2020 Vision & Hindsight - Autistic Identity & Intersectionality
Updated: Apr 4
I am #autistic.
I am 29. I have been autistic for 3 decades; I have known *officially* for 3 months.
I am meeting myself, freeing myself, from the inside out.
This is my paradigm shift, and the beginning of my coming-out story. In October 2019 I received a diagnosis that both expands and focuses my self-concept, while anchoring my commitment to self-compassion.
Yet, I hesitated to share this new awareness because I believed I needed to compile the right right evidence on the tip of my tongue when I need it (I communicate better in writing), the right responses to questions, comments, concerns, criticisms. I was afraid I would be arrogant by claiming and affirming my identity - especially an identity that might surprise, confuse or even offend people who expect to have known me. Even with a formal diagnosis, I didn’t think I was allowed to be (openly) autistic, for too many reasons to list right now.
I started researching women + autism around the time I ended my 10-year relationship with antidepressants. I started witnessing the sources of my anxiety - confusing interpersonal interactions; sensory sensitivity, repeated overstimulation and burnout; unintegrated trauma and the enormous physiological effort of masking my authenticity to fit in socially.
No, I’m not just quirky.
As I read more about autistic women from women on the spectrum, like recognized like, immediately. As I tapered from medication 2 years ago, I shared my research with a psychiatrist I had been seeing, and she recommended an autism, anxiety and trauma specialist in Manhattan. I waitlisted there over a year for *affordable* evaluation. Only by living in New York City with money, time and connection to a mental health professional did I have access to a recommendation for evaluation.
Yes, self-diagnosis is valid.
Because most autism research has focused on men and boys, women have been underrepresented. Long before their autistic neurotype is recognized, many girls and women are diagnosed with anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, eating disorders or borderline personality disorder first, or instead of autism.
Because girls and women historically have been socialized to be *pleasant* with eye contact, hugs, verbal communication, etc., many girls and women experience autism (and masking) differently than men do.
We might go unnoticed because we get good grades and are quiet, or we might perplex our teachers with a “split profile” (like excellent reading ability and difficulty with math). Maybe we struggle to *keep up* socially, especially from middle school onward. Maybe we can copy our peers’ aesthetics and language, but have no idea how people remember so many celebrities or songs or movies or bands.
We might get lost in the pace of college or *adulting* and experience increasing shutdowns as we make an effort to do things that we previously thought we could tolerate, like taking the subway, filling out paperwork, going to the dentist alone, matching people’s names and faces without a yearbook to study, or working full time™️ when, in reality we’ve always been sensitive, but suppressed our sensitivities in order to survive. Like an eager candle, we might burn ourselves early into exhaustion unforeseen.
We might move from job to job, leaving employment once it feels energetically draining. Maybe we eventually nix large-group social events, choose to stay home and read on a Friday night (yes, even in NYC) and decide that we actually don’t need to wear shoes that hurt. Maybe we are none of those things and something else entirely.
We might be someone you know.
Each of us is a universe.
I orbit more slowly in the outer world and more deeply in my own space.
Though I emerge from a very detailed inner cosmos, navigating directions or maps (especially in busy places) is challenging. While I can build fluently with language, symbols and pictures, I also experience #dyscalculia, difficulty with mathematical calculations. Tapping a pen, crinkling book pages, rocking, moving or twirling my hair are relaxing and grounding when I feel overwhelmed, when I am adjusting to a new environment, or when I am enjoying a beautiful sensory experience. I shift energy through steady, repetitive action to integrate, appreciate, manage or connect to information, which is similar to how people connect through music or chanting (a steady vibration) in prayer, song and meditation.
In conversations I look away from you to integrate what you are saying. When I look at a person I feel their universe, and this can be so overwhelming that my internal landscape short-circuits, like a lightning bolt. When I look away, I use my mind-space to organize information such as how people in a family are connected, or how a location is related to other landmarks.
I always knew that I was different. I did not feel rooted in what most people called “here.” And still, the present moment was always sharp. Even when I lacked the language to relay it, I experienced vivid synesthesia, texture, temperature and emotional sensitivity. I walked late and read early. I bounced a ball as I circled the perimeter of the school playground, making up stories involving the families and scenes that lived in my mind. I envisioned twigs with leaves as dolls with hair, and joined the fairies for hours.
I was aware of the non-locality of consciousness. I felt objects’ longing when I neglected them. I was fascinated with the concept of entropy, or “using up” - where did trash go? How did adults end up with no toys? I loved counting, and running laps through the house, and spinning to music on the paisley carpet in the living room so the colors would rise and lift me into their rhythm.
