There’s a trend – and by and large a well meaning trend, to describe autism as a difference, not a disability. The intent may be to challenge the idea of it as a tragedy, as something inherently bad, as something in need of a cure, as something with no positive aspects.
My autism is not a tragedy. It’s not inherently bad. I don’t need or want a cure and being autistic has plenty of positive sides. And the world is, for me as an autistic person, disabling.
Realising I could describe myself as disabled, and learning about the social model of disability was – and I don’t think I’m exaggerating to say this – amazing. Whilst it came with a tangle of mixed emotions, certainly, it didn’t lead me to believe I lacked the capabilities I had (if anything it gave me more confidence). It enabled me to make sense of much of my life, to make, ask for, and demand changes where I could.
Maybe there are people who live in an environment where being autistic does not constitute being disabled. But to make a wholesale claim that it is a difference not a disability assumes a state of liberation we have not yet reached – and in doing so invalidates the real, lived, experience of those of us living in this distinctly less liberated world.