All we really want in this world is to be loved and accepted for who we truly are. It often takes time and understanding to reach this point. For those with developmental disabilities, this process can be incredibly vulnerable.
April 2 was World Autism Acceptance Day, and in honor of the occasion, Los Angeles-based musician Chrysanthe Tan courageously shared on Facebook that she is autistic. And to honor Autism Awareness Month as a whole, Tan has now published that Facebook post to Medium.
“I know that I have no obligation to disclose this. But I want to disclose it, because it’s an important aspect of my identity. It shapes me,” she writes. “Intentionally hiding it and trying to fit into neurotypical society like a chameleon is something that personally taxes me. Being open is a relief.”
Tan’s note includes answers to common questions people have about autism, ways to be helpful if you know an autistic individual, and educational resources on how best to support and champion autistic colleagues, friends, and family.
She encourages friends reading to treat her the same as before, just with enough understanding now to be more aware. “Talk to me, text me, laugh at my jokes, laugh when I do something kind of silly, schedule things with me, invite me to your gatherings, set boundaries with me, tell me about your day, ask me questions,” she says.
With each sentence, Tan opens her heart more and more to her community. She asks anyone who knows her not to make it a big deal if she responds to them in a “socially unacceptable” way. She suggests people ask questions rather than just make assumptions. And she brings up her friend, who’s a great example of someone wholeheartedly embracing Tan for who she is. “Sean talks to me about autistic stuff. He laughs with me when things are lost in translation, he respects my boundaries, never guilt-trips me, and as a result of his respect, I am comfortable having a super close and genuine relationship with him. Be like Sean,” she writes.
Undiagnosed as a kid, Tan often wondered why she felt so different from her schoolmates. “I thought I was just weird and broken, and I blamed myself for everything I did ‘wrong.’ Thus, I had trouble asking for help or advocating for myself in any way,” she tells Babble. “I suffered silently throughout all of childhood, teenage-hood, and college, experiencing major bouts of depression and loneliness.”
Tan feels lucky to have found a few childhood friends who loved her not just in spite of her quirks, but because of them. In the cafeteria of her elementary school, she would painfully examine each lunch table, needing to leave a spot if the food smells were too overwhelming. By the time she got settled, lunch was often ending. She tells Babble, “My core group of friends patiently followed me around every day while I made the rounds … They went the extra mile, even asking their parents to kindly refrain from packing my sensitive food items.”
Tan’s friendships have taught her how vital it is to have people in your life who accept you. “I’ve learned that having true friends can be a lifesaver, whether you’re autistic or not,” she says. “At the end of the day, we all just need to be seen, heard, and understood. I have great friends today, too, and I don’t know what I would do without them.”
For Tan, music has always been a tool that has helped her communicate when words fail her. A violinist and composer, she credits discovering music at age 7 as the best way she’s learned to be completely real and present in her communication. Tan shares that many friends and family members often feel they most understand her after they’ve heard her music. “Playing music gives me a way to ‘talk without words,’ and it also gives me something concrete to talk about in conversation and generally show for myself,” she says. “I am 100% confident that I wouldn’t be here today if I didn’t have music.”
For parents raising autistic kids, Tan encourages them to help their children embrace who they are, discover helpful tools for connecting with others, and reach out to the larger autistic community for support. She also implores moms and dads to refrain from seeing autism as a disease needing a cure.
“If you subconsciously treat autism like a bad word, your child will pick up on it and begin to internalize that it’s something to be ashamed of, which will hinder their self-confidence, ability to make friends, and willingness to ask for help,” she tells Babble.
Tan also shares that it helps to honor your kiddo’s feelings and preferences, even if they don’t make sense to you.
“It may be hard or frustrating when your child won’t eat dinner because it’s served on the wrong plate, or when they can’t hug you goodnight because the texture of your shirt bothers them,” she says. “Do not make it a big deal. Instead, try to understand and learn what might make their environment easier to live in.”
With autism affecting so many families in our country, Tan’s post is a timely message for any parent struggling to find support for their children. She is also a huge inspiration to anyone hoping to find acceptance and love for who they uniquely are.