Autism Saved My Life: A Response to “The Obsessive Joy of Autism”

Often enough, disability advocates and disabled people don’t have the space to express the great things about their lives. People expect a lot of complaining from us, and a lot of “This is why certain things are unfair.” And that’s true. Being an advocate for autistics means that I see the holes in society where autistic people fall through the cracks; I see ableism where it exists, I see how things could be better. I take care to point these things out because changes won’t be made unless people do.

But I don’t get a lot of space to express how wonderful being autistic is sometimes. That allows people to forget that it’s a part of me that I cherish and not something to be “cured of” or “fixed from.”

Let’s take a look at one of my favorite posts, “The Obsessive Joy of Autism” by Just Stimming (read it here). My favorite part of this post, the part that articulates exactly what is so wonderful about autism, is this: “I pity anyone who is so restrained by what is considered acceptable happiness that they will never understand when I say that sometimes being autistic in this world means walking through a crowd of silently miserable people and holding your happiness like a secret or a baby, letting it warm you as your mind runs on the familiar tracks of an obsession and lights your way through the day.”

That’s how it feels. I didn’t get it for years – I didn’t understand that these things were part of being autistic, not until I talked to other autistic people. When I’m walking through the halls of my college, on the way home from a boring class, it’s not life that holds me together. It’s not the fact that I have to get good grades, participate, or hold down a job. It’s the obsessive joy of autism. I can perk myself right out of a bad day just by coming home, getting in my bed, and indulging in reading a part of my favorite book, or looking at some fanart of a character I love, or re-watching a Gilmore Girls episode for the 11th time. Other people may not understand what it is about special interests that makes them so enrapturing for autistic people, and we may not even know fully ourselves.

But it’s there. It’s there when I’m sitting through a boring required presentation and instead of silently counting the hours with the rest of the group, I’m off somewhere else. I’m constructing a new character and a new situation and thinking of the endless ways that character could be interacting. I’m analyzing one of my favorite scenes from a novel and comparing it to a parallel scene in another book. I’m writing prose or poetry inside my head, letting the words drop one by one and create something beautiful.

My autism has been the sole reason for me being able to get through tough situations for my entire life. Even when my biggest problem in life was that other kids and teachers didn’t understand me because I was autistic, and wanted to punish me out of being autistic, it was still autism that kept me happy and sane. It was still me sitting by myself after school, flapping my hands and feet, making up stories and reading the same books and looking at my key collection that made life worth living. There have been a few rare times in life when I felt like I had very little in my life to look forward to – when I felt I had no friends around, when school was something akin to hell, when the ache of loneliness was too deep to resist – and the one thing that brought me back was the obsessive joy of autism, was the knowledge that I could go home and stim to one of my favorite songs, write my novel for hours, read a book and then slowly fall asleep.

There are a lot of people that want a cure for autism (something I’ll talk about in a different blog post), but they see autism as this sad thing. Nobody understands what it is actually like to live with it – that even when we’re going through burnout, and we’re maybe nonverbal or barely coherent, that when we’re reacting to sensory overload and stimming to self-regulate, we have this whole part inside of us that just glows from the obsessive joy of autism. We have so much to be excited about in life, and so much to just love, and often people want us to be quiet, stop liking those things, and take that away from us. They want us to stop stimming, to stop overloading people with infodumps about our special interests, to do anything to fit in.

But they want to take away something that makes us who we are. I know that I, for one, wouldn’t be alive today if it weren’t for my autism. If there was a cure for autism when I was a kid and someone cured me, they would have taken away the single most joyful thing about my existence, the single thing that makes me the most excited to live. When things got hard, when my mom passed away, when my friends bullied me, whenever I was betrayed or abused, I would have eventually turned to ending my life, because it was my autism – and only that – that saved my life.

That’s not something I want a cure for.

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