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AutismBC Connects: Emma Smith and Pride

Jun 12th, 2020

Emma Smith is a self-advocate from the Okanagan region of BC. She identifies as bi-sexual and actively works to support both the LGBTQ+ and Autism Communities. 

I strongly prefer identity-first language (i.e., Autistic person). To me, that is putting the person first, because autism informs every aspect of who I am. I don’t think I’d be the same person without my autism, so it’s not something that can be meaningfully separated from my identity.

I also like using “on the spectrum” as a sort of middle ground. I haven’t come across anyone who objects to that phrasing, and, hey, it sounds nice!

I was diagnosed in Grade 6 when I was 12. At that time, both my younger siblings had already been diagnosed, but they have different challenges than me (the diversity of the spectrum!), so it took some outside suggestions for my parents to consider me for testing as well.

Immediately, I was relieved when I got the diagnosis; I could tell that I was different from my peers, and it was frustrating not having any language or concepts to describe why. I quickly got into self-advocacy work, doing class projects about autism and giving talks to teachers, CEAs, and parents.

I am very open and proud of my autistic identity, and it has had a very positive impact on my life overall. I appreciate my ability to be introspective, to relate to other marginalized groups, and to feel intense passion for my special interests. To be honest, I think one of my special interests is autism, as a concept.

 

Gender Identity and Pride

I’ve been involved with the LGBTQ2 community since before I came out as bisexual in Grade 11. I could find a lot of common ground between this community and the autism community. More recently, I’ve been involved with UBC Okanagan’s Pride Resource Centre (PRC), which provides support and community for the LGBTQ2 population at the university.

In recent years I’ve been more active in the LGBTQ2 community than the autism community, if only because that’s the group that I’m spending the most time with daily. While I haven’t done the same advocacy work as I have for the autism community, I appreciate being able to be a friend and source of support to the great people I’ve met.

Many Pride events can be overwhelming from a sensory perspective, with large crowds, loud music, and general high energy that I can’t always handle. Luckily, I have a space like the PRC that’s relaxed, comfortable, and has no expectation of social interaction (oh how I miss it!)

Though I’ve been fortunate to be involved with a local LGBTQ2 community that’s very understanding of neurodiversity, I know that’s not the case everywhere. It’s unfortunately all too possible to be LGBTQ2 and ableist, just as one can be autistic and homophobic/transphobic. I think it’s important to recognize the shared struggle of being made to feel ashamed of who you are by society at large, and moving towards acceptance and celebration. There’s a lot of overlap between the autism and LGBTQ2 community, and I firmly believe that’s worth celebrating.

I’m fortunate to have a loving, supportive family that obviously has a lot of experience with autism. I get along well with my siblings, and even though we are quite different, we can relate to each other and help clarify each other’s behaviour. My mother is also highly involved with the local autism community and has been a passionate advocate for my siblings and me.

 

 

The Community

I’ve appreciated having the opportunity to meet with other autistic people in different social groups and casual settings in the community. It’s crucial to have autistic friends and people who can understand that essential part of my identity. I also appreciate it when people are aware of and make an effort to meet my needs, such as keeping sensory stimulation low or understanding when I don’t make eye contact. You don’t have to make a big gesture or go out of your way to provide meaningful accommodations.

I am deeply appreciative of everyone that has shown me support over my life. I struggle with issues of insecurity and inferiority, so it’s easy for me to imagine that I’m being a burden or am not worth caring about. Being shown support and kindness, even in the smallest gestures, is always valued.

While I’m sad that I can’t enjoy the energy of in-person Pride events this year, I luckily have been able to connect with friends from the LGBTQ2 community online. The PRC has a Discord server, where people can message and talk to each other whenever they want. I’m hoping that we can organize some kind of online event for Pride, to keep the sense of community strong. I think we could all benefit from that, especially right now.

I think that, like with autism, it’s essential to recognize that everyone in the LGBTQ2 community is unique. We all have different understandings of our identities, they impact our lives in different ways, and we’re involved in the broader community to varying degrees. It’s always important to view people as they are, and not come to all your conclusions about them based on the label they use. There is no wrong way to be LGBTQ2.

 

Written by Emma Smith, Autistic Self-Advocate

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