By Christa Holmans, Neurodivergent Rebel
Photo of Christa by David Rivera
I’ve been autistic my entire life, but I didn’t have a real understanding of what autism was until after I was diagnosed at the age of 29. Autism somehow explained all of the pieces of me that’d subconsciously kept hidden, it was my weaknesses and my failures, but I also could clearly see that it was closely tied to my biggest strengths.
When you’re “a bit odd” with no explanation, people will create their own labels for you, and most of the time they won’t be kind. You do something others consider “weird” or “inappropriate” people, especially other children, are quick to let you know – often though ridicule. Phrases like “what is wrong with you”, “nobody else is complaining”, and “you’re just being difficult” have followed me around for most of my life.
My diagnosis set me free.
Gaining a medical diagnosis doesn’t provide a sense of relief in all situations, but this label set me free, letting me finally put down all the nasty names I’d allowed to become ingrained in my mind.
Before I was diagnosed, I’d been subconsciously hiding my autism – holding in all the parts of me that the world had deemed “unacceptable”. Stimming in private and working diligently to hide my weaknesses. I was very hard on myself, holding myself to nearly impossible standards – often to my own detriment.
I’m not hiding anymore.
Like the ugly duckling, who realized that he was a swan all along—finally, I understood that I was not a failed version of normal, I am and always will be autistic.
Coming out autistic and taking off the mask isn’t easy, especially when people around you are not supportive, or if people assume you are doing so for the wrong reasons.
Fighting Their Ignorance
“You’re just acting more autistic now that you have a diagnosis.” I wondered if anyone else had ever heard something similar when trying to unpack the years of damage that subconscious masking had done. Are there people, out there trying desperately to heal and find their truest selves, being pushed back into the closet?
As I’ve done many times before, I head back to Twitter’s familiar blue and white screen, and use the magical autistic online Bat Signal #ActuallyAutistic #AskingAutistics #TakeTheMaskOff to get the attention of my peers:
Not by other people- but I felt that I did. I think because you become aware of masking – and don’t want to do it anymore. I also became more isolated, stopped making an effort socially- because that effort involved masking.
Richard Mudford, @Rubllev7437
Yeah, I have. It’s like after I told people, their first reaction is “naw, you’re too normal to be autistic.” Yeah because I’m masking.
Then, when I put less effort into masking, “You’re just pretending/not being yourself.”
Did assembly @ school about being autistic when diagnosed, felt more comfortable showing autistic traits and stimming openly. Many misinterpreted this as “getting worse” or being “more autistic (especially teachers) as they were used to the version of me that masked constantly.
Isla Jamieson – MacKenzie, @JamiesonIsla
In my case, it is deliberate exploring of “where the mask ends” and how I can lower my stress from it.
But since few know, it’s not perceived as autistic, just weird. Which is okay with me: I’m creative, I’m assertive, I’m WEIRD and that’s okay with me.
Alice Asgaard, @AmazonAutism
I’ve self-identified as being “more autistic” since I was diagnosed. I think it’s because I’m not trying to be something I’m not anymore. I don’t repress behaviors anymore.
Christina Gleason MA, @WELLinTHIShouse
All the self-care which people attribute to ‘autism’ like actually asking for people to stop tapping, wearing headphones and eye gear. Carrying around soft toys or heat packs. So we look more stereotypically autistic for self-care purposes.
Mark Robinson, @ddmfh
Christa Holmans (aka Neurodivergent Rebel) enjoys pursuing her diverse passions. She has embodied many of these over the years. From aerial acrobatics and circus arts to dog training and business consulting, just to name a few. Founder of Neurodivergent Consulting and the internationally recognized Neurodivergent Rebel blog. She can be found advocating on Twitter as @NeuroRebel, destroying stigma & spreading positivity.
READ MORE ARTICLES:
Editor’s Letter: In this Issue: Fierce Advocates for Women and Autistic Rights
Powerful Women Cover Story Interviews
- Alyssa Milano Speaks Out for a Better World for All Women
- Julia Bascom on the Amazing, Vibrant and Resilient Autistic Community
- Sharon daVanport Finds Power in Her Joy
- Mia Ives-Rublee: Stop Listening to the Naysayers & Fight for What You Believe
- Hala Ayala: Seeking Out and Learning from Diverse Voices
- Senator Duckworth: A Lifelong Mission of Supporting, Protecting and Keeping Promises
- From Feeling Powerless to Owning My Power by Morénike Giwa Onaiwu
- Advocating for Others by Advocating for Myself by Chana Bennett-Rumley
- Facing the Music and Changing My Life by Michelle DeVos, Esq.
- The Three Amigas: An Unexpected Friendship by Dani Bowman
In Every Issue
- Cummings and Goings: Finding Power in Who You Are by Conner Cummings
- Don’t Get Me Down: Fighting Autistic Inertia by Becca Lory Hector
- The View from Here: Starring in the Real-Life Drama as “The Good Anesthetist” by Anita Lesko
With Updates from Jacob Fuentes and Carly Fulgham at end of article
Big Question: What Advice Would You Give to Your Younger Self?
Discover more Zoom Issues:
- Issue 13: Family
- Issue 14: Trailblazers
- Issue 15: Powerful Women
- Archived issues on the Zoom Home Page