April is Autism Awareness Month.
As a writer with Asperger’s Syndrome (on the high-functioning end of the spectrum), autism is something I talk and think about year round. Heck, I live it. But April provides a special opportunity to take that reality public, to do the thing that is possibly hardest for me and others like me: to truly communicate ourselves.
This April in particular, Autism Awareness Month means more to me than usual. Because this year, I’m celebrating one full year of these powerful words:
“I am me. I am autistic. I have a voice.”
On April 2, 2013, I blogged about my journey with autism for the first time, sharing my story in a public forum where strangers and friends alike would see it. Many wrote to say that they never knew I had autism, or that they themselves or someone they know has been diagnosed. (The post is unfortunately house on a website that is no longer live; I’d give you a link if it were!)
One year later, it seems like second nature to talk about autism. I mention it on social media and post articles from within the community. I even had a conversation with my bosses at my new job about it recently. All of which means: I’ve come a long way since that first post. And from my current vantage point, it’s easy to forget how risky it once felt to write those words.
I knew this step would be the first on a journey into sharing with others. What I didn’t know is that it would also be the first into knowing myself. Which brings us back to Autism Awareness Month 2014.
This year, I’m still me. I’m still autistic. But I’ve begun to question if I really have a voice.
My silence isn’t just due to my own confusion about human socialization. It’s due more profoundly to my confusion about my self. You might say that goes for all human beings. Knowing oneself honestly and deeply is scary, whether or not your neurology is divergent. But I suspect this journey is particularly difficult for people with autism . . . because knowing the self means relating to the self.
When you’re “on the spectrum,” relationships tend to be challenging.
An inherent lover of organization and information, I find it easier to systematize, categorize and analyze than to relate. This struggle is evident in my writing. The last five years have been an (often fruitless) quest to say something authentic—to create fiction that is emotionally resonant and therefore true to human experience. I’ve had a few small victories. But I always feel like someone else is speaking my words. Someone who isn’t me.
This reality came to the fore recently when I started Sarah Selecky’s wonderful self-guided course Story Is A State of Mind. Writing, Selecky says, is not about mastering words (though this is part of the craft). Writing is about mastering what lies between the words.
“I consider this to be the real work of a writer, to find the source of an experience, what is impossible to articulate, and then find a new way to write it.” – Sarah Selecky
This statement helped me realize that though I can communicate with words, I cannot communicate between them . . . because this level of writing touches on what is impossible to articulate: the things that are uncategorizable, unsystematizable, unanalyzable.
Things that must be related to, rather than understood.
Things that come from the self.
Last April, during Autism Awareness Month, I made a commitment to relate honestly and authentically with others. This April, I’m resolving to relate honestly and authentically with myself. Story Is A State of Mind will be a mentor on that journey, as will my wonderful, caring writing partners at City Beast Studio. I’ll be doing some special creative work designed to help me speak like myself . . . at long last. I look forward to sharing excerpts here—not because it will be good work or even true (yet), but because it will be brave.
I am me. I am autistic. I’m still looking for my voice.
Where have you found yours?