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Specialisterne Foundation is a not-for-profit foundation with the goal to generate meaningful employment for one million autistic/neurodivergent persons through social entrepreneurship, corporate sector engagement and a global change in mindset.

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The Pride of Being Who I Am

Jun 18, 2024

June 18th is a significant date for the autistic community: it is Autistic Pride Day, an international event that celebrates neurodiversity and promotes the acceptance and inclusion of autistic people. This day, launched in 2005 by the British organization Aspies for Freedom, aims to counteract stereotypes and prejudices about autism, highlighting the experiences and talents of autistic individuals. It is an opportunity to reflect on human diversity and to support a cultural shift towards a more equitable and understanding society. In this article, our colleagues Fabrizio Acanfora and Montse Bizarro share some personal reflections on the importance of this day.

 

Fabrizio Acanfora

June 18th is Autistic Pride Day. Every year, someone asks me what there is to be proud of in being autistic, in being different; there are parents who, understandably, confess that they cannot feel pride in their child’s condition because, it’s true, they observe the daily challenges their children face.

 

But it is precisely for this reason that one can feel proud, precisely when life presents obstacles and barriers, yet they continue to be overcome, when every day you open your eyes to a world that seems to work in reverse and you have to try to understand it. It is precisely in these cases that I find it right to feel proud of who you are.

 

Today is the day when some autistic people have freely decided to show the world the pride of being who they are. And it is not always easy to come to feel this way about oneself because society constantly bombards us – all of us, regardless of autism – with unattainable expectations, cookie-cutter models, and demands for conformity to sometimes dehumanizing ideals. It is not easy to feel proud of who you are when you grow up with the feeling of being wrong.

 

And yet, a few years ago, this suddenly became clear to me, and it happened shortly after receiving the diagnosis, that label that, despite everything, for the first time allowed me to see myself for who I really am. I only had to ask myself a simple question: “But have I tried to imagine what I would be like if I weren’t who I am?”

 

No, I had never tried. I longed for a normalcy that the world threw in my face at every moment, a normality that never belonged to me and that I only knew superficially and with great effort. I dreamed of being different from my diversity, of resembling people whose minds I could never truly enter, whose worldview was always a mystery to me. But I had never actually asked myself how I would be if I were not who I am. That simple question changed everything. I feel proud to be who I am.

 

Montse Bizarro

 

It has taken me a lot to feel proud of who I am, and now I am not going to let anyone destroy my self-esteem and my desire to live in this world again. I grew up hiding, sitting in the last row of class, ashamed of my slow and monotonous voice, fighting with all my might not to stand out, because I knew I was different. I knew it since I was four years old, when I asked my mother if it was normal to check if the door was closed twenty-seven times to reduce my anxiety.

 

I didn’t know what “that thing” was that made me different, but I noticed how a gap grew inside me that separated me from the world and pushed me toward madness, extreme pain, the panic that comes from feeling broken forever and knowing that no one will lend a hand to try to help you.

 

The other kids made fun of me for being “weird,” “geeky,” “nerdy,” “too sensitive,” “boring,” and a thousand other adjectives. The teachers looked at me with that extreme sadness that made me feel guilty all the time, and my parents didn’t even know I needed help. I had built a shell and didn’t allow anyone into that fragile and dark inner world that I was trying to protect through compulsions, mental rituals, and extreme social isolation.

 

I learned too soon that people reject different people like me, ridicule them, constantly highlight their quirks, despite our attempts to hide them at the cost of our mental health. I tried with all my might to be like everyone else, to show interest in them, to adapt to everything, and in return, I received mocking laughter, derogatory comments, explicit bullying, indifference from adults. All of this destroyed my self-esteem, led to a psychiatric admission, and nearly finished me off. I think I was saved because two or three people stood by me, validated me, listened to me for the first time. And thus began a period that was a bit less tumultuous, but just as lonely.

 

In this context, it is very difficult to feel proud of who you are. You internalize that everything is your fault and that you are broken because, how can so many people be wrong about you? Despite all the personal work I’ve done in recent years, I still have that childhood wound latent in my mind and body. However, thanks to the diagnosis of autism, therapy, surrounding myself with the right people, my family, learning to set boundaries, and many other tools, I have learned to love myself, to value myself, to subvert the meaning of all those imposed labels and to integrate them in a healthier and more empowering way for me.

I have changed the “weird” from my childhood to “different,” or the “too sensitive” to “creative” or “empathetic.” I have adopted the word “autism” to create a community with other people similar to me, to make our stories visible, to fight for our rights, to honor the child I was not allowed to be and who still wonders how she could have had a happy autistic childhood.

 

So, finally, I can say that I am proud to be autistic, a woman, a lesbian, and of many other complex and overlapping identities that define but do not limit me, that place me in a map of intersectional collective struggles, that have allowed me to heal and regain trust in life. And this is what I hope for all people, regardless of their diagnosis and life history: that they can carve out a place in the world and show their differences with pride.