In February 2018 I participated in a short course in digital storytelling at Chilli Studios, Newcastle Upon Tyne, led by staff from Curiosity Creative. The course aimed to teach participants how to write a story from their life, find suitable images to accompany the story, and to create a short digital version of the story using movie editing software – in this case iMovie, which is very basic but which was at least versatile enough for the purposes of the course.
After an introductory session we were meant to return with a photo or an object from our life so that we could begin to build a story from that. I, with my usual lack of organisation, completely forgot. I dug about in my bag from right at the bottom of one of the pockets, lost in one of the corners, I pulled a chain. I could have pulled out stones, pendulums, or bubbles just as easily or any of the other odd things that add to the needless weight I carry around.
A chain. The story was built from the chain. But the choice of the chain was entirely random. I hadn’t been meaning to tell anything like this story. The writing was straight forward, as was finding the images and creating the video.
So here it is. A little of the story of how I came to accept myself as autistic. I promise you positivity. We were told to create a story that lasted no longer than two minutes. I got away with three and a half!
Autistic? Who? Me?
For much of my life I thought I might be autistic. People had told me so. Tests told me I might be.
But I couldn’t admit it. I felt ashamed. And I knew I wasn’t Rain Man, or that shut-in child, or even that kid melting down in the supermarket every week.
Nevertheless, the truth became more obvious as I met more autistic adults. I no longer had a choice but to find out. Am I autistic?
Some people supported my seeking an answer. Some didn’t. They said I was being selfish, horrible to my family. They told me to stop being stupid – because I wasn’t Rain Man or either of those children.
Nevertheless, I persisted.
In 2015 I ended up at Autscape, a conference run by and for autistic adults.
I was scared. Lost. Didn’t know how to talk to people. Then, I saw her. She was playing with a pile of chains. She was fiddling with one chain. They weren’t intended as stim toys, just as attachments for name badges. But her face was a picture of autistic bliss.
So I joined in. Took a chain. Played. Took ten more chains. In those moments I found my release, my own autistic ecstasy in flicking a chain, manipulating, chewing, becoming lost in the light reflecting in each tiny bead, counting the beads. Best stim toy ever.
I found peace. Later I found friendships as we decorated our name badges and interaction badges with stickers, played with flashing toys in the darkness, and danced in a passing thunderstorm, singing and shouting our autistic defiance to the heavens.
Two months later I received my official autism diagnosis. And a year later I returned to Autscape. Another name badge. Another set of stickers.
And after that, Edinburgh. Some of us from Autscape represented the national autistic community at a large international conference. We had our own fringe event too. And a yurt.
Inside the yurt I was given a box. A box of words. Words to represent me.
Because I’m not just autistic. Autism isn’t a shame. It’s not a terrible end and it may make me different but it doesn’t lessen me.
It’s hard though. Sometimes it can be almost impossibly hard. Yeah. I’m not autism. I’m a person. All these words are part of me too.
I’m autistic. I will wear that label. A badge of pride because I have overcome and will continue to overcome.
I will accept no autistic insult.
I will be gloriously me.