When you’re on the autism spectrum you may feel like an alien sometimes. Like no one on earth understands you. This makes it hard to function in a neurotypical world. You want to fit in, but that’s not easy for you. Sometimes, the harder you try and push yourself to fit in, the more uncomfortable you feel. You try to hide your neurodiversity and autism traits because they bring you shame.
Instead of living with the fear of standing out, today I want to discuss with you the power of embracing your neurodiversity and learning to advocate for yourself. This is not always easy and it takes a lot of courage. Today, I will talk to you about overcoming shame and some ways you can advocate for yourself. Doing this will help others support you on your journey towards happiness and success.
Shame and Fear Are Powerful Burdens to Carry, Especially When You’re Autistic
Feeling different really takes a toll on your mental health. Perhaps, you’re scared of standing out, or you just want to fit in with your peers. The first step in understanding your fear or shame is to uncover why you have it in the first place.
Many of my autistic clients share that they have never really felt like they fit in with the neurotypical world. Furthermore, the people they interact with and the message they get from society tells them they have to conform in order to be accepted. Perhaps, they were told to behave. Or maybe they were told that their sensitivities aren’t a big deal and they should get over it. Or, maybe, like so many neurodiverse individuals, they were bullied and experienced trauma. After a while, they start to internalize the message there is something wrong with them, and believe it to be true. This does a number on their self-esteem and mental health. So they begin to believe there’s something to be ashamed of and they feel like they’re not good enough.
Everyone is Different
“I never learned from a man who agreed with me.” – Robert A. Heinlein
No two people are created the same way. Your differences are beautiful. They’re what make you authentically you. Treat yourself with self-compassion and remind yourself that it’s okay to be different. You don’t have to be just like neurotypicals in order to be loved, respected, and supported. You are worthy of happiness, just like everyone else.
In fact, I think if there is a motto for the neurodiversity movement, it should be “Different is good. Different makes a positive difference.” One of our greatest assets in society is diversity. Diversity in the way we think, process, and perceive the world and people. Furthermore, diversity in the way we think is what drives innovation. And it can give rise to a spirit of acceptance, openness, and critical thinking.
Treat Yourself the Way You Wish Others Would Treat You
The most powerful work to combat the shame-cycle you may be stuck in is to treat yourself with self-compassion and self-acceptance. To do this, you must first create a sense of belonging internally. You need to accept yourself and the things that make you unique and wonderful. As shame shifts to self-acceptance, that is when you can truly learn to advocate for yourself. You will find that as you grow to accept who you are you will feel more comfortable asking for support from others so you can be the best version of yourself. But remember, the best version of yourself is not a neurotypical imposter version. The best version of yourself embraces your strengths and asks for support when you experience challenges.
Bullying, trauma, imposter syndrome, invalidation, and gaslighting are common occurrences for many individuals on the autism spectrum. This usually stems from a misunderstanding of neurodiversity and autism. These misunderstandings lead to a lot of suffering for people who are on the spectrum. I bet you agree life would be a lot easier if others understood you and your autism. Maybe, you’ve tried explaining it, only to be let down when others don’t understand you.
You Long to Belong but Your Neurodiversity Makes it Hard
A sense of belonging is a basic survival need that all people have. To belong means you feel accepted for who you are. We may desire to belong to a family, to a group of friends, to a team at work, or to another type of community. Unfortunately, neurodiverse and autistic people tend not to have this most basic need met. They often go through life feeling like an outsider. Feeling rejected for who they are. This is one of the most painful things you can go through as a human being. And over time it gets internalized and causes a profound sense of shame.
Shame then becomes a vicious cycle that’s hard to break free from. Perhaps, you’ve received messages from others that make you feel less than, or not good enough. This makes you feel unworthy of acceptance and you get stuck in a negative loop. When this happens you may wonder “Why should I advocate for myself? Why should I put myself out there and faze potential rejection if no one will listen?” When you think this way you’re less likely to put yourself out there and be known for who you truly are at your core, and you have an even harder time achieving your goals.
Why should I bother advocating for myself and my identity as an individual with autism?
