What does autistic pride mean to someone who is autistic? Read Aditi’s reflection on this autism, pride and more in this edition of Avaz Megaphone.
The April Jamboree
June 18 is Autistic Pride Day. Actually autistic folks celebrate and observe this across the world.
My first reaction to learning about the existence of such a day was cool dismissal. After all, we devote an entire month to Autism Awareness and Acceptance. It is a month where every stakeholder associated with the autistic community is extra active on social media sharing content about Autism Acceptance. Even mainstream media carries stories about autistic grit and success! Discounts are offered on products and services designed to cater to the needs of the autistic community. And there’s, of course, the occasional celebrity or two who choose this month to proclaim that they are autistic!
But I like to think that not everything that happens in April is an exercise in tokenism. The month also sees events put together by autistic people. They bring forth the perspectives and lived experiences of people who are actually autistic. This, I believe, is a more genuine experience for anyone wanting to understand autism.
The Need for Autistic Pride Day
The jamboree promptly ends on April 30th and we autistics go back to living our sensorially different lives, with the same set of challenges as before. So what is the need for another day in June and what is the differential factor?
The Autistic pride day, based on the LGBTQIA+ pride movement, aims to embrace autism as an integral part of your identity, with a sense of pride. Put in simple terms, it goes above and beyond being comfortable in your own skin. This in itself is a huge step forward for many autistics.
This brings me to the very vital question- Am I proud to be me? The answer to that is a resounding YES. But was it always so? If not, what is it that changed my perception about my own self for the better?
Why Am I Proud of Myself
To answer this, I need to share a few things about myself. I am a nonspeaking autistic who is a few days short of legally becoming an adult. Society perceives us non-speakers as a group with high support needs that is not capable of much intellectual achievement. I am a writer who has experienced modest success. As an avid blogger, I write about many different things that have nothing to do with autism. And I am proud to say that I don’t conform to the stereotypical notion of nonspeaking autism.
Growing up, I could always comprehend way more than I could express. Speech eluded me like the Loch Ness monster. No matter how hard I tried, I could not get many words out of my mouth. There were many instances that left me feeling frustrated and hurt. Thanks to my autism, I did not have a voice. In such a scenario had somebody asked me if I felt proud about wearing my autistic identity up my sleeve, my answer would have been a clear no.
After all, in the absence of a reliable mode of communication, I did not even have an identity to begin with. How could anyone know about Aditi, the person, when I had no way of interacting with anybody? My family, educators, and people who were close to me believed that they knew me. But what they knew was their perception of the person that I was supposed to be. And I had no way to refute when they were wrong! Surely, there was nothing in that situation to even salvage the leftover bits of pride.
Acknowledging My Autonomy
Things began to change for me when I was introduced to Avaz, a text-to-speech app on the iPad. With time and practice, I developed the ability to interact with people around me.. People began to understand me for the person that I was. I was no longer someone who was oblivious to the world around me, but just a regular teenager next door who was different! It was not about validation. It was about acknowledging my autonomy. Having my voice heard was liberating.
My journey from a nobody to a (hopefully) significant somebody needed a catalyst. And for me, it was Avaz. Being proud of the way nature has created you is the ultimate act of self love. That is possible only when you have an identity and a voice.
Here’s my signing off for this month with the hope that I have left some food for thought for parents and professionals who are sceptical about introducing AAC to their children.
Avaz Megaphone is a platform for neurodivergent individuals to express themselves through the written word. We accept opinion pieces, short stories and poetry. Authors of accepted works will receive an honorarium. To make a submission please email us on: firstname.lastname@example.org
Student & Writer
Aditi Sowmyanarayan is an eighteen year old who uses Avaz, a text to speech app, to communicate. She goes to Ishanya India Foundation, a special school in Bengaluru. Aditi is an avid blogger and an aspiring writer. She blogs on www.smallstepbigthought.blogspot.com
She can be reached on Instagram at writeaditi and on her Facebook page : small step big thought