Gaining my autism diagnosis at 17 made a lot of things fall into place. Primarily, though, my diagnosis allowed me to let myself off the hook. Without it, I internalised a lot of frustration, and assumed I was just an awkward, over-dramatic, over-emotional creature that demanded too much and spoke too little. But having gained that simple piece of paper, I began a process of unfolding all the little pieces of me that I’d been forced to scrunch up and tuck away. I examined them. I pressed my warm hands upon them to iron out the creases and dared to let them take up space both within me, and without.
Last year I joined the Young Creatives team at GMCDP, who were aiming to create a living museum of disabled protest, through the experiences and creativity of young disabled people. I met wonderfully talented and truly inspiring fellow creatives, and I learned so much about the history of disabled people’s protest. We were given plenty of time, space, and support to develop our ideas for the museum. I’m so proud of everyone’s wonderful work! And as for me, I started to think about my experience of being autistic as a sort of protest in and of itself. To exist and carve a place for yourself in a world that is not designed for you is, in essence, a type of protest.
I began pondering how growing up undiagnosed in mainstream school shaped me into the autistic adult I am today. There are a lot of misconceptions about autism, particularly about how it presents in those of us who were socialised as girls. All too often autistic people don’t get the platform to tell our own experiences. When we do, we are rarely heard. Like many disabled people, our perceptions of our own experiences often aren’t trusted and validated. This is where these misconceptions can become very, very troubling.
I decided that with my DIS:Play piece, I wanted to explore these misconceptions and allow myself to take up the space my younger self was unable to. I am fortunate that my mum (also late-diagnosed autistic) made my childhood home a comforting refuge, where I could recharge and exist as I needed to exist. I truly believe that her care and support during these exhausting years is why I was able to rebuild myself after the brutality that was secondary school. In fact, it is also partly why I felt able to put together this project of self-reflection!
Taking Up Space developed as a series of photos and descriptive text, as well as audio recorded by myself, documenting 14 ordinary days of my life. Just by documenting, I expected I would naturally dismiss some of the misconceptions surrounding autism. I gained many insights while documenting, and my hope is that those who experience my fourteen days as part of DIS:Play will gain some insights too – both into my experience, and perhaps their own.
My autism is my autism. It’s different from his, hers, and theirs. It’s wonderful. It’s me, and it’s here to stay and protest in its own unique way.
ABOUT EMMY CLARKE
Emmy Clarke (she/they) is a non-binary, autistic writer from Manchester. Her primary passion is writing for children, and her debut children’s short story will be published in Stories of Care’s “Tales of the Bold, the Brave and the Beautiful” on 2 June 2022. For more on Emmy’s writing, visit emmy-writes.com – or follow @emmyclarke_ on Twitter.
DIS:Play is an immersive living history museum created by young disabled creatives from across Greater Manchester, in collaboration with Director Sam Holley-Horseman. Combining live performance, sensory spaces, and digital installations, this hybrid event has access and activism at its heart. Check out this page to find out how to access DIS:Play digitally.