I grew up in an abusive family. I think for a lot of kids that grow up in low social economic circumstances have a similar experience. Your parents are working their asses off, and it usually leaves them with a little bit less patience to deal with their kids and the end of the day. Another thing that doesn’t help with people of my parent’s generation is that they didn’t really have adequate resources in order to improve their parenting skills or to know how to deal with children at all.

My parents divorced, so I lived with my father and his wife for half of my early youth. They both came from low SES families themselves, their parents grew up in post-war Europe and had loose hands and short fuses. Generational trauma doesn’t usually stop with people that are unaware that they have it themselves.

One of the “new” things that was happening around the Netherlands is that kids were getting diagnosed with something called Autism. I didn’t know what that was for the longest time. I always noticed that there were some kids around that were “different”. Sometimes I was called “different” and I just took that as a compliment. I liked playing with those kids, I was completely unaware that “different” had any actual meaning.

My stepmother used to hit me and verbally assault me, on a regular basis. The house where I spent half of my time was filled by two bullies: my father and his wife. It was clear that my father was neurodivergent, and so was his father. But he said that I was weird and talked too much, a trait I had taken from him. He was in denial about his neurodiversity, everyone else was just weird, not him. Unfortunately, everyone else also included me. I was done with the abuse at some point, so I did something weird: I told my parents I wanted to kill myself.

My mother, who I spent the other half of my youth with, was a safe haven after getting back from my father. I was given support and understanding every step of the way, or at least that’s how I remember it. She had told my father several times that there was something off about me and that I might have autism. My father and his wife wouldn’t listen to her and called her crazy, because funnily enough, a remark like that from an outsider was unacceptable, even though they were the ones tormenting me the most, saying things to me that a child should never hear. When I told everyone I wanted to kill myself, all of a sudden, they seemed very eager to find out what was going on.

I was brought to a psychological institute for kids called Acare. There I was subjected to interviews, tests and all sorts of conversations with child psychologists. My parents had to come in and undergo some questions as well. They looked at my particularities, my behavior, the way that I interact with others and the shortcomings I had while trying to do a lot of social interactions with other kids. They put me in group therapy sessions with other kids that had also had autism, because I had something called Aspergers, something that they called a “mild version” of autism. However, the biggest reason why all of it started, the abuse, didn’t cease during or after this time.

It’s disheartening to learn how little power social workers and psychologists have when they suspect parents of being abusive or creating an unsafe environment for their kids. After my father and his wife were doing the interviews at the institute, they would blame me for taking time away from them and adding stress to the family. Screaming at me whenever the topic was brought up. When the social workers and psychologists tried to investigate how our home functioned, they made us clean the house before they came so that everything looked tidy (it was a horrible mess always, and they made us do this whenever there were guests coming over). It went as far as my father videotaping me and my siblings having a good time on a trampoline and asking us the questions “Are you guys happy” on camera and sending that as “proof” that we were happy.

The support I got in school was weird. The teachers were all very kind, but I was hardly in need of any special education, since my grades were fine. There wasn’t a lot of experience dealing with kids with autism at the time, so there were a lot of people just experimenting with how to deal with these children. I grew up in a relatively poor neighbourhood in a school that really tried to help us despite their limited means, which I am super thankful for. However, the effect of taking me into a “special class” for one afternoon in the week, together will of the other “different” kids was quickly a way for the other kids to figure out that, I too, was different. There wasn’t a lot of bullying in my school, fortunately for me. It was just hard to come home and be told that I “didn’t have any friends” and that I “would never get a girlfriend because you’re weird and annoying”.

Back then, I had no other choice but to believe that I was autistic. But as I was slowly transitioning from going to a primary school (4 ~ 12-year-old) to high school (12 ~ 18 years old) I started noticing some other things. I didn’t want to be seen as “autistic” as I was going into high school. The child psychology institute had given me “social skill” trainings (how to pass as neurotypical for dummies) and I had passed! I tried to make friends with the things I had learned, and things went well. I even started to believe that I maybe wasn’t autistic after all. But there was a small side effect to passing as neurotypical: people thought I was, so they started gossiping about that “weird autistic kid” in class or that “weird girl that smells”, etc.

