Amanda Forest Vivian
I was born in 1988 to a rich white family on the East Coast of the United States of America. For those keeping track, I was diagnosed with PDD-NOS when I was nine and Asperger’s when I was fourteen — but all that really tells you about me is that I was born in 1988 to a rich white family on the East Coast of the United States of America.
By the time I was 18, I had been undiagnosed many times by people both qualified and unqualified to do so; and after a brief flirtation with Autistic culture I soon succumbed to the implications of the types of praise and encouragement young disabled people often receive. When we succeed we’re told that we’re not really disabled or that we’re different from other disabled people. The idea of being a real average disabled person becomes unacceptable. Being approved of or getting the things that we want is associated with not being something that we are; so, growing up, we bury part of ourselves.
I grew up to be a buried young adult. When I associated autism with myself at all, I identified as “very high-functioning” or “someone who used to have Asperger’s.” I even wished there was a word for someone who was more high-functioning than Asperger’s, since I felt I was on the very, very mild end of that spectrum, almost disappearing into thin air. At the same time I couldn’t help feeling namelessly guilty and impaired in a lot of ways. I judged myself by different standards from most people, who I thought of as being basically more legitimate and better than I was; there was no real word for what I was, just a sense that people could see it on me and attempts to disguise it would be
thrilling but not permanent.
I experienced a lot of intense emotions, but ultimately calmness and joy, when I was around disabled people; so in college, I decided that I wanted to work with disabled people professionally. As I began to get experience doing this, I became aware of two things. First, I learned that I liked real average disabled people and would like to be one. I also learned that disabled people were often treated or judged in ways that didn’t make sense but were accepted as natural. Thinking about this was the first step to being RAD and, I guess, realizing what I was so guilty about.
A version of this essay was originally published at adeepercountry.blogspot.com