I wasn’t disabled! Except I was.

Josefina Troncoso
Jul 30 · 25 min read

At my current 25 years old, I have finally embraced disability pride. It can be a long process for many, as it was for myself, not only because we experience mockery and disdain from an ableist society that refuses to accommodate our needs, but because the mere idea of disability is fervently denied in favour of euphemistic justifications for our behaviour. We grow up taking these words at face value, unaware not only that they stand for an unnamed disability but also of the ableist beliefs deeply ingrained in those around us. Thus, we are [believed to be] lazy, careless, scatterbrained, selfish, and happy to make excuses for what others allude to be moral failings — but never disabled.

Learning that I was autistic marked the beginning of what has so far been a five-year period of unlearning the insults, unsolicited opinions and backhanded compliments, and figuring out what others meant when they made them. Some might consider this a useless way to spend my energy, but this is my way of processing and forgiving.

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I was an unusually calm baby. I never really cried, even when I was born; I slept serenely even when my hometown was struck by a small earthquake. Even then I always seemed to do things my own way: I never crawled before learning — rather late in toddlerhood — to walk, and I spoke… pretty late in toddlerhood too. I was in preschool when I said my name for the first time.

But no, I wasn’t disabled. I was just taking my time, the paediatrician said. My dad was convinced it was because I became independently bilingual by watching Sesame Street on repeat, so I must’ve been confused. My nan thought I should be sent off to the States. “To a specialist”.

I was actually sent to a specialist when it seemed that I couldn’t break out of character. My first special interest was Sesame Street, but I then quickly became obsessed with 101 Dalmatians. I had two birthday parties at the historical hotel my grandmother owned that were Dalmatians-themed. I liked it so much that I’d pretend to be a dog, which included eating dog biscuits without touching them with my hands and also sleeping on the floor, because that’s what dogs did. I’d fall asleep on the floor, then step into character again when I woke up. This imitation game was a harmless way of demonstrating how much I enjoyed things — how good I was at picking up minute details, and how long I spent thinking about these interests.

But I wasn’t disabled. I was just a bit embarrassing to have around.

Then I started pretending I was Ash Ketchum, and the adults around me were terrified. They even thought it could be a gender issue. That’s when the specialist steps into the scene.

Autism is a continuum”, my mum remembers him saying. And then they fled — he gave me a provisional diagnosis, but my parents didn’t chase it up because I could’ve been given a death sentence and it would’ve sounded nicer than autism.

I wasn’t disabled. I was just really imaginative, said their Second Opinion. There wasn’t even any gender trouble to speak of; I was just really into things. I wasn’t Ash Ketchum because he was a boy; I was Ash Ketchum because I wanted to be a Pokemon trainer.

This is the first time that I speak publicly about the Pokemon thing. I should be proud: Pokemon was created by an autistic man. I mean, of course it was; nobody else understands how great it is to have categories and sub-categories for every imaginable creature — this theme comes up a lot throughout my life. It surely was fate for me to become enthralled by it. But I was mocked repeatedly by it; I could tell at age four that adults and children alike thought it was unbecoming. Later in life, when my dad told a family anecdote and was reminded of this episode in my life and he’d begin saying “Remember when you thought you were Ash?”, I would angrily scream for him to stop. I’m still not sure if he thought it was an endearing phase after all.

For a long time I thought I was unfeminine. People made me feel that way, but as an adult I can now connect the dots and prove myself wrong. I hated the feeling of wearing a dress and pins in my hair not because I hated anything girly, but because it was painful. I felt every root of every hair tickle my scalp when it was cut or brushed. My mum recently told me that also at around age four, I was hanging out with a family friend who was, I presume, quite stereotypically girly. She must’ve been, because her mum asked mine why I wasn’t wearing any hairpins; my mum has always known me well — whether before or after she learnt what autism actually was, about 15 years from this event— so she said I found them uncomfortable. This other woman said she would force me to wear them if I were her kid.

