To be or not to be

Happy (belated) MLK day! Today’s post is going to be about minorities, but not the type you’re probably thinking of. No, today I’m going to write about the constant question that invisible minorities face–whether or not to let others know about their minority status. This is an especially difficult question for people with disabilities that aren’t immediately obvious, because asking for needed accommodations intersects with the decision to disclose their status.

Since I’ve been diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum, I’ve wrestled with the question of how open about it to be. For the most part I’ve kept quiet about it. Partly this is because my own difficulties are minor, so I don’t really need to ask for accommodations, making my autism something of a non-issue. There’s also an ideological component as well, because if I do need accommodations, it shouldn’t matter that I’ve been diagnosed as being autistic, just that my needs aren’t being met.

The last part, though, is a desire to not be defined by my austism. It’s not the whole of who I am. On the other hand, though, it has always defined me in some way. The troubles I had growing up were a result of being autistic, even though I was undiagnosed. Not knowing didn’t stop those traits from being apparent to the people around me, nor did it cause them to treat me with any more respect.

In some ways, the diagnosis has been a relief, because it gives me a way to not only see how I’m different, but figure out how to cope with my differences. It has also been a way to connect with others who have dealt with the same issues I have, which has been both uplifting and a confirmation of my deepest fears. It’s nice knowing that I’m not alone, yet I’m also looking at reflections of my own experiences with not being accepted because of being different. I fear being open about being autistic because of those stories. And it sucks, because I feel like I’m hiding something. I don’t like hiding something that I’m not ashamed of, and I hate that I have to consider the possible ramifications of being open about it. The burden of not knowing why I was different has been replaced with the burden of knowing why I’m different. (Don’t get me wrong, I vastly prefer the latter, but the fact that it’s a burden at all strikes me as fundamentally wrong.)

Ideally, none of it would matter. My differences, and those of others both like me and different from me, would simply be accepted the way our culture so often claims to do.

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