I recently opened up to some close friends about my diagnosis, and it went super well.
I didn’t expect my friends to start talking to me as if I had a fatal illness or tiptoe around me all of a sudden. But there was a worry that things would change in one way or another, and this is something that I’m sure other autistic people who are diagnosed later in life can relate to. Luckily for me, my friends have not treated me any differently since I broke the news. I have also received some positive responses on social media since I have started interacting with posts and articles about autism, which has been unexpected but very reassuring.
But this isn’t the case for everyone.
Before I had even started to consider the possibility that I was autistic, I did have peers that made fun of the idea. The word, “autist” was thrown around in high school with no real consideration for the implications. Although I didn’t think it affected me at the time, I was wrong. This created an uncomfortable environment with negative connotations around the idea of being different, and this can scare people enough that they feel they cannot be honest about who they are. I also know that I was likely not the only autistic person hearing this at that time, and sadly, this is something that still happens today.
This meant that once I truly started to consider a formal diagnosis, I was faced with the prospect of being rejected or bullied, even though I no longer have contact with the kind of people that use that language. This fear was there when I opened up to friends, family, and co-workers and made the experience more stressful than it needed to be. But this fear should not exist at all.
The language we all use can affect anyone. This applies to everyone, not just those who are involved in the autistic community. Because of my experiences, I’d rather be called “weird” than “an autist”. Obviously I identify as autistic, but that specific word can be upsetting to me. Fortunately for me, my friends understood this immediately (as you can tell from the title of this blog) but I want other people to look at how they view autism and reflect on the language they used to describe it.
I recently discovered that some people prefer to use “person-first language” (e.g. person with autism) to highlight the worth of the person, but many others disagree with this and believe that this makes autism sound separate from the person, and something that can be removed. In this case, some individuals may refer the phrasing “autistic person” (this is the term I prefer). I understand that specific words mean different things to individual people, so we all need to communicate freely and openly to discover the language we should and shouldn’t be using around others.
My friends understand this and every other autistic person out there deserves to have the same understanding and love shown towards them.
I’m not ill, I’m not “an autist”, but I am autistic, and I’m definitely weird.