I wasn’t disabled. It was the 90s and gender stereotypes were inescapable, even though the child psychologist gave me, a cis girl, a provisional autism diagnosis. Supposedly it was just boys that could have autism.

Eventually I did talk, but before then I did not try to abide by any societally accepted rules of language. I called my dad the Spanish equivalent of that. In English they sound close enough, dad and that, but in Spanish they absolutely don’t. Maybe I was a bit of a misandrist.
I started preschool being able to read but not to talk. I knew the entire alphabet by memory, but I wore nappies and couldn’t jump on one foot. I wore costumes to school events that were thematically inappropriate, but that I liked. My teacher was really nice and patient, though; she just let me be, and she celebrated the milestones whenever they came.

I wasn’t disabled. It couldn’t have been that bad if I had a teacher at Neurotypical Preschool that was kind enough to me. I have her on Facebook now though, so she probably understands at this point why I took simultaneously so long and so little to do normal child things.

Year One. I had an accident that year — a dog bit me on my lower lip — but I was just glad to be showered with gifts and not have to go to school. I also remember having to stand up before everyone in my class to sing our school song, because I learnt the whole thing before everyone else without meaning to, and because I was singled out as the best English speaker. I most definitely wasn’t disabled in my teacher’s eyes.

Year Two. I remember thinking “how does everyone know what music is popular now? Where do they even hear it?” because all the girls wanted to listen to axé when we held pizza parties. I then realised I was unaware of quite a lot of things that girls my age seemed to have been born knowing about.
Year Two was also the year where I made a sustained effort to pretend to forget my calligraphy notebook simply because I hated writing in cursive. I don’t know how I passed the year. I wasn’t quite disabled, but I was forgetful — or so thought my teacher, whom I wasn’t really interested in pleasing.
My parents split up that year. I remember my other nan giving my sister and I a book about a family of elves where the parents told their kids that they were separating. I thought absolutely nothing of it — to this day, I can think of nothing remotely traumatic about my parents’ separation. I said, immediately after my dad closed the front door, “Good! I won’t have to watch golf with him anymore.” What I could have been from an outsider perspective was harsh, or — horror! — lacking empathy. I was genuinely glad he left, because it meant that I would have to go away to see him, which was good in two ways: one, we’d get to have fun together (unfortunately, I’d still have to watch golf); two, I’d get to skip school once he left our hometown.
I remember an Independence Day event we held that year. We were meant to perform a dance every year, and this time my dance partner decided not to show up after all. I wasn’t prepared for that, so when it was our turn, I danced with an invisible person.
I wasn’t disabled in my teachers’ eyes, I was just — I don’t know — maybe a bit dim. They reprimanded me because I could have just joined the two other girls next to me, who were dancing as a duo because we were the tallest three in the class and apparently no boys were of their height. It’s not easy to “just” do the next-best thing when you’re given no time to process a change of events.

Year Three. That was the first time I thought people had agreed to collectively hate me. I had been obsessed with Harry Potter for one or two years already, but this is when the obsession peaked. All of the themed school stationery I owned made me officially uncool. That aside, the girl who had been my best friend for two years suddenly decided to ignore me… for a whole year. But we still hung out because our parents and sisters probably had no idea that she decided not to like me. Girls are good at hiding their true feelings, but I’m not. I couldn’t figure out what she felt, but I felt as though I was always doing something wrong — around her, around everybody.

I wasn’t disabled at age eight — I was, again, an embarrassment to have around. How dare I enjoy Harry Potter when it was still good. Ironically, I did some digging around and one of my school reports from this time said I needed to learn to accept my classmates’ opinions. Some of them have turned out to take politically questionable stances, so nah, maybe not.

