Autistic Pride: Why we need it – and why it's not enough
For Autistic Pride Day on the 18th of June, I asked members of the Autistic community here in Ireland: Why are you proud to be Autistic?
The responses I received were overwhelmingly positive, emotional, and insightful. You can find some of the answers in the image gallery below.
Some people’s initial reaction to the question gave me a lot of food for thought. Everybody who replied had something positive to say about being Autistic. Sure, we all struggle with certain aspects, be they our own personal limitations, or more often, obstacles put in place by our environment, or usually, a mix of both. In Autistic spaces, we are honest about our frustrations and our joys. We vent, we cry, we mourn our losses, we indulge in our interests, we support each other, we celebrate our wins.
Why is Autistic Pride controversial?
Being positive about our Autistic identities isn’t the issue. It’s not controversial in our community. However, the concept of ‘pride’ seems to be. There’s some reluctance, discomfort, and confusion around the word ‘pride’.
A lot of us find it hard to grasp more abstract, complex concepts, like gender or national identities, – or pride. Not because we lack the social skills, theory of mind, empathy or awareness. If anything, we are too aware. We like to analyse, we often learn things consciously rather than intuitively, and these kinds of social constructs don’t always resonate with us.
Mostly, I think we are just more direct, literal thinkers. People simply argued that they can only be proud of something they have achieved: ‘I can’t be proud of being Autistic, the same way I can’t be proud of having brown hair. I was just born this way.’
Where does pride come from?
Both historically and nowadays, ‘pride’ has had various meanings from unreasonable self-esteem to a sense of one’s own worth as a human being – and even a group of lions. In Old French, it meant ‘brave’ or ‘valiant’. It’s been speculated that the meaning of ‘having a high opinion of oneself’ started to take over when the Anglo-Saxons heard the Norman knights refer to themselves as proud – so basically, resentment between two warring parties gave ‘pride’ its bad name. Of course the Catholic definition of pride as a deadly sin didn’t help and might still play a role in how we feel about the word today, at least in older generations.
But as the mini info-ramble above shows, the meaning of a word like ‘pride’ changes over time and depending on the context. We change it. We reframe, reclaim, redefine words all the time. Dictionaries are out-of-date the moment they’re published. We don’t need an authority to tell us what ‘pride’ is supposed to mean to us.
Autistic Pride was inspired by and modelled on LGBTQ+ Pride, so a lot of the work around redefining the concept of ‘pride’ has been done already. It’s nothing new to members of the LGBTQ+ community. But to many people, it’s still radical to apply it to being Autistic.
In part 2 of this post, I would like to reflect on what Autistic Pride is and isn’t, why we need it – and why it isn’t enough. The following ideas were developed in conversation with other Autistic people and I would love to hear your take in the comment section or on social media.
TO BE CONTINUED
We asked the Autistic community: Why are you proud to be Autistic? Here are some of the wonderful, emotional, brilliantly honest responses: