What is stigma? The basic dictionary definition lists stigma as a mark of shame or discredit. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, stigma plays out in four key ways:
1) Misconceptions about people through the media
2) Inaccurate linking of disability and/or mental illness to violent behavior
3) Prompting subtle and overt prejudice, discrimination, fear, and stereotyping
4) Impeding people with disabilities and/or mental illness from seeking help
It’s easier to think of stigma as something that happens to autistic individuals through neurotypicals. For example, my mother did not seek an early diagnosis for my struggles because she stigmatized ASD as a bad thing to avoid. She also feared that others would stigmatize me in school, thus damaging my chances at achieving my dreams in life.
However, stigma can be self-internalized. We may talk ourselves down because of our autism. “You’re broken.” “You’ll never fit in.” “You aren’t good enough, because you’re not a savant autistic individual.” In order to really embrace ourselves and also accept the beautiful diversity within our autistic community, we must shed the stigma that we’ve been taught and grow new leaves of self-acceptance.