My Life As A Potential Label Stealer (Autism)

So I’ve written previously about how I use labels that I don’t necessarily feel fit me because I find them helpful nonetheless. I didn’t get round to talking about autism and me.

My most controversial self-label flirtation is the one with autism*. It’s the one I’ve had the most pushback on, in the form of potentially rather ignorant statements like “everyone is a little bit on the spectrum” and a GP simply shaking her head at the suggestion, despite my 3 siblings being definitively on the spectrum since young ages. Now, I’m not claiming to be the epitomy of autism. Not at all. I’m clearly a very social person, with at least a temporary ability to communicate well and use body language, and I can see this, I’m not surprised when people see this and reject “autism” as a label for me.

But it is so useful for me. It fits so well into the words and the concepts that I need to describe my life and experiences and behaviours. Stimming fits with my pretty-much constant need to be fidgeting, mainly typical behaviours like picking at my hair or nail polish, but even writing it feels like a half-assed excuse and justification. Listing that I flap when I’m excited sounds like I’ve copied it out of a symptoms list, and only remembering that another close friend pointed out that I’m very “flappy” when I’m really happy about something makes me realise that this is actually accurate.

I don’t really need other people to find my labels valid, that is my point as a potential label stealer. I can get use out of the label and the language without needing other people to get it or to understand it, it’s a deeply personal thing. I find it useful to describe my obsessions to myself as “special interests” and to allow myself my physical quirks like clicking my fingers repeatedly or clicking my tongue on the roof of my mouth; I find largely that it helps with my sense of shame for those behaviours, to give them a name and a reason and a legitimate purpose as a neurodivergent person. (And I do believe I’m neurodivergent, as far as anyone who can pass as neurotypical can be, in fact, I often question whether everyone who’s supposedly “neurotypical” is like me, only hides it better, and then I realise how ridiculous that would be.)

Giving myself a label allows me to legitimately occupy a space I’m already living in; it makes my quirky weirdness and constant struggle to fit in a fact of my life, instead of aseries of challenges that I’m failing at simply because I’m inadequate. It makes my awkward responses to schoolmates/bullies logical, my gravitation to autistic peers more inevitable, my incessant fidgeting and fight to stop it more sympathetic (I don’t stop myself from clicking my mouth anymore, like I did when I was very little and in infant school, and can remember myself doing).  It means I can be kinder to myself and believe that I am in fact, doing alright as I am. I can give myself permission to be me with all my “flaws” because they’ve in fact got a name, and they are a valid form of existance.

*Actually, my more recent aquisition of the label dyspraxia is more controversial, having had a direct rejection from someone who has been tested for dyspraxia, because “her mother apparently also felt she had it once hearing that her daughter did, but her mother is just a very over-exuberant person and thus does not have it”. Yes, that story doesn’t make sense, because it’s possible to be over-exuberant and also dyspraxic, but nonetheless, it’s the seed of doubt that means I’m going to continue blaming myself for having my movement volume too loud instead of getting myself tested, at least for another few months. But this label is newer, so I’ve had less feedback. And with this kind of feedback, that trend isn’t likely to change.

Female Autism

Actually amazing resource on female autism… It’s considerably underdiagnosed in AFAB people (note: the data lacks a distinction between sex and gender), so this is a really interesting and educational read.

https://taniaannmarshall.wordpress.com/2013/03/26/moving-towards-a-female-profile-the-unique-characteristics-abilities-and-talents-of-asperwomen-adult-women-with-asperger-syndrome/

The stigma around autism is, like most stigma’s, incredibly pointless. Life is a spectrum and we all have traits, and autism is just a name for having this particular group of traits, to some degree, and that is okay, because we are not all the same, and it definitely doesn’t mean there is, or has to be, a hierarchy involved. In fact, the talents of autism are often hidden or shamed, because of needless stigma.

One of my major pet peeves is people who make distinctions between “high” and “low” functioning autism, which is particularly influenced and elegantly explained in this post, by actually autistic and “low” functioning adult autistic woman with an amazing educational blog.

Another very important factor to remember is that, even in the images in the blog post about symptoms, it’s illustrated with only white women, and that is reflective of the general norm. Alongside the higher male-coding of autism, it is also massively under-diagnosed and recognised in black and latinx people, often mistaken for Borderline Personality Disorder or psychosis. (More on that in its own post later.)

More information (US-based) of diagnosis trends can be found here, in the CDC website (though autism is not a disease of any form, only a neurotype, so this is a misleading site name.)