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I don’t want to be included. I want true inclusion.

At the beginning of this year 2023 I had my autistic characteristics used against me yet again. My potential to add value to a situation rejected because my inclusion left others feeling puzzled and uncomfortable because having been included, I wasn’t conforming in the way they expected or understood. This was not inclusion.

It continues to baffle me how in this day and age people still discriminate against things just because they don’t understand. I believe discrimination comes from fear and that fear comes from a place of ignorance and lack of education. Autistic people are too often in the news heralded as murderers, psychopaths, monsters who have little empathy and autism is too often used as the reason they have caused such harm and destruction whereas in truth there is much more to be uncovered. This damaging narrative plays into the idea that as autistic people we are less than our neurotypical counterparts. That our behaviours mean we belong locked up in institutions with no stimulation or hope for a future. Intelligence is categorized by a person’s ability to fit into the mould that society deems acceptable. We are pushed through the sausage factory that is our education system, producing perfectly uniformed sausages and any deviation from this is unwanted and discarded. Being autistic our brains don’t function in this way. Our intelligence cannot necessarily be labelled by an A level grade on a piece of paper, our ideas may not flow from our lips in eloquent speech or independence dictated by our chronological age. Autism is a spectrum, a spectrum which is so wide and tall that it cannot be described within words on a page. With this comes the difficulty of explaining such a complex condition to the majority, a condition which we as autistics don’t fully understand and which comes with an infinite amount of support needs and strategies.

We have a come along way from the days of ‘Rain Man’ and just boys and even further from being locked away in institutions with the key thrown away. However, we still have not come far enough. The word diversity and inclusivity are banded around constantly- a buzz word used, the heralded value in most schools and within our healthcare system. Yet so many autistic children are still being excluded from school, autistic teenagers incarcerated in mental health units and only 22% of autistic adults are in any kind of employment. The leading cause of early death in autistic people is suicide. Already this year we have seen reports on yet more autistic people who have died while under the care of the mental health system and others who have been institutionalised in horrific conditions. According to Autistica and a study from 2012, 8 in 10 autistic people have a mental health condition. I myself am one of those. Growing up autistic is a lonely, confusing and traumatic experience. Like all people, autistic people want a purpose, we want to feel valuable and we want to contribute to our society. But we face an inordinate number of challenges to just function within every day and then when you add people who are unwilling to step out of their comfort zone and embrace the idea of true diversity and inclusivity it is even harder. We don’t want to be an add on, we don’t want to be invited but then made to feel a nuisance when we can’t get involved in exactly the same way. Far too often, places call themselves inclusive, they are happy and welcoming of those who are different however what they really mean is that once there they are only truly welcome if they can conform in the same way as everyone else does. Nothing highlights this like our education system. A place where all children are entitled to a place within a mainstream school regardless of their needs. Parents are actively encouraged to send their autistic children to mainstream schools which claim values of inclusivity and diversity. Places that purport to help every child to strive for their best on their own ‘individual’ education journey. But we have a national curriculum- expected milestones, teachers have targets to hit, there are 30 children to 1 adult, schools are chronically underfunded and schools are conformist. They have to be in the current state of our system. Everyone is welcome but you will have to all behave and learn in exactly in the same way. This system is failing so many autistics. There is so much intellect, talent, ideas and inspiration locked within the barrier of communication. I don’t want to be included in the game but with expectations to conform meaning there is no way I can join in or even if I can the mental impact will be so detrimental, I will be left suicidal and broken.

As an autistic person I am not asking to be the same as everyone else, I am asking to be allowed to navigate life in my own way, a different or maybe even somewhat strange way but a way in which I can reach my own potential and find my own happiness. I want to contribute to society, to feel valued not to be seen as a drain. Our characteristics are often labelled as something which needs changing or therapy to remove, however how about if we flip that on its head. We look at it not from the eyes of neurotypical but from the eyes of those who brains are different. We may not speak, we may seem rude we may not enjoy social gatherings, we may not find certain things relevant, we may flap our hands, we may laugh inappropriately or we may also appear totally ‘normal’ but disappear for days to reset ourselves- as I say autistic is not a one size fits all. However not one of these make us less human, we may be more than happy coming to the event and just do our own things at the side, school may not work in the same way as it does for others and actually that doesn’t matter. Happiness, health and safety come first. In the same breath we deserve the same opportunity as our neurotypical counterparts, the chance to learn, to work, to have fun but this may not look the same as our neurotypical counterpart- and that is okay! It might look weird to you, it may even make you feel uncomfortable, but when you have these feelings search not to judge but to understand, to accept that you may never understand why that works for us but that inclusivity isn’t being the same but is being allowed to be different.

I go back to where I started this with my experience of discrimination just because I didn’t conform, I didn’t want to be just included and then forced to conform and judged and ridiculed when unable to do this, I wanted to be welcomed for who I was, as different as I am but still valued in the same way as everyone else. We still have so far to come but we must raise the voices of autistics and others who are different. We deserve a life in which we are able to thrive in our own ways not traumatised to conform for the comfort of others.

Lots of love

Hannah <3 xxx


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