by Alyssa of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network
I remember once someone grabbed my hand as I was flapping. This only ever happened once- it’s not considered OK when they don’t know you’re autistic, and even then, most people seem not to do it to adults. I explained my reasons for flapping and how grabbing someone’s hands to stop them from stimming was a horrible thing to do. She even seemed to get it. She apologized. (I’m not upset with her anymore. Really. I actually think she handled the “getting called out” thing well, plus she never tried it again or even said a word about my stimming again.)
She also explained why she did it. Strange as it might seem, she had thought that telling me I didn’t have to act autistic was empowering. Yes, you read that correctly. Telling me that I can hide who I am is supposed to be empowering. Telling me that people wouldn’t otherwise find me strange (blatantly false, in case you were wondering) but that they would if I flapped, because flapping is weird, and that it’s OK to not do it and that I can stop, that’s what’s passing for empowering.
Well, I have a different idea of what empowering is. I think it’s hearing:
The way you are is OK.
You don’t need to hide it.
You don’t even need to be capable of hiding it.
Anyone who says different is the one with the problem.
You are NOT broken.
You are NOT a tragedy.
You are NOT a burden.
You will grow up and become an adult if you haven’t yet.
I believe that you are capable.
You are OK.
You don’t have to hide who you are.
I will go to war with anyone who says you have to hide.
Now, that’s empowering to hear. It’s not degrading and being forced back into hiding in the guise of empowerment, which is what was happening when she grabbed my hands. She probably didn’t even know that’s what was really going on. She probably thought she really was helping, and that false idea of what empowerment is? That’s part of what needs to change.