April is celebrated as both Autism Acceptance Month and Confederate History Month. These things might seem completely unrelated… but for me they are not.
I am on the autism spectrum. I have always experienced the world differently from other people, seen things differently, and thought differently from those around me. Until I was an adult, I never knew that there was a word for the way my mind works. I just thought I was “weird” and “mixed up” and “wrong” for not liking the things other people liked, and for having such difficulty with things like riding a bike, tying my shoes, playing sports, participating in conversations, and making friends, which seemed to come so easily to other people. I didn’t feel that I had much in common with other kids or adults at school, or even my own family members.
I did, however, feel a sense of identity with people from history. My favorite thing to do was to read about them, look at pictures of them, and imagine what their lives were like. I gravitated towards the historical figures who were under-appreciated, misunderstood, and looked down upon, probably because I considered myself to have these characteristics as well. This included historical figures from the Confederacy. Although I am not descended from anyone who fought for the Confederacy, I have always felt a sense of kinship with them because they were underdogs and rebels. They were portrayed in history class as the “bad guys,” but as I read more about them, I realized that they had their own viewpoints, perspectives, and stories, which are too frequently ignored. As someone on the autism spectrum, this was something that I could relate to.
It is difficult to put into words how much happiness historical figures have given me, and how important they are to me. Historical figures made me feel understood, and like I wasn’t alone. Therefore, it is difficult to put into words how heartbreaking and infuriating it has been to witness the horrible things that have happened to Confederate statues over the past few years. These events have made me feel like I am being morally condemned and like I am having my greatest source of joy and meaning taken away from me. As an autistic person who has spent my life trying my best to get through the demands of each day, and to be a good student, a good friend, a good employee, and a good person, I truly don’t believe I deserve this. With so much emphasis being placed on diversity and inclusion, why do I not get to feel accepted or included? Why are people like me no longer represented in art, monuments, memorials, or media? Why does society not acknowledge my perspective, my feelings, my story, or my experiences?
Because of my own personal experiences, both autism and Confederate heritage are integral parts of my identity. Both of these things have helped to shape the person that I am and the perspective through which I see the world, a perspective that deserves to be honored and recognized just as much as anyone else’s. In honor of two important and meaningful parts of my life, I will be celebrating the month of April as both Autism Acceptance Month and Confederate History Month.