genres that she isn’t sure what type of music fan she is. She also hopes you had a nice day by the time when you read this. If not, here’s a sudden attack of positive thoughts.
Reposted on http://www.nicolecorradoart.wordpress.com
HI Dana – I was just diagnosed 19 months ago (age 59) and in many ways struggling with how to be my “real” self. I had different pressures to be “normal” but they all do the same things to us I guess. They make us hide our real self. I felt ashamed of who I was… and the reactions of other people was very painful. But if I acted “right” they did not have that reaction. So I learned to hide myself away. We are finally coming to a time in society where we can be ourselves. Not that it will be easy, but society is now being pressured – as we were – to be tolerant of differences: Of Diversity. I tend to tell people when I can that I am autistic – I’m not ashamed of who I am any more. I’m so relieved to have found my true self because it has allowed me to understand that it was not me that caused people to react in negative ways but it was their own “disabilities” to see beyond themselves and their own concept of “normal”. I wish you well in your autistic journey !
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