Autistics Speaking Day 2013: This Is What Autism Looks Like

Today is Autistics Speaking Day. It’s a day intended to highlight awareness, to encourage acceptance, to allow autistic people to speak for themselves rather than a panel of allistic ‘experts’ creating a panic over ‘national epidemics’ and DOES MILK GIVE YOUR CHILDREN AUTISM, etc. It’s a day to make our voices heard. Inspired by the posts written by autisticook, Feminist Aspie, and at Musings of an Aspie to mark the occasion (and believe you me, they are excellent posts), I’m writing a blog post too on something that tends to be a running theme throughout related posts on this blog: what does it ‘look like’? And is it a question we should really ask? (Quick answer: No.)

Also, before I get any further on the subject, this has also been largely inspired by Kelly Martin Broderick’s work on We Are What Feminists Look Like. You can read about why Broderick started the website here. ‘Feminists are not a monolith’, she says. ‘We are diverse and unique. We don’t fit into every stereotype.’ This was perhaps crystallised for me when I went to visit NUIG’s Feminist Society table at Societies Day this year. They had placed a mirror on the stall, with the words ‘This Is What A Feminist Looks Like’ on top of it. You can wear ‘girly’ (ewww, hate that word) dresses and be a feminist. You can wear nothing but hoodies 24/7 and be a feminist. You can watch WWE and classic Doctor Who and be a feminist. You can be a man and be a feminist. And so on and so forth. There is no one ‘model’.

I guess this isn’t really the same thing (intersectional feminism ftw), but it does lead me onto the nub and thrust of this post.

Here is a recent photo of me:

uh, hi
uh, hi

This photo was taken just this week, as I was going off to do some errands that morning. I had my headphones in because I was obsessively listening to the new Arcade Fire album (still am, it’s ever so good). I actually made an effort to put on some make-up, and I was wearing my lovely winter coat. I’ve also recently finished my masters (hurray!) and making plans for the future, which are pretty damn exciting if you ask me. But more about that at a later date.

Do I look normal? Or should I say, do I look normal… by your standards? What are your expectations of what autism looks like?

There is no one ‘model’ for an autistic person. We all have different experiences and different lives. We are a diverse community, and we have our own stories to tell. That’s not to say that we don’t have shared experiences (I can’t measure how grateful I am for the above blogs, they put into words the things that are so hard to express about being autistic). Additionally, someone might comment that I look ‘high-functioning’. When, in fact, they probably don’t know about the meltdowns, the frequent bouts of anxiety, those days when you feel so incapable of doing the smallest household thing, those days when the simplest of things seem so alien or complicated to you. The days when you just can’t do anything.

Those labels are useless. We can be both ‘high’ and ‘low’ functioning. (Again, autisticook is great on this: you can read her thoughts here.) It’s a spectrum, after all, with different degrees. There’s really no way to prescribe exactly how it works. And people really shouldn’t try to.

So, if there’s one thing you do today or this evening: listen to us. Listen to our stories. Give us a chance over those ‘experts’, for a change. We’re more than willing to talk. We just want to be heard. We are what autistic people look like.