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Identity Questions

Earlier this week, I was asked by a young man how knowing I am "autistic" changed my life. His big question was if I would have not made some choices if I had known the diagnosis years ago. Is "The Autistic Me" a different me, making different choices? That's a good question, but I don't have a good answer. I'm just me. I know the label means something, but I choose the name of this blog as part of a class assignment — there wasn't a lengthy rhetorical analysis of the label or what it might mean to me.

I've written the following about "autism" as a label:
http://theautisticme.blogspot.com/2011/01/what-is-autism-beyond-word.htmlhttp://theautisticme.blogspot.com/2010/08/socially-constructed-autism.html
There are many other related posts, too. I am ambivalent about the "autistic" label, neither rejecting it entirely nor embracing it without question. As a writer with a degree in rhetoric, I'm expected to understand the positives and negatives of labels, but I find that you can get lost trying to evaluate if a word or phrase is a net plus or minus in life.

I'm not a fan of self-diagnoses, since any disability should be supported by experts. Yes, you can tell when something isn't quite "right" with you, but self-diagnosis doesn't lead to the supports many people need. A formal diagnosis helps some people significantly — and if an expert determines "autism" isn't the best label, at least you get the supports best for your situation.

I'm also not a fan of "diagnosing" others.
http://theautisticme.blogspot.com/2007/07/remote-diagnoses-and-advocacy.html
This week, over at the blog Countering you can read "Continued Reflection on Labels and Defining One's Identity" [http://kwomblescountering.blogspot.com/2012/11/continued-reflection-on-labels-and.html] — one example of an ongoing discussion within the autism community. It is a topic I've addressed many times, trying to balance the benefits of autistic identity against the potential limitations such labels suggest.

I just cannot embrace "autism" without questioning it. Autism is a list of traits, at least in the DSM. When are those traits a "disability" and when are they merely a "difference" to be accepted? I know my palsy and paralysis limit me a little, but not so much that I'd complain about my quality of life. My sensory sensitivity can be debilitating, but not on a daily basis. Sometimes, being sensitive to smells or sounds can be useful.

The only person who can tell you how to best relate to any label is yourself. I can't tell you what it should mean to be "autistic" or what the implications of the label are. You have to discover who you are and how to be the best "you" you can be, no matter what your limitations are.

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