New people, their relational expectations and emotions felt cluttered, disjointed and distracting. And yet, at a young age I began working very hard to neutralize within myself anything that people judged to be weird, and to perform what they judged to be pleasing. I suppressed what arose naturally in me - my questions, comments and concerns - to favor others’ comfort.
With unconscious equations I swerved from divergence to approximate The Norm™️ . I studied people, copied and pasted their actions, words, pitch, style - automatically. First it was difficult, then internalized. For a long time I believed I was winning this game with words, eyes and smiles, ironed spirals, straightened curls. My algorithm was black-and-white: maintain enough social and academic superiority to avoid being one of the have-nots, who would end up homeless and starving.
I thought that if I made the right friends, said the right things, had the right hair, played the right sports, graduated from the right college, that I would be safe. I had no idea how much #autisticburnout I would eventually experience. I never accounted for how I would forget myself so deeply.
Now, as I remember the vastness of *myself* beyond form, I move from shame to joy. I no longer prioritize what people think about me, or fear judgement. I no longer believe that I am forbidden to be autistic and spiritual. I embrace who God made to move into the full power of my being. I burn away internalized ableism as I learn what it really means for me to #lightitupgold.
Since I learned that I am autistic, I
- dive into my interests, creativity and self-care
- meditate and sleep more
- socialize and schedule less
- say no to things I don’t consent to
- carry sensory tools (headphones, lavender, lip balm, mouthwash, soft feels)
- embrace that I am as I should be, and that rest is a form of activism
Having an autism diagnosis as a woman of color is a privilege and a platform - a golden ticket. By existing and expressing, creating and communicating - my voice, words, perception and person bridge #consciousness around autism, #neurodiversity and trauma - especially in #poc communities who historically were denied recognition, #representation and services that actually prioritize #actuallyautistic people.
Personally, "confirmation" or "revelation" feel more accurate than "diagnosis." I refer to “autism spectrum” or ASD for “autism spectrum dimension” instead of “disorder,” recognizing autism as a unique neurotype, a different mental order. I use identity-first language and avoid labels including “high/low functioning,” or “levels” to describe autism.
I am learning from many #AutisticPeople that they do not use these terms, which were created by neurotypical people to describe an autistic person’s behavior, not by autistic people to reflect their experience. #SelfAdvocacy from within the #AutisticCommunity is priority.
Linear language is limiting because autism is not a linear spectrum in “severity” but a multidimensional spectrum, an interconnected web of shared experience, like a digital color wheel, and a spectrum within each person, whose cognitive/sensory/somatic experience may vary across context.
“Spectrum woman” is most accurate for me.
It is more natural for me to say “I am autistic” than “I have autism.” I have curly hair and brown eyes, which are localized. My autistic reality is non-localized. My awareness, as consciousness, is also non-localized. I have a body. I am awareness.
#Autism is a mode of #awareness, a way of being.
Autism is not a medical condition, a disease to be cured or an illness to be healed. Healing is for the trauma that results from insensitivity to our sensitivity. I was diagnosed with PTSD at the same time as autism. More than autism, not knowing myself as autistic individual for almost 30 years - forcing myself to approximate Neurotypical Success ™️ within Competitive Survival ©️ - has been disabling. It has also manifested my alignment exactly where I need to be at exactly this time, in this movement of great #unmasking, #disclosure, #inclusion and #intersectionality.
Autism is both a #disability and a strength for me.
In the medical model of disability, “disabled” is an adjective that describes an individual as having a problem within themselves, implying that “disability” is a weakness to be erased in a person or group. In the social model of disability, “disabled” is a verb that describes what is done to an individual within an environment that could be improved through more accessible design that ultimately benefits everyone.
I allow myself to unwind toxic patterns, and bridge who I am in all ways: Grace, a multidimensional, multiracial, autistic woman of color - an artist, healer, doula, daughter, unfolding into self love. Autistic people are curving human evolution toward a more creative, compassionate design - everywhere. We are
We are showing up to demonstrate that the purpose of being human is to be our authentic selves, wholly and specifically as we are created, despite expectation, allowing the Divine through us to individuate information, and to experience #autisticjoy. With golden roots in the hearts of stars, we are canaries in the cosmic coal mines. AUthenticALLY. We are oriented in freedom. We are moving from within, allowing downward, outward, into this difficult, cluttered, noisy dimension, an ancient ontology, timeless design: infinity is within us.