It has taken 26 years of my life, but I have finally had the word “retarded” used about me. I’ve always hated how casually it is thrown around and I try my best to advocate when I hear it in everyday conversation. I never expected to actually be referred to by that word. I want to address some of the points you and your supporters felt the need to make while calling me this word.
“It’s just part of my vocabulary. It would be too difficult to change it now.”
I spend each and every second masking to fit into a world that wasn’t made for me. It is way too loud, bright, and full of social situations I am woefully unequipped for. Yet, I still manage to adapt myself so I can function in this world. To tell me that you can’t make the effort to remove one word from your vocabulary, especially such a hurtful one, is a downright insult. I am done masking to the point of burnout just so you don’t feel uncomfortable around differences.
“They didn’t mean it. It’s just something people say.”
Then that means it’s something people need to stop saying. It hurts me to the core to be referred to in a demeaning manner. There are so many words out there that were once considered acceptable, but have been put to rest because they are offensive. It’s time this one be taken away as well. You don’t get to make the decision that it’s “just something people say.” The community that is being called by the slur gets to make that decision.
“You’re not a functioning adult.”
When I was growing up, my parents had no faith in me. They always told me I would be living in a group home, unable to take care of myself. Not only have I exceeded, but I have demolished everyone’s expectations of me. You have no clue about the struggle it took to get to where I am in life. I don’t even have respite in sleep because of how my neurological system works. I have to fight so many battles for the simplest of tasks. Even going to the grocery store can take more effort than most people exert in a day. Not only do I manage to do all that, but I pay my bills, go to work and take care of my family. I am functioning to the highest extent.
“You need to learn to live by yourself.”
Do you realize the amount of time and effort I have put into finding and building my support system? I can live by myself, but I choose not to. I choose to surround myself with a family of my own making — a family that lets me be autistic, that lets me be myself. I have people always around to help me when meltdowns occur and to think I’m adorable when I stim with glee. You have no right to belittle my own personal social achievement.
“Stop using your disability as a shield.”
When I stand up for myself, I don’t use my autism as a shield. I use it as my weapon. I am so proud to be autistic and to get to represent my community in such a public manner. I use my autism as a weapon to make the world a better and easier place for us. I will continue to speak out and stand up for a community that often doesn’t have a voice.
Originally published on The Mighty on 8/3/2020