Year Four was probably the most consistently happy year I’ve had. My best friend and I made up; I remember having a lot of fun, mostly engaging in a complex, rule-bound world for my stuffed animals. My dominant special interest that year was unicorns: I began to collect stuffed toys of them, and my birthday cake was decorated with a lilac unicorn my mum had drawn with icing. I continued to remember dog breeds, and now I could add horse breeds to my brain database. I had a sticker album where you matched horses to their breeds, and I memorised them all.
I had a horrible head-teacher though, but I didn’t know the full extent of her ugly personality until my mum told me, some sixteen years later, of something she’d said. With gravitas, she complained: “Your daughter is very strange. I have to go out of my way to get her to make friends.” If she did actually make any efforts, they went completely unnoticed.

Clearly I wasn’t really disabled. I was just difficult to like.

Year Five was when my world turned on its head. My best friend’s family moved out of town early into the school year — to others it may have just seemed sad, but to me it was traumatic. I couldn’t predict how things would change after that.
I made another friend that year. My special interest this time was fairies — they were having some sort of moment on children’s TV, and my grandparents fostered my love of mythology and folklore. I somehow convinced a group of friends to pretend to be fairies with me, and for a while it worked. They got into it. I also managed to get them into role-playing Inuyasha characters during recess. Some say that autistic children are terrible at make-pretend, but I’d say that that isn’t the case when you’re the creative director. You’re the one with the close relationship to those special interests and your friends are simply actors that agreed to the project. But eventually your friends tire of you when they can’t see an end to it, and when pretending to like grown-up things seems much more enticing.
I did try to like grown-up things. I eventually got into music because I studied MTV for a while, because surely everyone learnt about music from the music channel. I pretended to like certain boys, but I was never sure of it. I just did it because the others seemed to do it naturally. But, for some reason, the boys in my class only stole snacks from me — not because I was disabled, but because I was easy to fool.

Year Six was terrible. In my diaries I constantly state that I feel like others are pushing me away. I was often the first person to be viciously hit in dodgeball and the last one to be chosen for any sort of team; my classmates would say that I would be slow for the rest of my life or complain that I’d bring down their score or was too lazy to be of genuine help. Different girls from my group of friends pushed me away at different times, but they all claimed they’d miss me when I left the school.
They didn’t think I was disabled. I just happened to be too weird, too childish despite us all still being schoolchildren, too uncoordinated, too slow at processing anything, and even too aggressive despite being the token quiet kid.

I moved to a mostly English-speaking school in year seven. I presumed its student population would be more open-minded since the school welcomed children from around the world, but I presumed wrong. I couldn’t have possibly imagined the amount of things I would be bullied for: my love for Japanese culture made me an obvious target, but my interest in history was also too nerdy to be socially acceptable. My hair, for sticking up a little when I put it up in pigtails; my teeth, because my jaw was a mystery to the doctor I was seeing (surprise: it was another disability) and I couldn’t have any work done on my crooked teeth for years; my short-sightedness, which was the subject of laughs whether I wore glasses or whether I had to squint to see the whiteboard.
I often wondered why people didn’t like me if I was nice to them, but niceness won’t get you anywhere when bullies are quick to detect that there’s something different about you as a whole. If they weren’t horrible people I bet their clinical eye would make them great psychiatrists — provisional-diagnosis-forgotten-until-2016 aside, they certainly detected my autism before anyone else did. I tried to find some common ground with the bullies because maybe they’d like me if I talked about something we both enjoyed, but nobody even seemed to hear me profess my love for the Castlevania games. Being honest wouldn’t work either, because I was never able to see through their bad intentions and thought they asked me things out of actual curiosity.
That new friend from my first school joined my year at this new school at some point during this period, but our class actually warmed up to her. She was normal. And in her efforts to be spectacularly normal, she did as though she’d never even heard of me, as though I was just another unknown kid at the new school.

To anyone at that school, I wasn’t disabled. I was just too different.

