Finding power through telling my own stories

Growing up as a young girl who didn’t speak, people tended to make a lot of assumptions about me: that I had no opinions, that I couldn’t understand what was happening around me, that I was just a meek and innocent girl, that I couldn’t hang out with my peers (because they’d just be a bad influence or take advantage of me) and should just be with my parents, that I couldn’t be independent, that I led a pitiful life.

These ideas people had of me were inaccurate and limiting. I never felt seen in all my complexity (that was usually afforded to my non-disabled peers).

As an impressionable kid, I thought I couldn’t trust my own self-perception and that others had a more accurate view of me. I felt that I had no choice but to let their limiting narratives define me.

A creative writing teacher, who I got along really well with, introduced me to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED Talk, “The Danger of a Single Story.” In this talk, Adichie points out the impact of having a single story define a marginalised group:

So that is how to create a single story, show a people as one thing, as only one thing, over and over again, and that is what they become.

It is impossible to talk about the single story without talking about power… Power is the ability not just to tell the story of another person, but to make it the definitive story of that person.

The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.

The consequence of the single story is this: It robs people of dignity. It makes our recognition of our equal humanity difficult. It emphasizes how we are different rather than how we are similar.

Stories matter. Many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign, but stories can also be used to empower and to humanize. Stories can break the dignity of a people, but stories can also repair that broken dignity.

These insights helped me realise that the assumptions people made about me were part of a “single story” narrative. They only saw one aspect of me and allowed it to define my entire being. Adichie’s words also helped me understand the transformative power of telling my own stories.

By sharing my stories through Autistic As Fxxk, I reclaim control over my own narrative and challenge the single story others may have about me. My stories are my power, and through them, I’m able to assert my humanity and my individuality.

I hope to inspire others to share their own stories and recognise the power in doing so, especially those of us whose lived experiences aren’t usually heard (Autistics who have higher support needs, are non-speaking, minimally-speaking, BIPOC, LGBTQIA+, etc.). All our stories deserve to be told.

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