I sometimes forget how many allies, advocates, and friends we have when I have to confront hate on a daily basis. Hate has become an epidemic in our society. There are entire groups devoted to vilifying autistic people. There are groups who waste massive amounts of energy mocking us and dehumanizing us. There is a whole damn organization whose main goal is to wipe us out.
We’ve been wrongly stereotyped as selfish, cold, robotic, and so much more. We’ve even been labeled as violent and aggressive. These stereotypes couldn’t be further from the truth.
I was told almost every day of my life that I was stupid and useless. I was told that I had no value as a person. Words hurt. Stereotypes hurt. But I’m not going to let negativity bring me down. One of my goals is to combat negative stereotypes. Mind-blindness and the lack of empathy are some of the negative stereotypes I find the most disturbing.
Some people believe autistic individuals experience mind-blindness—a cognitive divergence that prevents them from attributing mental states to others. This suggests that we can’t put ourselves in other people’s shoes, empathize with them, or understand, identify, and predict their emotions. Some people think we can’t even conceptualize emotion, or we don’t feel at all.
The truth is autistics simply conceptualize and express emotion differently than non-autistics. The autistic people I know are some of the most empathetic people I know. They feel for others deeply and work hard to understand their pain. Sometimes, autistics have an easier time empathizing with other autistics because their brains are more accessible, but not always.
People think I’m unfeeling because I don’t talk about my feelings aloud. I feel deeply. Fear often seems like the emotion that controls me. But I feel every emotion imaginable and can recognize these emotions in others. It just isn’t always easy. Love is the hardest emotion for me.
Love. It’s such a common word. People say, “I love you” to their kids every night before bed and their spouse every morning when they leave for the day. Some people say it so often it loses meaning.
I don’t tell people I love them. When I do it’s a big deal. I can use the word to describe so many things, but not people. I love blunt statements with a misanthropic twist. I love The Things They Carried. I love a perfectly accessorized summer dress. I love how my friend doesn’t care that her beach waves look fake.
I love many people. I love my mother. I love my sister. I love my best friends. But saying the words feel unnatural. My emotions are the most intimate part of me. They define me. Sharing my feelings with another person feels like I’m giving them a part of my soul. No matter how much I love someone, that act feels invasive.
Yet, I empathize deeply with the sense of being unloved. We live in a world where hate has been normalized. We demonize people for their political and religious beliefs. We hate people for their skin color. We hate people for their gender identity or sexual orientation. We hate strangers because it’s easy to hate what you don’t know.
We justify children being forcibly separated from their parents. We say hateful words over social media without batting an eye. We send death threats like birthday cards. This isn’t normal, but we’ve made it commonplace.
The only way to combat hate is to spread love. People need to hear that they’re loved. Coming from an abusive family, I know what it is like to feel unwanted. I couldn’t always tell if my parents loved me. I never want anyone to feel that way.
The autism community has hate directed at them daily. It has to stop.
Our differences are what make us human. Diversity is what has allowed us to progress as a species and create a society with such complexity and import. We all need to find a way to be inspired by our differences instead of being afraid of them. My autism is not a disease that needs to be cured. I need to be understood, not fixed.