Tuesday, July 21, 2015

"Different not disabled"

One of the first phrases I heard when I was researching Asperger's (because I wasn't aware of using the word autism then), was "different not disabled". It was saying, you aren't disabled, you are only a different sort of human. It was also saying you aren't really impaired.

In many ways, what different not disabled was saying was "you're actually the same as the rest of them". In saying "you aren't really impaired", it was denying differences, suggesting if I struggle, it is only because others do too. It was saying, my struggles are all things others deal with, if they weren't, I would be disabled.

I didn't recognize my impairments then. I didn't recognize any autistic traits. I was happily claiming neurodiversity, but had no clue any way that I was neurodiverse, and didn't realize that I didn't know.

I was 13 and was thinking that everyone else had the same interests I did, even when I was being told these words associated with the autism spectrum. The reason that they grouped together in cliques, listened to the same music, went to the mall, was that they all pretended to have these other interests to fit in with each other. In truth, they all had my interests. The difference was that I didn't care about fitting in, and preferred being myself.

I was different, but at the same time we were all the same.

Every time I saw what was said around "different not disabled", it was "we're just a different sort, just like if you're gay". It was repeating to me there's no difference that should be talked about ever, and yet talking about it proclaiming neurodiversity. It was saying we didn't need any sorts of help ever, we just needed people to respect us.

My understanding of myself was held back so far hearing these words. I didn't recognize who I was. I kept being told "you're just like them", even when I wasn't. I kept being told I didn't need help, when I did. I was told I wasn't disabled, and I am.

I was told if you needed help, you couldn't have strengths, that if you had strengths, you couldn't need help. I was told that disability is to be ashamed of, and that someone who is neurodiverse is innately different than someone who might ever use an app to help them speak. I was told many things that aren't true and held me back.

This isn't just me. I've heard others say the same. That entering into the online autism world and finding those speaking about how we aren't disabled, had hurt their ability to understand themselves and the world.

Disability might be caused partially because of the society we live in, but that doesn't mean that people don't need help. It doesn't mean that people should deny the differences they do have, and try to push through trying to do everything on their own, never trying to even adapt. Disability isn't a word saying a person is lesser, that a person doesn't deserve life, doesn't deserve happiness. It's just our sort of difference - our one which does have dramatic downsides, a community, and people treating us poorly for being how we are whether or not we recognize who we are, and whether or not we are open.

Taking away the disability label only takes away self-awareness, possibility for adaptations, resources for growth, and community. It doesn't protect me, it only protects others who don't want to let me be disabled.


  1. It's like saying "not as sanguine" instead of "melancholic" or "strongly choleric" instead of "choleric-compulsive."