I am writing this prompted by something John Elder Robison (I will refer to him by
his initials, JER) wrote about Autism Awareness/Acceptance Month, in particular
“We may have gifts too, but disability remains the basis for diagnosis. Some
autistic people are rendered non-speaking by their condition, and I can’t imagine
who would celebrate that. Others live with significant medical complications like
epilepsy. I’ve yet to meet anyone who celebrates that either.”
I commented that JER does not have to “imagine”. I am here, I celebrate being
non-speaking, I celebrate my epileptic life (which is different from celebrating a
I celebrate my Autistic, Disabled life.
It seems illogical, but it is not, and I will explain why.
It is about assumptions, based on what is considered “normal”, how we are
supposed to feel about things considered “difficult to live with”.
I am not able to speak, and I don’t want to speak.
I celebrate being non-speaking.
I celebrate being a good listener, when most speaking people interrupt each
other, not always listening – really listening – to what the conversation partner has
I celebrate being an activist for the right of every single person to be heard, no
matter which method they use to communicate.
I love my speaking friends, including my best friend, but sometimes they
are exhausting, with all the talk. I still celebrate their lives, noise and all, as I
celebrate my quiet-but-listening (not silent, I am loud in my own way) life.
I do love you, speaking friends! I am not tired of you.
JER chose his words poorly, maybe he meant that he can’t imagine people
celebrating being non-speaking because it is harder for us to be understood.
It is hard to have most of the world ignoring us, not allowing us time to
communicate what we want to convey. This is not because we are non-speaking,
it is because most people in the speaking majority are ableist, and because
“normalization” leads the list of false assumptions about how we feel, being non-
I do not celebrate that majority or their assumptions about being non-speaking.
I celebrate myself, my life, and everything about me.
I do celebrate being non-speaking because I believe I am a better me when I am
really listening and learning.
I celebrate being non-speaking because it is the only me I know, and because I
can still “say” what I want to say, and fight for my rights, without oral speech.
I think that JER does celebrate us too, since he is sharing a book I edit with
The book is pretty celebratory!
Now, about epilepsy. How can one celebrate being epileptic (remember, not the
same thing as celebrating a seizure)?
First, JER’s premise is faulty. Epilepsy and autism are two completely different
Let me say this again:
Epilepsy and autism are two completely different things.
I cannot be myself and be non-autistic
I can still be my Autistic self without epilepsy.
That should suffice.
I will go further though.
Do I celebrate having seizures? No. Having a seizure sucks, hurts, it can kill.
But they are part of my life, as are so many other disabilities I have, that are not
autism either. I try to minimize the effects of the seizures, the number of seizures
I have (almost every day) but:
I will not stop celebrating being me.
I have epilepsy. When I am not having a seizure, I am still epileptic.
As soon as the seizure ends, I can celebrate every single moment of my life
again. And celebrate it even more, having gone through it and back.
A story to illustrate:
Recently, I had the worst seizure in 7 or 8 years. I could not type for two days. I
could barely point to “y” for “yes”, and “n” for “no”.
This happened during the night, before a morning presentation I was to give.
I could have cancelled the presentation. I didn’t. I always prepare in advance
what I want to say and the computer “speaks” what I typed. I decided to present,
even though keeping my head up was almost impossible. I delivered my
message, the one sad thing was that I couldn’t interact with the attendees and
Still, there was reason to celebrate:
The ones who were there celebrated me.
I celebrated myself, epilepsy included.
I celebrated that I was able to push myself to be present and let people see who I
am, epilepsy (post seizure) included.
I celebrated being Autistic and disabled, with everything that comes with my
disabilities, epilepsy included.
Even though autism and epilepsy are two separate things, they are part of me
and I cannot celebrate my life with one, and not another.
I will not wait for my seizures to disappear to celebrate every single moment of
One third point: Living with significant medical complications is part of living. Not
only Autistics have co-occurring medical conditions. If everyone is going to stop
celebrating life because of medical conditions, the world will be a very sad and
I celebrate my life, always.
“That’s the thing about livin’
When you get here, you take what you’re given”
(Three Angels – HEADSTONES)