Autism and Abuse: How Autistic Acceptance Helped Me Move Forward

For World Autism Awareness Week, we are amplifying the voices of autistic survivors on our blog.

This post was submitted by Jessica Benton.

Content note: abuse (including, but not limited to, bullying and sexual harassment), assault, brief mention of suicidal thoughts, gender binary

I grew up not really understanding why I was the way I was, and I was treated pretty terribly throughout school. It left me wondering what was wrong with me and why I couldn’t be like everyone else.  In infant school I had a lot of trouble connecting to other children and interacting with them, and in junior school I tried to make friends but I didn’t have the same social skills that other kids did – I would talk a lot about special interests and if I was happy or excited I’d rock back and forth and flap my hands. I would get strange looks and the other kids would avoid me.


Secondary school was when it all came to a head. There was a group of girls who would verbally bully me and spread rumours about me, and boys who would sexually harass me by doing things like grabbing my chest. When I was 14 depression and anxiety took hold and the bullying was at its peak.
 

One day I completely broke down and I was sent home from school. That day had involved more of the same bullying but it just pushed me over the edge – the girls were talking about how they had taken a mug shot of me and posted it to Facebook, something which I never found out was true or not. The boys were pulling my hair and trying to push me over or touch my chest.

My parents contacted  the school straight away. A school assembly was held for the boys in the year and although I wasn’t mentioned by name they were told about how serious sexual harassment was, and the girls were dealt with separately. I lived in fear of what would happen after school. I didn’t see myself having any friends or relationships, I couldn’t trust anyone to not treat me the same way. I had grim thoughts and didn’t think I would live past 18, but the combined efforts of my true friends and family helped me to turn things around.

When I was 15 I came across an online autistic community of activists – they were ordinary people on the spectrum who championed autism acceptance. They spoke about neurodiversity, which accepted autism as a natural difference in human brains, with autistic people needing to be accepted and accommodated by society instead of being looked down on or viewed as an abstract mystery to be solved by the next medical breakthrough. 

The ideas of acceptance, autistic pride and diversity, without exaggeration, saved my life and made me a happier person. Autism activists speaking out and campaigning helped raise my self-esteem, and now I want to do the same for other people. I am now 19 and therefore lived past the age I once thought I wouldn’t. I have realised that the bullying and harassment I experienced was not my fault and that I didn’t deserve it. Society had lead me to believe that I, as the ‘freaky and ugly’ one deserve to be treated in an inhumane way, because sections of society maintain the mistaken notion that autistic people are less than human and are inferior.

Disabled women are more likley than others to be sexually harassed, assaulted or bullied whether the perpetrators know explicitly that we are disabled or not. We are told by society and media that we should be thankful we are receiving any attention or notion of our being desirable to others, so we should tolerate such treatment. Because there is still an underlying notion that our lives are lesser.  For anyone reading this, I tell you now that you don’t deserve to be treated like that. Disabled women have the same rights to control over our own bodies, emotions and lives as our non-disabled counterparts. Disabled women (and men!)  have rights to be heard and taken seriously, to be included in feminism and human rights activism. We have the right to love freely and be loved. This message goes double for disabled people who are LGBT+!

I made a film with Fixers, the charity which gives young people a voice, telling my story and explaining how neurodiversity and autism acceptance have helped me to move forward. You can watch it here:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=myUM7YNEg-s 

Thank you for you time!

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Ashley Stephen

Ashley co-founded Disabled Survivors Unite and is the head of social media. They are a disability rights activist and keen campaigner for social justice issues. They are interested in diversity in media, volunteering, and human rights. Originally from California, Ashley now lives in Leeds, West Yorkshire.

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