There is a growing movement online around the concept of autistic pride. Many, though not all, of the autistic people I have become acquainted with online over the past six months or so are proclaiming their pride to be autistic, and talking about how autism acceptance is needed, not just autism awareness as so many organisations prefer.
Personally, I am proud of my unique way of thinking, so different from the neurotypical (NT) mind, and the way it enables me to be aware of things that NTs would not notice. I am proud of my ability to focus intently on special interests, which can be incredibly useful (if you pick the right special interest!). I’m even proud of some aspects of sensory stuff, like my ability to hear very quiet sounds or taste if there’s a slight change in a recipe.
But then I have a meltdown. I am greatly ashamed of my behaviour during meltdowns. It’s embarrassing and inappropriate, and it hurts those around me. It ruins friendships, and nine times out of ten it is completely out of proportion to the thing that triggered it. The behaviour is not justifiable in this world and meltdowns generally turn any argument I have into one which the bulk of the blame lies with me. This particular autistic trait has been the cause of the majority of destroyed relationships and opportunities I have behind me.
So how do I reconcile these conflicting feelings of pride and shame? In describing being proud of being autistic to a NT, that NT then will likely believe that I am also proud of my inappropriate behaviour during meltdowns. In admitting my shame around meltdowns, it becomes very difficult to discuss pride, as it is often taken as an admission of shame around autism altogether.
Recently, I had my first major meltdown since joining the autistic twitter community I now find myself a part of. And it made me rethink my eagerness to proclaim autistic pride, a concept I have only recently heard of. I used to be ashamed of my Aspergers, back in high school. Perhaps I was too quick to write off all my feelings from then, too quick to accept the whole without examining individual traits as things in their own right.
To me, autistic pride implies pride of the whole, not of a subset of autistic traits, even if that subset is a majority. So perhaps I should say I am proud of some aspects of being autistic. I find no pride in meltdown behaviour, no pride in the way my bluntness can often upset NT friends. I found no pride in the anger I felt because the other person in question did not accept “I’m autistic” as justification, following that meltdown.
In truth, it was NOT sufficient justification. My behaviour was unacceptable, but in the anger of the moment and with the influence of the twitter community I believed I could justify myself using something that was not entirely relevant to the picture. We cannot control meltdowns, but we can control whether or not we apologise for our actions during them after they are over.
Some may wholeheartedly disagree with this piece, and I accept that not everyone will share my views on this subject. But I personally cannot take any ounce of pride in a behaviour which hurts both myself and those around me.
Talking about pride around something with so many aspects as autism/Aspergers is a difficult thing to do. Any individual will surely have traits they are proud of, traits they are ashamed of, and traits they feel neutral about. It is not like pride over sexuality; being autistic has much more dimensions to it that my sexuality (grey-asexual lesbian), and each dimension is very different. It is more akin to being proud of yourself in general. The majority of people have aspects of their personality they are some level of ashamed of.
I do believe that autism acceptance is badly needed, but I don’t believe in personally proclaiming pride over a whole which contains aspects I feel ashamed of. I cannot separate the meltdowns from my autistic identity, and I will not be proud of that behaviour.