Devin Beach

Devin Beach

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Each April, puzzle pieces and conversations about a push for curing Autism appear.

I have Asperger’s syndrome, a form of autism, and I advocate, educate and support autistic, and other neurodivergent people. I believe we were created this way for a reason, and we have gifts to share in our communities.

What does autism mean? Lydia X.Z. Brown, autistic activist, writer, and speaker defines autism as “a constellation of ways that a person exists in the world and interacts with the world around them: Which means how we communicate, and how we learn, how we understand language expressed to us. How we experience our sensory world. Autism refers to a certain pattern of doing these things in a way that is distinct from the majority or dominant population.”

Autism is a distinct neurotype and a form of cultural identity. I describe myself as an Autistic woman as this paints how I view the world around me. I am Autistic and proud.

(When talking about autism as a neurodevelopmental condition, autism is lower-cased. When speaking of the Autistic community, we capitalize it.)

Research on autism, particularly in adults and autistic women, is in its infancy. We experience challenges, like processing sensory or social information. We feel awkward and isolated at times. However, we don’t feel defective, diseased, “afflicted by” or “suffering from” autism. Many of us don’t wish to be cured. Our goal is a society with structures and institutions that enable Autistics to develop our utmost potential and integrate in society on our own terms.

On that note, I’d like to offer some advice:

n Autism presents very differently in females vs. males. Autistic women are often either misdiagnosed, diagnosed later in life or remain undiagnosed.

n The majority of the Autistic community rejects functioning labels (i.e. “high functioning” or “low functioning” autism). Amy Sequenzia, Autistic author and advocate, explains “we do not live on any one part of the spectrum. Instead we move along it. ... There is no positive or negative end of the spectrum either because we are all autistics. We all need supports and which supports we need and when we need them do not follow a rigid timetable or grading system.”

n Many of our “symptoms” are actually reactions to living in a world in which we are a minority.

n Autistic people should be central to the conversation on Autism. Yes, we appreciate our teachers, parents, therapists, etc., but we are the ones who live Autism 24/7. Please respect and appreciate our voice.

nIt is not enough to be “aware” of Autism. Acceptance is what we thirst and crave. We desire Autistic-driven/centered, celebratory events that defer to Autistic people as the real experts on our neurology. Please do not support organizations or people that pity, fear or otherwise stigmatize us, especially those that seek to “cure” Autism, claim vaccines or allergens “cause” autism, or exclude Autistic people and silence our voices.

n If we tell you something you are doing is hurtful, please don’t get mad at us. Instead, take a minute to understand why it is hurtful (and this goes for any minority, not just Autistic people…), and learn from that moment.

Here’s my credo:

Be heard: Speak up when you see injustice. If you’re one of the so-called normal people (“Neurotypicals”) in society, speak up when Autistics are mocked or teased for seeing the world differently. Do not stand idly by when we are told “no one likes you” or “people like you will never attend college/date/get a job/live on your own.” Speak up when people make ignorant, hurtful comments about us. Stand up when your Autistic friends are being bullied.

Be strong: If you think differently than those around you, rest assured you are not alone. Know there is beauty in being different.

Be proud: Take pride in who you are, especially if you see and think differently than others. To those who are not Autistic, this means appreciate, respect and take pride in your friends and family who experience the world differently. It takes a lot of courage to move through a world that does not or cannot understand you — I speak from experience.

Devin Beach grew up in Ellensburg and graduated from Central Washington University. She has been involved with several state and nonprofit boards and commissions, and attended national conferences on disability rights.

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