When people think of ‘autism’ or Autistic people, there’s one word that likely comes to mind: distress. We have been viewed as people who have a ‘disorder’ or ‘deficits’ in communication and interactions, per the outdated claims of the diagnostic criteria. Many clinicians will only diagnose Autistic people who are displaying or experiencing some kind of mental breakdown. Distress is what most people think of or look for when they hear about Autistic people. However, distress is not what the Autistic experience is. We can experience a lot of distress from being in disabling environments but this does not define us. We are so much more than what society have described us as for the last 100 years. One of the most positive aspects talked about in the Autistic community is Autistic Joy.
For me, Autistic joy is this euphoric state we can connect to when we feel happiness. It is this energy where I become so overwhelmed with joy in a particular situation or event. There can be sensory bliss I feel from being in tune with things which soothe my senses. Sensory bliss might manifest in the way of being in nature or the visuals, sounds and touch of the rain pouring. We can obtain this joy from our passionate interests. Just being able to engross ourselves in our interests can produce so much joy that we might stim happily and squeal with excitement. Stimming is not just something we do when we are anxious as it can happen when we feel Autistic joy. This kind of stimming can also happen from receiving good news about ourselves or a loved one. It might be unconscious where we do not realise we are stimming & the joy we feel just overtakes our bodies and we do this automatically to express that.
We might express things differently such as our love or care for people and this is the case with Autistic joy too. Some of us may appear to have neutral faces externally, which we sometimes term the ‘Resting Autistic Face’ but we could be so overjoyed that we can barely contain ourselves internally. Autistic joy can present in so many ways & there is no one form of expression or feeling of Autistic joy. Some might say it is similar to a childhood form of joy that people may grow out of as they become adults. Autistic joy is not infantilising or a way to say we are still like children, rather it is just that we are still able to tap into an immersive state of joy as adults that most of the population may never feel. I believe Autistic joy is something to be cherished for Autistic people and I hope that non-autistic people can understand and embrace this part of us too.
I did not learn about the concept of Autistic joy until i started listening to more Autistic speakers. When I first heard this described it made so much sense to me. I can become so engrossed in my passionate interests and feel immense anticipation and excitement for events around these that feels so euphoric. In childhood, Pokémon was one of my biggest interests and the games and cartoons were a place for me to retreat to. They would always make me feel safe and happy no matter how many times I played them. As a teenager, a main interest I had was wrestling and I would be extremely excited for upcoming events every month. I get that same feeling now with my favourite series of movies, TV series or books that I eagerly wait for. This joy can come from just being with other Autistic people and having the shared understanding between us. I have always been able to feel sensory bliss too, even when I didn’t know I had sensory needs. This has been part of my life since I was a child and I can connect to this joy today as an adult.
To connect more to my Autistic culture and recognise Autistic joy as part of our experiences has been so validating. Knowing this has helped me to own my Autistic joy and cherish this aspect of who I am. I feel if Autistic people grew up learning about this joy they possess, it would help them to embrace their differences and not just internalise all the negative messages that we receive from society. I have worked with so many Autistic people and seen their joy manifest. It is a beautiful thing to witness and for me to share that joy with them, even if what gives them joy is different to me. Our Autistic joy helps us connect to each other. We are not just distress and there are so many aspects of Autistic experience that are wonderful. We deserve to feel and embrace our Autistic joy.
Below is an infographic that I created about Autistic joy which provides some examples of what this can be like. Many of these have been mentioned in this blog.