The answer is simple, to help you thrive. To help you live with as much ease, peace, and joy as possible. To help you do what matters most in your life. And, to help you achieve the goals that are meaningful to you. As a neurodiverse person, your goals might look different from many people your age. That’s okay. What matters is that you get support in achieving the goals that matter to you. If you find yourself feeling frustrated, stuck, or avoidant, that is just a sign you need more support to move forward in life. It’s not a sign you can’t move forward in life. It’s not a sign that your life is hopeless. You deserve to go from thriving to surviving and adequate support is the way to do that.
The importance of a mini-disclosure and when it’s appropriate
A mini-disclosure is important any time you feel you need support. It also can be helpful when you want to improve your relationship with someone or when someone has misinterpreted your intentions.
A mini-disclosure consists of the following 3 important parts:
Part 1: Identify your behavior
For example, you might say: “Sometimes, I struggle to make eye contact”
Part 2: Clarify what the behavior actually means
“It does not mean I am disinterested in what you have to say or not listening. Eye contact just makes me uncomfortable.”
Part 3: Share what you value about your interaction
I care about our friendship so I wanted to understand.
Resources to Help You Advocate for Yourself and Your Neurodiversity
Look for Local Autism Communities or Facebook Autism Groups
One great way to feel supported is to find a support group or advocacy group in your community or online. Here you will find a group of people who have had relatable life experiences and can accept and understand the struggles your experiencing. They will remind you that you’re not alone and you belong. And, they can also give you tested strategies to cope with the struggles you’re experiencing. So, they can share what has or has not worked for them. Please do your research before joining any online groups and make sure they are honest and safe groups to participate in.
If you’re looking for support in the workplace. You can start by speaking with your supervisor and offering them a mini-disclosure. Talk with them and request their support in navigating the complexities of social dynamics in the workplace.
If you’re a part of a medium or large company, you could start an employee-led inclusion group for neurodiverse employees. It’s an opportunity to connect with other neurodiverse employees at your company.
Autism Support and Resources in California
If you live in California and are looking for support and a community to provide a sense of belonging, the autism therapists at Open Doors Therapy would love to speak with you. We offer a wide variety of autism therapy services in California. We are currently seeing clients via online therapy. So, no matter where you’re located in the state, we can help you.
What I want to draw your attention to today are our online autism group therapy opportunities. We offer several online therapy groups so you can find one that best fits your needs. There you will meet a community of peers that have similar shared experiences. They can emphasize with what you’re going through and support you through challenging times.
We’re currently offering online autism group therapy opportunities for:
- Gifted teens with autism and their caregivers
- College students with autism
- Young adults with autism
- Women with Autism
Begin Online Autism Therapy in California:
You don’t have to overcome shame and loneliness on your own. Find your community and support. If you live in California and are interested in online autism therapy, our team of autism therapists would love to speak with you and learn more about your needs. To begin autism therapy in California, follow these steps:
- Contact us for a free phone consultation using this link. You will meet with our care coordinator.
- Like us on Facebook. On our page, we post useful information about our practice
- Sign up to receive our newsletter.
Autism Therapy Services offered at Open Doors Therapy:
Our autism therapy clinic located in the South Bay Area serves teens and adults on the autism spectrum. We help high functioning individuals who identify as having Aspergers, high functioning autism, undiagnosed ASD traits, and their families.
Right now, we are providing all our autism counseling services online. Our autism therapists offer a variety of counseling services including individual counseling for autistic teens and adults, parent counseling, and group therapy. Also, we run several different social skills groups for neurodiverse working professionals, college students with autistic traits, gifted youth & caregivers, neurodiverse adults, women who identify as neurodiverse, a summer social skills college transition training program for youth transitioning to college, teens & caregivers, and a mothers group. Contact our autism therapy office for more information on our services or to schedule a consultation.
About the Author
Dr. Tasha Oswald is a trained developmental and clinical psychologist. She is also is the founder and director of Open Doors Therapy, a private practice specializing in autism therapy services in the South Bay Area, near San Francisco, CA. Dr. Oswald specializes in helping neurodiverse teens and adults and facilitating social skills groups.