I learned that “autistic” was being used as a slur by my classmates. Not bullies, regular kids. I started hearing it everywhere. There was an additional tone to the word “autistic” all of a sudden. Was a teacher giving me extra support, or were they calling me annoying? Did people jokingly refer to a trait of mine as being “autistic” or did they catch on I was not like them? The social anxiety gained from an abusive household gave me a false sense of correctness about my suspicions. Suddenly I was really glad I not only passed as neurotypical, I must be neurotypical, because I don’t identify with any of the behavior attributed by my peers to people that were “autistic”. At some points when my peers did something neurotic and exclaimed “oh my god I am so autistic lol” I stepped in and said “you know, i am autistic actually. I have Aspergers”.

“Oh but you don’t seem autistic at all, you’re quite normal”, “Haha, Aspergers, what is that even, god bro you’re so funny”, “No bro, you’re not weird like , you know how to talk and all that”, “If you’re autistic Bram, how come I didn’t notice? My brother is autistic, so I know what that is”, “Oh yeah that makes a lot of sense, because you have ”, “I mean we’re all a bit on the spectrum aren’t we? You’re normal like us, don’t worry”.

There’s a lot of things wrong with these types of responses. But the thing that they did the most was alienate me from what being on the spectrum means. I must’ve been normal, I’ve been accepted by the typicals as one of them. I am not weirdly missing social cues, I am “funny”. I am not hyper obsessed with something, I am “very interested”. I don’t hyper fixate on a goal, I am “ambitious”. “I am normal, actually” I told myself. I was not.

I was in a weird in-between zone. I clearly wasn’t typical, but I passed as such. Outing myself fully as autistic and demanding people to respect me for it would make people reject me, I thought. The consequence: my autistic traits weren’t seen as normal things for people to accept me for, but as undesired traits for a neurotypical person to have.

“Why do you talk so much, you know nobody cares right?” I was told by what I thought was my best friend. He even made sure that I wouldn’t be invited to parties he was (co-)organising for years. “Why do you keep talking about ?!” was yelled at me in the middle of the school cafeteria by what I thought was my best friend at time. She embarrassed me in front of all of my friends and a big part of the school. By the time I was in 6th year of high school, most of the friends I had made had already graduated, leaving me with people that only thought like this. ”You can’t sit with us” I was told, but standing there for a while trying to make sense if they were joking or not they went “no, just kidding I guess”. It didn’t take long before my lack of friends and support turned into a long-lasting depression.

I graduated, I had shown everyone that my special interest in computers wasn’t just silly, it was making me money: I had landed a job at a local startup 2 months after I finished high school. I was determined showing everyone how I wasn’t “autistic”, but just “myself”. Anything to be normal, even though I clearly wasn’t. Throughout my young adulthood, I kept getting into conflicts with people. Whether it was my partner, my friends or at work. I definitely wasn’t behaving as people expected me to. Even as I left my startup job to go work in the local games industry, things didn’t change. It clearly wasn’t circumstance, but it just wouldn’t hit me. I had convinced myself that it wasn’t me, but everyone else that was wrong. Yes, people were also wrong, but that didn’t mean that they were entitled to my energy being wasted. It also didn’t mean that I needed to get that angry or get involved with everything, even things that didn’t concern me. I wanted things to be fair and for people to be treated right, but the entire time the need to do that came from something I didn’t want to admit to myself. I was in denial, much like my father. I started to remove myself from circles of people that were mean to me or drained me of energy.

Years later, I started interacting with people online that were #ActuallyAutistic. Why were they so proud to disclose to the world that they’re autistic? Why would you commit social suicide like that? I wondered all the wrong things. What they were doing was building a community of mutual support and understanding. An actual group of peers, of people that relate. It fell on blind eyes and deaf ears, however, I still was in denial. I made new friends here and there doing political work. I joined an intersectional feminist party where there were a bunch of neurodiverse people. I had learned about the term neurodiverse not long before then, also through Twitter and other social media. My peers in the political party that were neurodiverse were more like me than any other person that I had ever met. All of a sudden, it clicked that it was just Okay to be different. It is okay to be autistic. My denial was so great that I projected it onto my peers: “Are you so sure that you’re autistic, aren’t you sure that you just have some of the traits rather than the whole thing” I asked them. “Why would that exclude me from being autistic? And I want the support that the government has set up through some programs, otherwise I can’t manage”. I didn’t know how to answer.

