A few months ago I discovered the word Autistic, with a capital A, and felt it was a word that truly fits me. As I understand it, capitalised Autistic is used to refer to identity, culture and community, whereas lowercase autistic refers to neurology. Along with lowercase autistic and autist, capitalised Autistic has joined aspie, Aspergian and spectrum as words I use to describe my neurology and identity. My diagnosis is Asperger’s syndrome.
‘You’re not autistic,’ said my mum. ‘That includes people who can’t speak.’
‘Are you aware,’ said someone else, ‘that some autistic people have much greater communication difficulties than you do?’
Asperger’s syndrome is a variety of autism and is acceptable to them, but plain, general autism is not. This doesn’t make logical sense to me.
Autism carries a greater stigma than Asperger’s does, and I fit the public perception of autism (a rocking, screaming, tragic child) even less than I fit that of Asperger’s (an awkward, male maths genius).
‘Autistic’ is a word that encompasses a wide range of language abilities, communication styles, sensory sensitivities, stimming needs, and social styles and abilities. Just as ‘English’ describes a group of people of many ethnic backgrounds, from many different counties, with different values and religions. It would be silly to say to an English person, ‘You’re not English – you’re different from these other English people I’ve heard about.’ We are diverse, but the things we have in common make it worthwhile to use the same word for all of us.
‘Autistic’ feels more natural to me than ‘aspie’ and ‘Aspergian’ do, because I see Asperger’s more as a diagnostic category than something inherent to my brain. People diagnosed with Asperger’s can describe themselves as Autistic as a sign of solidarity with all Autistic people, including people with other autism spectrum diagnoses. ‘Autistic’ feels like I’m part of something bigger, not just my little bit of the spectrum. And I like the extra shade of meaning capitalising Autistic brings, and how it reflects that there is more to our experiences as autistic people than just neurology: we’re Autistic together, and with pride.