My time at that school was saved by someone whom I still consider my very best friend. We met because, being uninhibited about my special interests like most autistic people, I went up to her and asked her if the badges on her bag meant that she liked the same, relatively obscure Japanese musicians that I liked. We have since forged an unbreakable friendship that has survived the strain of pretty extreme geographical separations, but whether I survived that strain is a different story.
In year nine, I experienced two separate traumatic changes. The first one had to do with people from long ago, and the second one was that my best friend would move away to Japan for a year. This left me without support at a school that had now become much bigger since it was moved to a new building, and as I was now in secondary school, my lessons and teachers were different — secondary school felt very much like a survival of the fittest-situation where you wouldn’t earn any sympathy if you had any processing difficulties. And then — seemingly out of nowhere — I developed anorexia. In hindsight, I realise there were too many kinds of change for me to cope with, but the leading children’s psychiatrist I was taken to saw little more than the surface of me.
I was absolutely not disabled. The provisional autism diagnosis must’ve been brought up because I remember autism being a topic, and I remember the psychiatrist saying I was too empathetic to be autistic. This earned a sigh of relief on my dad’s part, but that dismissal was, I say with absolute certainty now, the most harmful decision I have ever been subjected to. I wasn’t autistic and therefore not disabled; I was just special and cultured and an old soul but also hypersensitive and obsessive, and even undiagnosable — euphemisms now all too familiar.

Year Ten was off to a spectacularly fucking bad start — on top of the anorexia, pointless fights with my dad, and the usual issues with school, I was freshly traumatised by an 8.8-magnitude earthquake that I experienced while staying at my dad’s. Halfway through May, I was given some brief relief from school by travelling to Argentina for about three days with my nan and a few other family members to celebrate her 70th birthday, but things immediately worsened on the morning of my return to school. I had what I recognise now as a meltdown: I was told to take a late maths test that I knew that was overdue, but that I had no idea I’d have to take immediately once I went back. Receiving such cruelly short notice for something that I struggled with no matter how long I took to prepare for it sent my brain into short-circuit. My maths teacher had never seemed fond of me, and I’m fairly sure I had other late tests to complete. I eloped (which means running or wandering away in autism talk), and eventually I was found by another staff member that called my mum. It was decided right there that I wouldn’t go back, and I transferred back to my first school — and I found the enormous changes from when I was there as a child traumatic. The teachers were new, some of my classmates were new, our classes were structured and split into groups differently and even the physical structures of the actual school were different; the people I knew were no longer the way I knew them and the people I knew best of all were gone. It was maddening, and I felt lost. I don’t remember very much from this year because I was intensely depressed, but a lot of labels were used in place of the actual diagnosis that would’ve helped me make sense of why I felt like I’d landed in the wrong planet.

I wasn’t disabled — nor an alien, for that matter — , I had school phobia and social phobia. These little labels addressed the symptomatology while the cause of my symptoms completely went over my psychiatrist’s head.

In year eleven, I found a book character that I related to more than I’d related to anyone else — in a way, he was an alien. He had to be. I read The Little Prince after forgetting to read it for school some years ago and immediately connected with the titular character. Like me, he cared about things and beings that seemed completely inane to grownups. Like me, he had routines that helped him establish the balance in his world, and they involved his special interest — sunsets. Like me, he made too many questions about things that seemed obvious to grownups, but that required thorough explanations; and like me, this made grownups think he was being rude. Unlike me, he was given a lesson on how to make and keep a friend, but that made him more like me, because I needed those direct instructions too.
The Little Prince became my first self-reference guide, which meant that every therapy session would be spent connecting parts of it with events in my life. I would say that my obsession, and the book itself, were very obviously autistic — there is actually a paper that makes a case for an autistic Little Prince, and I wrote to one of the authors but they never replied to me — but again, my psychiatrist thought nothing of it. Surely the Little Prince wasn’t disabled — he just happened to have landed on several wrong planets, and I happened to be surrounded by businessmen and lamplighters and kings and aviators, and some really mean roses.