I had decided that my mental health was gonna need to be a priority: I had felt like shit for years now. I was constantly at the edge of a burnout. I was depressed, and it was effecting my relationship with my partner and family. I went to the GP to get a referral for a specific clinic I liked and wanted to get treatment from. I order to show up prepared I had tried to summarise my unsafe youth and recent problems in a way that I can quickly convince the social worker who had to write my referral, that I needed a psychologist. Instead, she told me that my way of talking and self-reflecting gave her the idea that I was perhaps “highly intelligent” and she thought it would be a better idea to give me a referral to a guy that was an expert on that topic, so I could level with my future psychologist a bit better. I arrive for my first appointment with the guy, and I ask him after a short intake procedure if he thinks that I am autistic or highly intelligent. He told me that “you’re definitely not autistic, because you’re not weird you don’t have those autistic behaviors”. My partner was studying to be a psychologist as well, so I knew that the symptoms for autism spectrum syndrome and high intelligence are Very adjacent. When I asked him what he thought of that adjacency and if he knew for sure, he couldn’t tell me. He just told me, “what do you want it to be?”. And I didn’t know. It felt weird calling myself the upper-middleclass version of autistic, because I was so in denial. I didn’t want to fall for the idea that just because I am doing well by societal standards, that I was somehow allowed to have the Premium version of autism. Besides that, the guy was kind of a dick and took a lot of time out of our sessions to self-disclose things I wasn’t interested in or to talk about American politics (of all things) instead of trying to help me with my PTSD complaints. I called him to tell him I didn’t require any more sessions. He told me he was happy to be part of my “high intelligence journey” I was about to set on.

I was dating again, I had met a lot of different people throughout a few months, but none of them really clicked with me. I enjoyed spending time with them, but there was always something that felt “off”. I met a really nice enby (non binary person (she/he)) at one point. He had put in his bio that she was autistic. Usually something I would shy away from out of a weird internalised ableism. But I decided to give it a go. We had a lot of good dates and I started asking her what it meant to him to be autistic. She told me: “what do you mean, I mean you’re autistic, right?”. “Ehm, I’m not sure”. “What do you mean you’re not sure, you have like a lot of the traits, sometimes you say something, and it just sounds pretty fucking autistic” he told me with a smile. One time after a longer date we stood at a bus stop and I overheard some cyclists having a conversation, with one of them saying something in a funny way. I promptly repeated them, reproducing the funny thing quite accurately. He asked me, with a slight smile, “Oh how come you can do that so accurately?”. I told her that “I have this trait I think where I can reproduce sounds I guess? My mother has it too, I think, because she’s from the south of the Netherlands and can reproduce the local accent qui..”. “It’s called echolalia” he interrupted me excitedly, “that means you’re autistic”. I was stunned for a bit and I think it finally hit me that maybe, I am.

And here I am now, writing everything down, trying to make it all make sense. And it does make sense. I always felt different, but not just out of queerness or out of having different interests. All my best friends that I have to this day are mostly neurodiverse, because they understand me in ways that others can’t, which should’ve been a big giveaway. I am tired to be in denial, I’ve been diagnosed, there is no need to be anxious. I don’t need to be paranoid over seeming autistic, because I don’t care anymore if people think I am neurotypical, I don’t want to be anymore. So what if I am different? If that deters you from talking to me, thank god, I don’t think I’d want to talk to you anyway. No more pretending towards myself or others. No more thinking I have to do certain things just to pretend like “I can” and exhaust myself. No more having conflicts with people that “don’t like me” because they don’t want to deal with someone who’s autistic. No more getting yelled at, no more getting bullied. I just want to be cozy, I want to be surrounded by the people that I love and allow myself to be my true self. To be loved for being my true self.

I am autistic, actually