My name is Kate, and I am a proud member of an Autistic family. My two children are Autistic, I am married to an Autistic man, and I was recently diagnosed myself, having recognised so much of my younger self in my children.
I don’t consider Autism a disorder. It’s a different way of experiencing the world. As an advocate, I am trying to drive the narrative for Autism acceptance and promoting authentic Autistic living; that is, being one’s true Autistic self.
As I’ve reflected upon and unpacked a lot of my childhood difficulties, I can see that they were related to being Autistic and completely misunderstood. When I was growing up, most of my teachers told me I was lazy, stupid and clumsy. I struggled to read and write and never understood academic work at school. As a result, I always had a sense that I was not intelligent and not able to tackle academics. This feeling stopped me from doing college courses and pursuing my career aspirations. I wish I could go back in time and tell my younger self, “Understand that school work is difficult not because you’re lazy or stupid as teachers often told you, it’s because you can’t learn in a standardised way. Love yourself more, be kinder to yourself and know you will find your way. Don’t ever give up on your dreams!”
Now at age 40, after finding my authentic Autistic self, I am studying a degree in psychology and counselling. Ultimately, I would like to complete my degree then move forward to further academic development, which will lead me into the specialty of Autistic females.
I am never going to experience the world as a neurotypical person, so I don’t use neurotypical social norms as guidance in my life. That would just be setting myself up to fail. Instead, I set my goals and aspirations around developing my authentic Autistic identity and being the best Autistic person I can be.
One of my strengths is that I am highly focused and totally devoted to fulfilling my goals. Over the past few years, my passion has led me to create a blog and form multiple social media platforms, including a very active Facebook page called Girls Autistic Journey-Non binary Acceptance. I am UK-based but still feel a strong connection to the I CAN Network’s mission, especially around I CAN’s mentoring and positive development for schools.
Often, the media will portray Autistic people in such a stereotypical way that people truly believe that that’s how most Autistic people are. When I am faced with negativity or misconceptions around being Autistic, which happens in real life and certainly happens online, I try to gently educate by sharing credible information and lived experiences. Thankfully, I find that most people are open to learning and understanding, though there will always be those who I cannot reach or help because they are so far down the dark hole of misinformation and fear.
I believe that positivity around Autism builds acceptance for future generations of Autistic people. We have so many wonderful qualities that deserve to be recognised and celebrated: deep focus, unique perspectives, trustworthiness and reliability, high integrity, creativity, ability to retain information, ability to maintain routines, consistency, just to name a few. By highlighting these strengths, rather than the list of so-called defects, we can help to break down stigmas and false information about being Autistic. Likewise, when Autistic young people have mentors who are positive and full of understanding, it signals to them from an early age that they are an important part of the next generation of Autistic voices. Mentors provide hopes and dreams for our Autistic children, as they are able to show them, “Look, we are Autistic, and it’s all okay!”
Everyone wants to live a life that feels right for one’s self, without fear of being ridiculed or judged or excluded by others. I think we still have a long way to go to reach a point of an inclusive society, where Autistic people don’t feel forced to mask or apologise for who we are. I dream of a world that is equal, fair and can unlock all of the wonders that Autistic people hold inside, and that’s what motivates me to keep doing my work. What is everyone waiting for?!