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So it’s Autistics Speaking Day. It’s also two years since I got a diagnosis, and three years since I started wondering if my differences were something more than a combination of awkwardness and inadequate effort.

What have I learned?

Firstly, that if unpleasant people find out about my diagnosis, they’re likely to find ways to be patronising, or downright nasty. But I still prefer that to the hippy types who tell you that autism is wonderful, and a special gift, when it’s clear they haven’t the minutest grasp of what it actually is. Then there’s the people who instantly deny your diagnosis, in a way that suggests they’re doing you a favour. And the ones who don’t want to be told anything about it because knowing you’re not normal spoils their image of you.

The last two years have been, in that trite phrase, a journey of discovery.

For the first few months, I felt as if a dozen stormtroopers had marched into my life, dragged me away, and put me in a camp for those society had discarded. I stood behind a wire fence, looking out. I could see the world, going on without me, but I was no longer part of it, and I wasn’t wanted out there. I was caged, with all the abnormals, and even if I one day escaped, the prison would always be there, in my mind.

I still feel like that, sometimes.

Then came a phase where I told too many people. I suppose I was looking for reassurance, for evidence I’d been wrong, that I was just as normal as everyone else. I needed people to demonstrate that it didn’t matter, when, of course, it did.

After that came a long period of exploration. I found people out there who hated telephones, didn’t know what flirting was, got nauseated at unexpected physical contact. People for whom all lights were too bright, for whom loud sounds caused pain, who spent days trying to stay on top of the onslaught of sensation, who found other people terrifying.

And often the shock of recognition, of shared experience, brought me close to tears, because each episode made it harder to deny the truth of what I’d discovered. And I needed to deny the truth, because its existence shattered all the hopes I’d had for the future, of love, and companionship, of family and friends.

Because this is what society does. It makes us the unendurable other, the person in need of a cure, the stonelike nonentity who can be bullied with impunity because we have zero empathy. That we don’t understand is no excuse for our failures. We should be silenced. The pain of our lives is the pain we cause others, not the pain we endure and bury deep inside. We are a genetic mistake, normal people locked in a cage of inappropriate behaviour. We have no understanding of the minds of those around us.

We are difficult, contrary, incomprehensible.

And as long as these are the myths they build in our names, nothing will change.

Despite all the evidence of who we are, if no one listens, nothing will change.

Who am I?

I am autistic.

I am a writer of novels.

I am autistic.

I am a doctor.

I am autistic.

I am an artist in porcelain.

I am autistic.

I am a gardener.

I am autistic, and I see just as much beauty in a sunset as you do.

Which parts of me are the parts that really matter?