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Let’s look at autism and shame.

I heard a story recently from a parent, whereby a relative had reacted cautiously to the news of a seven year old’s autism diagnosis. The reaction was the often-seen trope of caution against labelling; not sharing the diagnosis widely with other children or adults; and guarding against potentially cruel people who may react badly to that difference by being careful about ‘public labelling’.

Autism’s shame narrative

grandparent autistic childThis is a (sadly) common reaction from families. The narrative I see here though is not one of protecting a sensitive autistic soul against the reactions of their mean peers (although let’s remember that today’s school children are probably the most diversity-and-inclusion-educated kids the western world has ever seen); it’s a shame narrative.

There’s lots of info online about shame and its effects, for anyone interested in delving deeper – Hannah Rose LCPC writes: “Shame will lead us to feel incapable of growth and change.” The Peaceful Parent Institute writes: “Shame can result in lower self-esteem and negative self-talk, or potentially over time, [the child] losing belief in themselves.” It’s true that autism has a stigma attached to it, and like many marginalised groups, autists feel the brunt of this stigma.

The exact same narrative of not being openly yourself, outwardly fitting into the mainstream and hiding your differences is the viewpoint that’s historically caused many LGBTQ+ individuals to grow up feeling shameful.

Autism’s outdated viewpoint

female child - for autism article on spectra.blogIt’s also an outdated viewpoint for the field of neurodiversity – diagnoses help children gain access to further support; diagnoses (from an educated viewpoint) help spread awareness of autism and other conditions to teachers and parents who would otherwise be none the wiser; and they help give the autistic child a sense of identity.

Trust me, growing up autistic with no diagnosis and no emotional support for your differences is crushing. A common simile that autists cite feeling like is ‘someone from another planet’. An outsider.

To deny a young autistic person a sense of agency, autonomy and individualism by effectively hiding their true self is to make them feel shameful.

Autism is not a label, just as Gay is not a label. An autistic person is autistic and a gay person is gay. Using shame based narratives says more about the person with this viewpoint and their core beliefs than it does about the individual in question.

The take home message here is, please support your autistic relatives to be themselves; they don’t have to shout their autisticness from the rooftops; they can disclose it when it’s appropriate and timely. But to deliberately hide or diminish it for fear of others’ reactions is not healthy.

#autism #actuallyautistic #neurodiversity #neurodivergence


Exploring what being ‘authentically autistic’ means

A little disclaimer – here at we don’t claim to be experts about autism; the information we post here is based purely on our own exposure and experiences. Our book ‘Autism from A to Z’ is now widely available – purchase here.