Years Eleven and Twelve were pretty similar. My school didn’t have anyone qualified to teach me English — my ESOL certificate that I earned at the other school was more advanced than the most advanced one they could teach — so I was either sent to the library to research a topic of my choice or left to do literally whatever I wanted. English aside, my academic performance was described as barely there by my teachers and used by my dad as proof of my laziness and indifference to everything and everyone but myself. In hindsight, I realise that what I had were processing issues exacerbated by noise, frequent classroom and teacher changes, and the sheer ableism that meant that they’d rather leave me behind than take a bit longer with a topic to help me. I started to wonder whether there was something cognitively wrong with me when I found the term dyscalculiathis is it, I thought, that explains some of it at least. I am grateful for my superhumanly good memory though, because I could’ve never thought that what happened next could become a key piece of evidence in the future.

I was seen by a school psychologist — I wasn’t disabled, she thought. She couldn’t determine whether or not I was dyscalculiac because all the tests available were for children. Instead, she said something very curious: “you remind me a bit of Temple Grandin.” She proceeded to explain who she was, what she was famous for and that there was even a film based on her life, but she never elaborated on why I was like her.

At my school, we all made our own graduation cards for friends and family, with personal touches that showed our personalities — or at least that was meant to be the general norm. The front cover of mine had pictures of every single special interest I had at the time: Iceland, lolita fashion, Harry Potter (again), Björk, a Degas ballerina to represent both my love of the period it represented and my love for my Degas-loving nan, Interview with the Vampire, Sailor Moon, a jar of peanut butter, and even a picture of the hand cream I had been using for twelve years and continue to use to this day. For some reason, we were meant to exchange them with each other, as though we were inviting each other to our own graduations. I don’t think I gave copies of mine to many people because I didn’t know how to be fake-nice, but I received quite a few, even from people that were downright horrible to me.
My classmates didn’t think I was disabled. They thought I was “so unique”, “a really special little person”, (read this one slowly) “interesting”, and “certainly never afraid to speak [my] mind!”. The funniest comment I got said “you have changed… FOR GOOD! :)” — I’m sure she felt more comfortable now that I stopped “showing an attitude” and punching people for touching my belongings (this only happened once), and instead had my shutdowns in the girls’ toilets.

Going to uni took some time. I was adamantly against it because I thought it meant growing up, and I wasn’t ready for it — after all, my teachers only cared about you if you had potential to become a lawyer, a medical doctor, or an engineer. I wish I were joking. Eventually I found a way to apply for a university course in England, where people would really like me this time because surely people in England cared about my special interests! At the time I was really into Doctor Who, and I thought everyone in England would like it just as much. And thus, somewhat miraculously, I began a foundation year in history at Durham. I got in by a miracle — because they accepted students with marks incompatible with the British system, like mine — and I passed the year by a miracle, too, because it was assumed that you’d simply know where to go and what to do and how to revise for exams and how to write an essay… and I didn’t. I took the long way to my tutorials and I’d revise exclusively from my notes instead of researching my topics any further.

I wasn’t disabled, though. Or… was I?

In the winter of 2014 I was diagnosed with dyspraxia, after I adamantly claimed that no, I couldn’t be autistic, my psychiatrist says I can’t be. This was big: for the first time, I could be sure that my trouble with studying and keeping organised as well as my inability to ride a bike were not character flaws but genuine manifestations of my brain being wired differently. I forgave myself for that, and my dad thought it was quite nice, because I was disabled enough to get extra time to perform well academically, but not disabled enough to be cast further away from society than I already was.

Along with essay-writing and getting from one place to another without needing Apple Maps, I also didn’t know how to be. I realised I was different from my peers almost immediately, so I decided to try and copy some of the things that made them normal young adults. I overused British slang, copied their intonations, and tried to do my makeup in a way that was popular. I tried without much success to stand or walk less awkwardly. I worried about how I’d not reached many of the late teenage milestones that everyone else was already way ahead of, the best example of which being having a boyfriend. I somehow ended up seeing someone in my college who was three years older than me and also enjoyed things like languages and classical music. It was strange to feel like I fascinated someone, since until then and even at university I had been either bullied or ignored altogether.
He did ask me, at one point, if I was autistic. “No!” I said, “my psychiatrist says I can’t be.” He would use that against me when I didn’t do as he wished.

