This first week of Autism Acceptance Month, a stranger in a restaurant who saw me communicating in sign language asked if they could pray for me – “your hearing or voice or whichever”. I got myself out of the conversation fairly politely albeit awkwardly (shoutout to friend Jessi who interpreted my stumbling response), but looking back on it now, I kind of wish I had just been like… what the fuck?
I do not need a god to make it easier for me to speak. What I need is for speaking people to be more patient while I type. Ideally more speaking people would bother to learn some basic sign, too. And they wouldn’t interrupt my conversations in public to foist religious healing upon me. I do not feel like my voice is sick or broken, it just does not work the same way most other people’s voices do, and that’s okay. My whole life people have fixated on making my speech more normative, when all I really needed was for them to say it’s okay for me to type and sign instead.
This sentiment about communication is symbolic of my feelings about being autistic overall, and I am not the only one who feels this way. Being autistic does not mean my brain is a pile of puzzle pieces. I am not Humpty Dumpty, no vaccine made me fall, I do not need to be put back together. No, I need to live in a world that accepts me for who I have always been, and that gives me the supports I need to do things in whatever way works best for me at any given moment. That means people need to respect all my communication methods as well as other accommodations I need to help with sensory issues and other impairments.
Allistics should also be respectful my priorities and preferences, at least to the extent they would respect those of an abled person, instead of trying to fit their own goals and values onto my life. I don’t care what other people think – it is not my goal to act less obviously autistic, appear less noticeably trans, or hide my poverty like a dirty secret. After years of masking and passing and fitting in to the detriment of my health, I now choose these dynamics more carefully (for example, as a means to safety). I know now that no matter how uncomfortable my identities and their observable manifestations make more privileged people around me, I shouldn’t have to change myself for their convenience. That understanding is thanks to the work of generations of self-advocates before me (for example, folks at ASAN) who have pushed for acceptance, not just “awareness”, of neurodivergences.
Being autistic is not always fun or even manageable – both for reasons explicable by the social model of disability (see this academic article or this more cognitively accessible description if you’re not familiar) as well as reasons that perhaps don’t fit that model. But that doesn’t mean I wish someone (doctors, gods, doctors who think they’re gods, whoever) would “cure” me! I wouldn’t be me if I weren’t autistic. My thought patterns would be strange and unfamiliar, and I’d miss the joys of stimming, special interests, and synaesthesia. I wouldn’t even have the same things to say if my relationship to speech was more typical. So no – please don’t pray for me. And please, please, please don’t spend the rest of this month going around somberly warning people about the “tragedy” or “epidemic” you think autism is. After years and years of work to accept myself, I am proud to be autistic. It’s long past time for the rest of the world to accept us too.