June 18 is Autistic Pride Day. I usually pop an Autistic Pride themed meme on social media and tell everyone to ’get their pride on’. I see myself as a proud Autistic but I never really unpacked the concept of pride and why I identify with it. It just seemed an affirming sentiment. I saw something this which got me examining my thoughts on pride. Someone had posted on a friend’s Facebook timeline, ‘Why would you be proud of something you can’t help?’ This had me thinking — why do I say I am a proud Autistic woman? Why do I feel happy when I see expressions of pride from various groups that face discrimination and disadvantage? Indeed, why am I proud to be Autistic? I was born that way. I couldn’t help it. It wasn’t a choice. I don’t say I am proud to have brown hair or hazel eyes so why is Autism different?
The first step in unpacking the concept of pride is to know that there is different sorts pride. I think the person who made that comment on Facebook had mixed-up the different ideas of what constitutes pride. Most of us think pride is something you get for winning at sports or doing well in an exam. It can have a negative connotation something akin to arrogance — using your accomplishments to carry on and brag and make other people feel inadequate — and almost certainly irritated too! The pride I have as an Autistic woman is another kind of pride. And it is a very good thing — nothing to do with accomplishment or arrogance, but about positive identity and self-acceptance.
When I was diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum in 1994, I thought that being Autistic was awful. I felt it proved the bullies who belittled me and insulted me in school, had been correct. I felt it meant I was a freak and I would always be a freak. Far from Autistic pride; I hated myself for being Autistic.
It took me seven years to accept that I was Autistic and a few more to get past seeing it as a guilty, shameful secret. The moment I owned my autism and felt proud, actually came about four years after I wrote my autobiography. Even as the author of a book on my experience as an Autistic person, I still felt uncomfortable if autism came up in a conversation unexpectedly. I can pinpoint the exact day that changed in 2009. I was asked to give a presentation at a conference on Autistic women and girls. There were four Autistic people speaking on their experience, including me. The second day of the conference was only open to diagnosed Autistic women. There, in that room, full of fellow women Autists, I knew I had come ‘home.’ I had found my tribe and I finally knew who I was. I felt a sense of identification and a great deal of pride.
I am proud as an Autistic woman because I have survived. I am proud of my Autistic community and the strength we share. I am proud to be here and to represent as best I can. I am proud to have accepted my diagnosis and through doing so to have accepted myself. I am proud of our Autistic young people and the great things they are doing. I can’t help my autism but I can control how I relate to the world and how I choose to spend my time and energy. I am proud of making a series of choices leading to me supporting other Autistic women. And I am proud in the face of stigma, discrimination and bullying. I am Autistic and proud! My autism is not a shameful thing or a cause for ridicule. It is an integral part of what makes me, me. So yes I am getting my pride on!
About Jeanette Purkis
Jeanette Purkis is an autistic author, public speaker and autism advocate who also has a diagnosis of bipolar disorder. She has worked full-time in the Australian Public Service since 2007 and has a Masters degree in Visual Arts. She is the author of three books on elements of autism and hosts an internet radio show. Jeanette has presented at TEDx Canberra in 2013 and at many autism events and conferences, including alongside Temple Grandin in 2015. Jeanette has been facilitating a support group for women on the autism spectrum in Canberra since 2011. Jeanette was the 2016 ACT Volunteer of the Year and a finalist in the 2017 ACT Woman of he Year awards. She lives in Canberra, Australia.