I Had to Dismantle My Fear of Autistic People
Most of my life I had a very narrow view of autism. I took what was portrayed in movies/television and little scraps of media to form a limited visual of autistics - most of it negative.
I thought of someone with a limited window of tolerance, unable to appropriately socialize, enshrouded in their own world and unable to attend to others, and much more.
I pictured someone who couldn’t make eye contact, had emotional meltdowns in public, and could become easily enraged, unintentionally hurting themselves and others.
It’s no wonder I didn’t recognize that I was autistic.
It was only through books and my therapist gently expanding my understanding that I learned I am autistic (you can read about that here).
And yet, I remained afraid of autistic people. I still had the negative stereotypes in my head.
I didn’t want to reach out to autistic resources or groups. I thought, “Those are NOT my people.” I thought of myself as the exception. I was the different autistic. I was the caring, empathetic autistic.
It was ableist and limited thinking. There’s many other labels we could slap on it. Whatever myriad of words apply - it wasn’t pretty.
In my mind, I separated myself.
It wasn’t until I started to see some autistic clients that my view began to widen. They didn’t come to me for autism, they came for art therapy and to work on other topics in their lives. They didn’t know they were autistic.
As inevitably happens for me in therapy, I connect deeply with my clients. I enjoy working with people on a deep level and love the connection that develops. So I become very biased TOWARD my clients. I develop almost an innate desire to protect and defend. To reinforce and uplift.
So I had these delightful clients who also happened to be autistic. As therapy progressed, it was undeniable that they were autistic. It was like my spidey-sense was full blown aware that another autistic person was sitting in the room with me.
We gently explored their autism together. I saw our similarities. I experienced delightful human connection.
And yet, I still hesitated to seek out personal relationships with autistics. The negative stereotypes persisted. I thought they would monopolize, suck up all of the energy in the room, and not be able to connect (which has often been true of how I behave).
Over time, more autistic people were introduced to me, usually in professional circles. I would hesitantly meet with them, and then be delighted by how much we connected.
It was a relief to talk to someone with a shared visceral experience of the world. Who understood many of the challenges of strengths of having a neurodiverse mind. To acknowledge that either one of us was capable of monopolizing, and that we therefor were also comfortable pointing that out if it occurred.
I’m finally in a space where the stereotypes and biases have fallen aside and I can see people for who they are. A space where I want more neurodiverse and autistic people in my life.
Getting to this point is not an attractive part of my history. And yet, this is the reality of deconstructing harmful narratives and beliefs. All of the information in the world may not be enough to break through and change us - but experience can. Interaction. Connection.
That is what led me to where I am now. So truthfully, “I” didn’t dismantle it on my own. It was connection with others that dismantled it for me.
Thank you for reading. If you’d like to read more, sign up for my FUNletter. If you would like to explore your autistic identity with an autistic therapist, you can learn more about my therapy services here.