Acceptance of Autism - The How and Why9 mins
For some people, accepting the fact that they are autistic is quite a challenge. When I was diagnosed, I was also told that I would go through a grieving process. The feeling of losing the “normal” things. When I was told this, I shrugged my shoulders and thought it would be okay. In my case there was also the fact that I was in the middle of a severe depression, much lower than that I couldn’t sink in my eyes.
I did have this mourning process. I noticed to myself that I had thoughts like “If only I had known then” and “Suppose the people around me had known about me”. This with varying feelings. Somehow I was glad that the people around me didn’t know, bullies in my past had enough to make me look ridiculous. But in other cases perhaps problems could have been avoided.
All these thoughts got in my way. That line of thought didn’t make me any better. I tried to keep an eye on myself and catch myself on, what I called, “imagine that thinking”. As soon as a thought of mine started with “Suppose so”, “What if”, “If only” or “If only they had” I tried to stop it. I realized that those thoughts didn’t help me, in fact, they got in my way more. They described situations from my past that I could never change. What happened happened and I have to resign myself to that.
From evil to worse
When I started reading and learning about autism after my diagnosis I was a sponge. I wanted to know everything about my autism. I say my autism because I quickly understood that it was different for everyone. It also soon became clear to me that autism has always been a part of me. In spite of the fact that it wasn’t established until I was 30 years old. It is part of me like my heart and lungs. It can’t be seen apart from me. I tried to be as busy as possible with what autism meant to me, on the advice of the practitioner of the ATN.
During the years that followed, my research into my autism was pushed into the background by my depression. The feeling of being out of the world became too heavy for me. And eventually that ended in Heerenveen in a closed ward of the GGZ. For me this was a crossroads in my life. Maybe it’s something you recognize in yourself. A moment in your life when you look back and see that it was a moment for a choice. Are you going left or right? Are you saying yes or no? Do you give up or do you go on? For me, it was a point at which I decided to move on.
Accept who you are
I had to rebuild myself out of nothing. That’s how it felt to me. In the years that led to this point, I had lost myself. Because of all the feelings and events I didn’t really know who I was anymore. And so my journey to better began. In hindsight, the analogy of a phoenix rising from the ashes is not entirely misplaced, I think.
That’s how I decided to look at myself openly and honestly. And not to disturb me or to care what other people thought of me. And I think that’s an important point. If you want to accept yourself, you have to be happy with yourself in the first place. And that also means that you shouldn’t bother with someone else’s opinions. Autism is a fundamental difference with the world around you. That’s how I have noticed that I think about things differently and experience them differently. I’ve also noticed that people without autism can’t follow thoughts. Like I can’t follow their thoughts.
In the beginning of my journey I have been very selfish and self-centered. I focused completely on myself and didn’t care about the world around me. After all, I had to discover myself and find out who I really was. Autism is part of that, of course, but not the only thing. Everyone consists of parts, not only physically but also mentally, and autism can be seen as a basic layer in my opinion. Character is also such a basic layer. They determine how you look at and experience the world. They make you who you are.
Why is acceptance important?
Why am I writing again about acceptance of yourself? Why is it so important? Well, improve the world starting with yourself! That’s how often I meet people, on- and offline, who seem to have no choice but to complain. It is in the nature of the Dutchman to complain, but sometimes it seems to be more common with people who are different from the masses. Autistic people often encounter problems in dealing with people around them. Part of the problem is that they are told that autism is a problem. “You can’t do that because you have autism” or “We have to protect you because you have autism”. These statements are usually made by people who don’t have autism themselves.
It’s just that I experience the world differently from neurotypical people. My autistic brain works differently than a neurotypical brain. But that’s a difference, it doesn’t make me any less than anybody else. By accepting my autism as another foundation, I have learned that the world seems different to me than it does to people without autism. Autism is a fundamental difference between me and people around me. Yes it is true that sometimes I have problems that neurotypical people don’t have. It doesn’t mean that “they” don’t have problems. By accepting that you are autistic, I think it is better to accept that other people are not.
Difference, no lack
Diversity in nature provides interesting developments. I myself have always enjoyed the fact that not everything is the same. Every human being is different and that also makes sure we don’t get boring. It keeps life fun and allows us to develop new things. I see autism as one of the differences we can have as humans.
In my opinion autism is not a problem I have. As I wrote earlier, it’s a fundamental difference between me and most people around me. It makes me experience the world in a different way than neuro-typical people. That makes me different, but not less. Autism sometimes makes my thoughts work differently and difficult for people to follow.
Problems that autism “causes”
I often hear people talking about the problems that autism would cause. But when I think about the problems, I often realize that they are due to the fact that we live in a non-autistic world. For example, some autistic people have a problem with bright lights. These physically hurt their eyes and they have to wear sunglasses to tolerate these lights. Where many people then blame autism as the culprit, I think that’s unfair! The problem is not that your autism makes you unable to tolerate the lights, the problem is that the lights are made by people who don’t know or understand autism. The majority of people can tolerate those lights.
If an autistic person could have designed the same lights, they would probably have been a lot less bright. If autistic people had designed the world, there wouldn’t have been a lot of problems that autistic people encounter. But the world wasn’t designed by autistic people. That’s a fact I have to learn to live with as an autistic person.
Slowly we see more and more development in the world to accept the differences between people. If we look at adjustments that we find quite normal these days, that have been made for people who are different from the “normal” people, I hope we can do the same for autistic people. For example, what we now find quite normal is the tapping of traffic lights at crossings. This adaptation has been done for blind people. Just like the ribbed tiles on a footpath. Nowadays we don’t think about these adjustments anymore. We don’t see people with less visibility as “less” either. My hope is that one day society will treat autism the same as that.
Accept another, start with yourself
In order for the people around you to accept you for who you are, you have to accept yourself first. If you don’t accept yourself, how can you ever expect someone else to accept you? Autism is a part of yourself that you have always lived with. So when you fight it, you are actually fighting yourself. If you always blame autism for problems, you blame yourself.
When I realized that autism is not the problem, but the way the world deals with autism, I began to wonder why that was. Soon I realized that I didn’t understand people, but that they didn’t understand me either. When I began to accept my autism for myself, I also accepted that neurotypical people could never understand some of my things. Unless I explain the differences, if they want to listen. I also discovered more and more voices online from other autistic people who are busy telling people about the differences. And I think that with that we can make the people around us understand us better.
But it starts with yourself. By accepting yourself, including autism as part of yourself, you can grow. By embracing your idiosyncrasies and confronting your problems, you grow. I’m not saying it’s easy for everyone, or that people suddenly accept you when you accept yourself, but I think it makes your life a lot better.
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