Internalised ableism, and how neurodiversity has helped me

I’ve always had low self-esteem. But when I was a teenager it became an intense, burning hatred for myself. I believed there was something terribly wrong with me and I wished I was someone else.

Now I know about autism I can see that a lot of the things I hated about myself were my autistic traits. I was deeply ashamed of how I could barely sustain a conversation with people I didn’t know, of the number of times I’d tried and failed to make a friend, of my awkwardness and the way other people seemed to become awkward around me, of how I couldn’t cope with loud noises. My face and posture didn’t look right, and I hated the sound of my voice. It sounded thick and flat and unclear. It sounded disabled.

I’m not sure of exactly where this internalised ableism came from. I was bullied. I went to some special needs classes and children never said ‘special needs’ without at least a small amount of scorn or pity. When I told people about the things I found difficult they said I needed to have more confidence or to like myself more or to meet more people, and when things didn’t change maybe I thought it was because I hadn’t tried hard enough. Maybe there’s something in my culture, or in human nature, that made me assume that being different meant there was something wrong with me.

Almost immediately after I got my Asperger’s diagnosis I felt some self-hatred lift. These things aren’t my fault, I thought, because I have a condition. The thing that was wrong with me was Asperger’s, which was a lot less bad than the things I’d thought previously.

Neurodiversity is the idea that neurological differences such as the autism spectrum, ADHD and dyslexia are not disorders but a part of natural human variation, and should be accommodated, not cured. Neurological disabilities are associated with strengths as well as weaknesses, but neurodiversity says all types of brain are of value not only because of this but also because they provide different perspectives that would be missing if all brains worked in the same way.

I came across neurodiversity on an Autism forum not long after my diagnosis and generally agreed with it, because I thought it made little sense that the majority neurology was assumed to be the only correct one. But it took me a while to apply this to myself and realise that all brains having value included my brain too.

Agreeing with neurodiversity forced me to accept myself. Autism is a part of me and is inseparable from everything else that makes me who I am. So if autism is ok and should exist then I’m ok and I should exist. Hating my autistic traits began to feel like I was letting other Autistic people down, because Autism is a part of them too. When I thought something bad about my autisticness I remembered this and I corrected myself. And reading people say they’re proud to be Autistic made me able to feel pride in myself in a way that thinking it’s not my fault because I have a condition never can.

I still struggle with my self-esteem, but I’ve made a lot of progress. Hoping I could be cured of autism would be undoing this progress, going back to hating myself and wishing I was someone else.

Having self-esteem as low as mine was extremely painful. This is why the way we talk about autism matters. When people say the way we are is a symptom of a disorder that needs to be cured or beaten, it does us harm. We get this from all angles and it threatens to push the vulnerable amongst us back to how I was as a teenager.

But I’m so happy sometimes that I know I’m Autistic and I have the Autistic community and there are people who value my brain.


8 thoughts on “Internalised ableism, and how neurodiversity has helped me

  1. Pingback: They call me a disease | Autism through the Medium of Cats

  2. Well said! After self diagnosing myself with Aspergers this year, I have found relief, and comfort knowing more about myself. Excitement too.
    Inclusive is the way the world should be, not exclusive, that just implies that someone is left out.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Oh, yes, definitely.

    I don’t know how much ableism I’ve absorbed, though I know there’s definitely still some, though I’m slowly working on rooting it out and dealing with it. But there is a very paradoxical message that is part of Western society: Individualism Is Key, But Difference Is Wrong. When you think about that logically, it does not make sense. If individualism is so important, then differences ought to be celebrated, not despised. (Obligatory Science Fiction Reference: Vulcan’s IDIC – Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations. That’s what we ought to aspire to.)

    I do know that I always felt different from others (well, until I started poking around the blogosphere and got my official diagnosis, at which point I was – hey, these are my people!), but I don’t know how much I felt “wrong”. I won’t lie, there were some things where I did feel like I was wrong, because although my family did their best to support me, they didn’t always understand what I needed – I graduated high school the year Asperger’s became an official diagnosis, so no one knew that I was autistic, including me. But my parents always at least tried to support me, and when my youngest sister began training as a Speech Language Pathologist (even before she went into her Masters program), she was able to help figure some things out to help me.

    I do know that as soon as I got my official diagnosis, I had the epiphany of: “This differences are Not My Fault; they’re simply The Way I Am.” And when I discovered the idea of neurodiversity, my reaction was very much: “Yes, this makes sense. This fits.” At least in part because when it comes to population dynamics, having a particular single nucleotide difference in a gene in 1% of the human population is a significant statistic. So learning that approximately 1% of the human population is autistic? That is a significant number, in terms of what it means about the evolution/formation of the human brain.

    Not to mention the fact that looking at things (issues, images, people) from different points of view lends itself to a much richer culture and life experience. Neurodiversity definitely supports that.

    Anyway, my $0.02.

    🙂 tagAught
    P.S. Didn’t realize until I was reading this post that my blog is on your blogroll! Yay! Thanks! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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