What comes to mind when I say “disability pride”?
Far to one side, you’ll find people who say, “Heck yes I’m proud to have autism. Those NTs are so emotional and obnoxious and dumb. They’re such crowd followers, all of them. Not me! Autistic and proud!”
And far to the other side, you’ll find people who stand in utter wonderment at this. Proud of a disabilty?! Are they nuts? Who would be proud of what makes life hard for them? Proud of taking money from the government? Proud of relying on other people? What is there to be proud of?
A third common perspective, although somewhere in the middle, I hear is something to the tune of, “Those poor people. I pity them. They have so little that they feel like they have to be proud of their weaknesses.”
These are far from the only perspectives on this issue, but I’d say that they’re the ones I encounter most. And, if you’ve been here for a while, you know me, and you know that I’m going to give you my perspective. Some of you probably know me well enough to be able to say what I’m about to type before you even read it. After all, there are two things that I try to be when it comes to these things… positive and moderate.
To be perfectly honest, I’m smirking right now. Why? Because some of you know what I’m about to type before I delve into the issue at hand. As always… this is my perspective and only mine. This is not the “autistic perspective,” as people with autism are individuals and all think differently. Same goes for the adult perspective, the female perspective, or the whatever-other-way-I-can-be-pigeon-holed perspective. This just me, and just musing. And now I’m going to go out on a limb and ask you to be kind when you respond. No, you don’t have to agree with me! But, my goodness, I welcome others’ perspectives, sometimes even ones that offend me, so I just ask that you give me the same courtesy here in my own space. Are we cool? I hope so.
Now, where were we? Oh. Disability pride.
Believe it or not, I don’t think that disability pride is about the disability. It’s not for me. It’s much bigger than that. It’s about the person, and if that includes a disability, then sure, it can be about that too… but the person is the focus.
I believe in being strong, sure, and confident in who we are. Black, white, purple, gay, straight, bi, trans, rich, poor, fat, thin, tall, short, coordinated or two left feet, musical or tone deaf, every nationality, ethnicity, and language… my worldview says that we were each created to be just the way we are. I would include disabilities in that list. It’s not, “Oh hey, there’s Lydia, that hilarious, smart, and cute girl who happens to have autism, be chubby, and doesn’t have much money.” Oh no. I’m Lydia, that smart, funny, chubby, autistic, poor, and darn cute girl. None of those words define me so much as describe me. I wouldn’t be me if you took them away, but I’m so much more than any one of them standing alone.
And so, since I was created to be… me… I believe in celebrating me, with everything that comes along with that. I believe in celebrating my individual gifts, idiosyncracies, and and weaknesses (because He is made perfect in my weakness, the bible says). They’re all part of me. I happen to love me, just the way I am. Oh, sure, I have lots to work on. We all do. Sure, I hope to someday improve… don’t we all? But I’m not less than human, I’m not less of a person than anyone else, and I’m not broken.
Now, let’s take a step back and please hear me that I don’t believe that I’m somehow better or more than due to my autism, either. Not at all. I’m human. I make mistakes. I upset people. I don’t believe that children with autism are perfect little angels incapable of hurting other people. We are people first, and that makes us fallible.
And really, enough with the pity. Telling me you’re sorry that I’m autistic will just cause me to say, “Oh, but I’m not. I like me just the way I am.” It’s the same as when people apologize that I gained a lot of weight really fast a few years ago for no known reason, or when people say they feel bad that I can’t do this or that or can’t say this or that. They all get the same response. “I like me just the way I am,” or, “God has me just how and where he wants me.”
Yes, while perhaps disability “pride” isn’t quite the right word for me, I totally believe in disability celebration, just like I believe in team celebration, writer’s celebration, cat-lover’s celebration, black celebration, gay celebration, teachers’ celebration, little people celebration, and so on.
Just in case someone’s wondering how I celebrate myself and isn’t sure how to do that… for me, it might be spending time with Mom, my very favorite person in this world. It might be a food treat. It might be something material I’ve wanted. It might be engaging in my favorite activity, whatever I want to do that day, for a bit. It might be kissing Elsie and carrying her around the apartment. It might be wearing my favorite color. It might be listening to my favorite music in the car. It might be leaving a kind note for myself somewhere I won’t find it for a while. Get the idea?
We all have something to celebrate about ourselves. We were created to be just the way we are. For me, that includes autism, and so rather be ashamed of it and try to hide it, I am open and seek to educate others about what it means for me. It’s about more than disability pride… it’s about our humanity. That’s something worth celebrating.