Dear Mom and Dad,
Growing up, although you were aware of my autism diagnosis you chose not to acknowledge it or discuss it with me in depth. You recognized my ability, intelligence, and held me to high expectations and I truly do appreciate that. However, when you decided to ignore my deficits under the notion that autism didn’t define me you denied me of the self awareness and support I needed to meet those expectations.
As a parent now myself, I understand your approach of ignoring “the label“. You didn’t want myself or others to assign the limitations that society often bestows upon those diagnosed with ASD, as you knew that my deficits didn’t define me but in doing this you didn’t acknowledge me wholly. This also resulted in me not acknowledging or accepting myself wholly.
I needed to grow up more aware of my deficits. With more awareness I could have used my strengths to help me cope with my weaknesses. With awareness, and the support that comes with acknowledgement of my weaknesses I would have developed a greater sense of self. I would come into myself and exceeded your expectations, and my own, in a more timely fashion.
Growing up without self-awareness and self-acceptance was damaging in many ways. My lack of self-awareness and self-acceptance was reflected in many life decisions that impacted me negatively. I developed the unhealthy habits of masking and camouflaging and those efforts could have easily been applied toward the development of coping skills instead.
Essentially, I spent a lot of time and effort to appear to be what others wanted instead of working on what I needed for myself. I appreciate you loving me and raising me with the best intentions but I would have also appreciated being taught to be aware, accept, and love myself wholly. Luckily, I have learned this with time. I just wish it was embedded in me growing up. Nonetheless, I love you for looking past the label and seeing the able!
Joy F. Johnson (M.Ed, M.S.) is an autism advocate, behavior specialist, inclusion specialist and #actuallyautistic mother. She contributed this letter via Instagram, where she is an active voice for sexual education in autistic youth.