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An Open Letter to Mental Health Providers: Embracing a Paradigm Shift in Autism

Dear Mental Health Providers,

I hope this letter finds you well. As an autistic individual with a background in psychology and a passion for transformative social change, I write to foster understanding and collaboration in our shared journey toward mental health and well-being. I deeply appreciate your dedication to the field and the compassion you bring to your work, assisting individuals like me in navigating the complexities of mental health.

This letter is prompted by an encounter I had with a clinical psychologist in a psychology Facebook group. She emphasized her credentials and proceeded to make a comment that I found deeply troubling. After seeking guidance from my autistic community, the unanimous consensus was to report her to her governing body. Making this decision was not easy, as I empathize with this woman, but it became evident that the well-being of autistic individuals was at stake. Unfortunately, this message is just one among several I've received from mental health providers throughout my life.

My Personal Journey: In my late twenties, I was misdiagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder and social anxiety disorder. By my mid-thirties, I had developed an alcohol use disorder while attempting to manage the constant overwhelm to my nervous system by accommodating the world around me. My mental health provider at the time failed to recognize the abuse occurring in my relationship and consistently focused on fixing my behaviors, as if my flaws were the cause of the abuse. This eventually led to my diagnosis of Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (CPTSD) due to a lifetime of masking and being told that I was a flawed human who needed to change myself.

My story is not unique. It aligns with that of many late-diagnosed autistic women. I share this personal journey not for feedback but to emphasize the importance of understanding and adapting to the evolving paradigm of autism in mental health care.

Paradigm Shift in Understanding Autism: The conventional framework of interpreting autism through behaviorism is increasingly seen as fleeting and potentially harmful. As autistic individuals, we possess self-awareness and the ability to express our difficulties uniquely. We ask for your acknowledgment and respect for our self-awareness. We are more than our behaviors; we are whole individuals with thoughts, emotions, and experiences that may not always align with outward behaviors.

Embracing Change and Holding Tension: We recognize that change can be uncomfortable. Shifting away from conventional methods may challenge your existing practices and beliefs. We encourage you to embrace this change and recognize the potential for growth and improvement. Holding the tension of this shift is a testament to your dedication to your profession and your willingness to adapt for the benefit of your autistic clients.

Valuing Hearts and Dedication: We truly appreciate your commitment to the field of mental health. Your dedication to helping individuals with diverse needs is commendable. We also implore you to hold yourselves accountable to continuous improvement. Learning from autistic individuals, seeking updated knowledge, and adapting your approaches are essential to providing the best care possible.

Allies, Not Infantilizers: Autistic individuals need allies, not infantilization. We seek understanding, support, and empowerment, not condescension or belittlement. Please treat us as equal partners in our mental health journey. Collaborate with us, listen to our perspectives, and respect our autonomy.

Acknowledging Ableism and Neurotypical Supremacy: I urge you not to be like the woman in the comment. Had this woman said this to me four years ago, I would have been devastated, as I held mental health providers in high regard. Autistic individuals experience alarmingly high rates of suicide, a direct consequence of being misunderstood and not having our needs met. I, too, have faced two suicide attempts due to this distressing phenomenon. To understand myself better and improve my life, I quit drinking four years ago and embarked on a journey of self-discovery and healing. I ultimately found myself and my innate worthiness through an autism diagnosis. I now undeniably know who I am, and when autistic people are denied their reality, it constitutes ableism.

I understand that confronting one's own potential ableist tendencies can be challenging, but it's a crucial step in our growth. We all carry internalized ableism, shaped by our society under late-stage capitalism. Admitting this is not an inflammatory act; rather, it offers us a chance to evolve. I, too, am still navigating my own internalized ableism on my ongoing journey. By acknowledging the existence of neurotypical supremacy, we pave the way for its dismantling.

In closing, we understand that change is never easy, but it is necessary for progress. We are here to work together, learn from each other, and create a more inclusive and empathetic mental health landscape. Let us build a future where autistic individuals are seen, heard, and supported in a manner that honors our unique experiences and voices.

Thank you for considering these perspectives. We look forward to a future where mental health providers and autistic individuals can walk this path together as allies and partners.


Sher Griffin - Neurocomplex Human Being, Becoming

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