I wasn’t disabled initially; I was just some sort of linguistic genius. And then I could have been; he said I was probably autistic after all because I was stupid and selfish and clumsy and too obsessed with my own weird interests and not obsessed enough with him. To my tutors, to whom I couldn’t explain that I was missing class because I was caring for a controlling alcoholic because I couldn’t figure out that this was abuse, I was undisciplined; to my classmates from back home, I was a slag, because in England it seemed pretty standard to talk to your friends about sexual health and that’s what I did in one of those rare instances of me using the girls’ group chat, but they weren’t in England and I wasn’t their friend, but rather the quiet kid seemingly gone wild.

That year, someone else at uni took advantage of my gullibility to break into my room and soak my stuffed animal wet, rendering my duvet unusable for the night. I was lucky that it was water and not piss.

In contrast with the foundation year, first year proper was amazing. I’d prepared by reading a lot of books in advance and learning Icelandic on my own. I finally felt like I was in the right place to be obsessive, but while my tutors appreciated that I was engaging so well, I got a lot of criticism for taking first year too seriously. First year didn’t count after all. I was goal-driven — I knew that I wanted to do postgraduate studies in Old Norse as soon as my lovely lecturer told me what she did to specialise in it — so I tried not to mind those comments too much, but eventually they contributed to a feeling of isolation I couldn’t shake. People made me feel simultaneously isolated and entrapped: when I wasn’t in lectures I was curled up in a corner of my room with the lights off, except for my IKEA fairy lights, and listening to calming Sigur Rós music as loudly as possible in order to drown out the noise that came from the communal kitchen. I was also eating the exact same thing every single day because going to the dining hall was stressful and noisy, and I needed food that heated up as quickly as possible so that I could escape the kitchen before everyone else made it there.
I moved rooms before the end of Michaelmas (that’s first term in Durham talk), and I was allowed by the college principal himself to be exempt from the pointless rule of moving rooms every term.

I wasn’t disabled, or was I? At the time, I just said it was anxiety, but now I laugh at how obvious the autism was. And it didn’t go unnoticed.

There were people at uni that insisted that I should have an assessment, but it wasn’t until a friend in Oxford explained it convincingly that I started giving it some serious thought. I had spent so much of that year feeling fundamentally different, as though I spoke the same language as everyone else except mine was a dialect that always became lost in translation. But autism had been denied to me so many times that I began wondering whether I had schizoid PD. Something about schizoid PD didn’t seem quite right, so I went back to the autism hypothesis.

Second year. I’d been to Iceland to learn modern Icelandic, which I did not to speak Icelandic but become the best at translating Old Norse. My tutor would tell me to slow down when enunciating the names of heroic characters because my classmates hadn’t been taught either of the two possible ways to pronounce Old Norse yet, and I’d silently gloat over it because it surely meant that I was finally good at something.
Towards the end of Michaelmas, I asked my dad if I could borrow the money for an autism diagnosis, because they’d told me it would be quicker through a private specialist than through the NHS. I couldn’t have anticipated the screams that I got in return: he could’ve just said no, but being my dad, he had to insinuate that I was smart and independent and self-reliant unlike those people, and how dare I keep asking about that, and why the fuck do I keep seeking labels.

