The ‘self’ in self-advocate

I am somebody who falls broadly into the category of Autistic self-advocate. I have a lived experience of Autism and I promote the rights, strengths, needs, individuality, value and [power of both myself and others with Autism. Being a self-advocate was not soemthign I consciously chose – rather it happened incrementally over a number of years.

I was thinking about the idea of a self-advocate this afternoon. I was watching a TV program in which one of the characters was joking about a boy with Asperger’s. The intimation was the one so frequently aired on television and moves – people with Autism are nerds, socially inept, somehow less than human etc etc etc.

This got me to thinking about myself in relation to these attributes. When I was at school, I was constantly attacked by bullies for being ‘weird, nerdy, a geek, ‘unco’, stupid, retarded’ and many other cruel insults. After thirteen years of listening to these things, I believed them. I hated myself. Despite the fact that I have a high IQ, a high EQ and others measures of general intelligence, it only started to occur to me that I was not stupid when I was 29 and a psychiatrist suggested that I was very intelligent. I still have issues with liking and valuing myself and I suspect I am far from alone in this regard.

People on the Autism spectrum are  often insulted by bullies, excluded from activities, feel isolated and lonely, are patronised by people who should be assisting and empowering them and  given low expectations of their potential by seemingly everyone in their life.

When I was first diagnosed with Autism spectrum disorder, I could not entertain the concept of belonging to the Autism world. To me, the diagnosis seemed a confirmation of all the negative things I had been told throughout my life. It took me seven years to be able to even entertain the thought that I had Autism. Shortly after that I wrote an autobiography which dealt with my experience of living with undiagnosed Autism. I was asked to speak at events and was almost unwillingly thrust into the role of a self-advocate.

That was ten years ago. Now I am comfortable to talk about Autism to all sorts of people. I disclose at work and instead of hating myself due to my ‘difference’ I embrace my uniqueness. When a self-advocate – or any Autistic person – embraces their own uniqueness, their own Autistic self, they are sending a message to all of those people who doubt us: the bullies, the people who believe us incapable of doing anything worthwhile, even the writers from TV shows that see us as a nerdy butt of jokes. For me, the day when I proudly stated that I am an Autistic adult who does good things and that I like myself, Autism and all, I started to accept and value myself. Everyone has the right to that sense of value and self-acceptance.

Remember, we are amazing. You are amazing.

TEdx pic 8

Me…advocating (at TEDx Canberra 2013)