#AutisticPrideDay and Father’s Day: An Ode To The Odeworthy

On Saturday, June 18th, social media will light up with the celebration of Autistic Pride Day. As explained by the Autism Acceptance Month blog:

Autistic Pride Day was started June 18th, 2005. It happens every year across the world, with some locations holding physical events. Though it was started by Aspies for Freedom, today it is celebrated by many different groups within the larger Autistic community.

On Autistic Pride Day, Autistics participating celebrate Autistic identity and pride. This often includes celebrations of Autistic culture and community.”

I’m not necessarily proud of being autistic in the same manner that I am proud of my academic performance or that I won second place in a campus-wide short fiction contest. As others have pointed out, autism is not something that a person accomplishes. Autism is simply something that a person is, like short or brunette.

I am, however, an itsy, teeny bit proud of surviving being autistic. I’ve dealt with suicidal ideation for nearly a decade, some of it brought on by guilt and remorse associated with internalized ableism, and I’m still here. I’m the slightest bit proud of being told that I am too emotionally wrought, too insecure, too shy, too naiive, too immature to attend a university over a hundred miles away from my parents and doing it anyways.

But most of my autistic pride has little to do with my pride in myself.

I am immensely proud of my fellow autistics. Of course I am proud of the Stephen Wiltshires, the Susan Boyles, the Satoshi Tajiris, the Dan Aykroyds, the savants, the mavericks, the geniuses of our neurotype. I am even more proud of the Ari Ne’emans, the Temple Grandins, the Amy Sequenizas, the Carly Fleischmanns, the Chloe Rothschilds, the numerous people behind the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, the Autism Woman’s Network, the many, many local groups, the advocates, the educators, the innovators, the ones who bring awareness and who demand change. But I am the most proud of the unsung autistics, the girl in one of the many autism Facebook groups who helps her ailing grandmother with her daily care, the organizers and moderators of said groups and forums who facilitate the very existence of this community of autistics, the guy on my friends list who struggles so hard against loneliness and self-injury and who wishes all of us a good morning every single morning, the teenager just learning how to advocate for their needs to be met, the children who  teach those undergraduate ABA students a thing or two about friendship and beauty and the hidden joys of autistic play and perception, the family friend who can make any stranger a friend with a single conversation about Minecraft, the lovers, the parents, the classmates, the friends, the students, the workers, the people who do nothing more impressive than simply living their lives–but there is something impressive, indeed, about living life when you’ve been told that people like you “don’t really live” but simply exist.

And while speaking of people of whom I am proud, I must also pay mind to Sunday, June 19th and speak of my father.

My father is, to my knowledge, not autistic (although I sometimes suspect him of being on what some have described as the Broad Autism Phenotype). His knowledge of autism has progressed from virtually non-extant to still fairly limited over the years. It took him until I was almost an adult to accept that I am on the spectrum (even though the professionals started mentioning it when I was somewhere around 2 or 3). He read an entire 3 pages out of Tony Attwood’s The Complete Guide To Asperger’s Syndromewhich, to be fair, is more than he reads of most books.

And he is still one of the most kick-ass Autism Dads that I could have ever hoped for.

He had his doubts about my ability to function independently and completely at certain points in my life–perhaps he still does–but he never let those doubts influence the opportunities he sought out for me and pushed for me to seek out. He never expected anything less than the best from me, so he never accepted anything less than the best for me.

In elementary school, he made sure that I was mainstreamed and that I was given the same educational opportunities as the rest of my peers. He made sure that, barring illness or emergency, I never missed a day of school. He knew that I was academically capable, so when I brought home a ‘B’ on just about anything, from elementary school through high school, he encouraged me to try a little harder. Now that I’m in college, he says that it’s okay if my grades aren’t “perfect.” But I know that he expects me to put my all in, because that’s how he raised me, and, knock on wood, it seems that my all is carrying me pretty far.

There were many times in my life when I wanted to withdraw from other human beings completely (frankly, I’m still entertaining the option). I was never naturally very socially inclined–and, really, neither is my father. But he understands the importance of family sticking together, so we always went to those large family gatherings that tire us both . I wanted to retreat into homeschooling in high school and an online university in college–this whole “being around people and not being able to set my own pace” thing wasn’t working out for me, I decided. Father insisted that I keep trying to make (and keep!) friends and to get along with my peers. Today, I still feel awkward, frightened, and overwhelmed around people…but I’ve also made (and kept!) friends who have greatly enriched my life, who have supported me during my darkest moments and who have helped me to be the person that I am today.

A lifetime of experiences with bicycles and outside toys demonstrated that visual depth-perception and hand-eye coordination aren’t exactly my strong suits. Yet, he put me behind the wheel of a car when I was 16, and, lo and behold, I got my licence later that year. It was still not until about 2 years ago that I could drive around with any real confidence. I had to be rescued from parking lots, screaming and crying in terror, a few times. But he encouraged me to keep at it, and today, I can drive pretty much anywhere within the state that I need to go.

There’s a lot of little things that my father still doesn’t “get” about autism and how it affects me. He still doesn’t understand that the autonomous “running around” that I do is outside of my deliberate conscious control and that I actually can’t “just stop doing that.” He still doesn’t understand why it is that I injure myself when I get frustrated (though, in all fairness, I barely understand it myself). He still doesn’t get why I don’t “make myself pretty like other girls” (takes too much energy that I don’t have and, besides, beauty attracts leering, and too much leering makes me weary). He still doesn’t get that my wearing jackets indoors is necessary for my sensory comfort and not an attempt to make him feel vicariously uncomfortably warm.

But he understands the important stuff. Even though he’s always expected me to put my best foot forward academically and socially, he’s also always understood my need to recharge. He’s always made sure that I get enough sleep, and when I need to take a break for a few hours, he lets me take a break. He’s always shown an interest in my interests, even if he, himself, doesn’t always find them very interesting. Of the things that capture his attention, literature has never been one of them–yet, he brought me to writing day camps and poetry club meetings, he asks me about my writings from time to time, and he even listened to me perform at teenage poetry readings (Bless him). He wanted me to be a doctor, as does perhaps every parent of a child who does well in school, but he not only accepted that I would do my own thing anyways, but he even encouraged me to–when I told him that I wanted to major in English, he immediately anticipated seeing my name on a bestseller list, and when I told him that I wanted to add Psychology as a double-major, he grew excited at my incoming understanding of the human mind.

He does occasionally express the wish that who I am would more easily mesh with the rest of the world, that things would be easier for me and that I could more easily cope with external reality. But who I am, autism and all, is someone who he loves, cherishes, and would do anything for. Things haven’t always been easy–there were moments when he had to raise my sister and I as a single father, and my teenage years were…well, teenage–but he has always done the best he can, and, given that I am alive, clothed, sheltered, well-fed, generally pro-social, and able to pursue my passions, I’d say that he did pretty well.

This weekend will be one of much pride and celebration. On Saturday, I will celebrate survival, community, passion, beauty, and, if I may, my own uniqueness, in all the stressed-up, sensitive, sullen, sometimes silly glory that this may entail. On Sunday, I will celebrate love, drive, compassion, and so many more positive attributes than this website has server space to store. I have a lot to be grateful for, and I couldn’t think of two better days to commemorate them.

Whatever your reasons for being proud in yourself and in your loved ones, own them and wear them proudly. You deserve every bit of credit that you can give yourself and so much more. You made it this far, and you’re making memories and making a difference, even if it doesn’t always seem like it. You deserve your day.

Happy Autistic Pride Day, Happy Father’s Day, and may all of your days have something happy to them.

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