In a way, my dad kept me from figuring myself out until he died. He died two months after that argument. My mum called me over FaceTime — I was slightly annoyed by it; I was deeply engrossed in a translation, and this surely could’ve been a text — and rather than crying or asking how it could ever be, I said but what about this essay that is due next week. Bizarrely, this seems to parallel the time where I responded to my dad’s departure from home with something that sounded equally selfish, but I learnt over time that autistic people process events differently, often making reference to an aspect of their routines in order to connect with what happened.
After coming back from my dad’s funeral, I was referred to the NHS autism services. I got an appointment for the pre-assessment fairly quickly. I remember it vividly: I was asked to complete the AQ and the EQ, scoring 48 out of 50 and 9 out of I-don’t-remember respectively. The psychologist reassured me that I was just like his autistic daughter if not more autistic, and he told me not to worry, because I’d ticked all the right boxes. I just had to wait for the real appointment, which could take a while. (Feel free to laugh)
My mum went to see me sometime in March, but it wasn’t for good reason: one of my cats had passed away and she knew that I would break, and she preferred making sure that she was there to take care of me for a while. It sounds ridiculous, but the loss of an animal companion can cause seismic grief for autistic people especially. I could write a whole essay on this. It was in a hotel in London that I opened up to my mum about the autism assessment, and it was there that she told me many of the anecdotes I have just recalled. She revealed my provisional diagnosis and told me an assessment would be the best way to move forward. It never came: I had to take myself off the waiting list two years later as I was moving to Oxford. I ended up being diagnosed in the summer before Oxford, but during those two years of waiting, I had the reassurance to live the rest of my life knowing that my fundamental difference had a name. I was disabled. I was autistic.

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The sole realisation that I was autistic gave me freedoms, in plural: the freedom to love the things that I love, the freedom to accept myself for who I was and not simply accept that I was clumsy or took a bit longer to write exams, the freedom to turn down invitations to party or go to the pub because my sensitivity to noise or smell was part of the wiring of my brain.

I was just on time to World Autism Awareness Day, and on that day, sat outside a cafe in Helsinki — a day before flying to see my best friend in Japan, where liking what I liked had never felt so fulfilling — I opened up to the world on Facebook about being autistic.

Four years later, I have learnt a lot more. I have learnt about my own autism, about autism in other people, about how my mental and physical health conditions intersect with autism, about neurodiversity as a movement and umbrella term for neurodevelopmental conditions that are akin to cousins of autism. I have learnt things that no textbook will tell you about autism by making big mistakes, like not respecting people’s boundaries because you don’t know what boundaries are, or trusting people that pretend to be nice to you. I have learnt to apologise, to do better, to listen, to be more attentive.

Some of the things that people thought I was are still true. I am imaginative, really into things, clumsy, hypersensitive, too different, not afraid to speak my mind, but all of those are characteristics of autistic people. Some other things said about me, on the other hand, simply reflect people’s prejudices about disabled people, even if they can physically put their hands over their hearts and say that they don’t hate us: dim, lazy, undisciplined, too weird, indifferent, selfish, ungrateful, rude, aggressive. It has taken disability pride to reject these accusations and embrace my version of the truth.

Disability pride is advocating for myself and never budging, because if there is no way to help me there will have to be. Disability pride is rejecting the idea that I am beyond help.

Disability pride is forgiveness. It’s forgiving myself for not doing better in school and university because I was bombarded on a daily basis with sensory information. It’s forgiving myself for thinking that other people’s embarrassment of me came before my own comfort.

Disability pride is accepting that there are certain things in life that are off-limits for me, because I am not neurotypical and also disabled in other ways. It’s accepting that I can and will take longer to do challenging things and even basic things. It’s not fair, but it’s fine. Disability pride is knowing that this doesn’t make me less-than.

Disability pride is advocating with others, because disability doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It’s evaluating my own ableist prejudices and challenging other people for theirs; more difficultly, it’s trying to challenge the daily internalised ableism that originates in other people’s negative comments about me. Disability pride is working towards liberation for everyone — the aim of the American with Disabilities Act, which is why disability pride month even exists, is to get closer to it.

Disability pride means surviving to reclaim and rewrite your own story.

Josefina aged three, touching her face with both her hands. She is wearing a pink top; her hair is short and blonde.
Josefina aged three, touching her face with both her hands. She is wearing a pink top; her hair is short and blonde.

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