Songs are an incredible means of expression and connection. As a teenager I was dependent on music to get through the days. I used it to regulate my mood, as a way of connecting with people (the songwriters) and as a way of regulating information intake from my environment. When I realized I was autistic, I created a playlist of songs to take me through this new journey. Below I list five songs from that playlist. Each tells a story about my coming to terms with who I am and what this means in my life, in my family and in my society. I will put the full playlist with links at the bottom of this article.
Finding validation – “Strangers Like Me” by Phil Collins
“Strangers like me” expresses the feelings of Tarzan – a human raised by apes – when he first meets another human. Having grown up very isolated, discovering that there are other people with struggles and joys similar to mine, was a hugely positive revelation for me.
Through meeting and reading texts by autistic people I learned about my own needs, abilities and ways of functioning. I also found connection and community. For instance, I realized that there are other people that use songs as a way regulate their mood and their information intake. It was only though this validation of who I am that I could build up a new image of myself and take important steps towards self-acceptance and building a more accessible life.
I am very grateful to the autistic community for this, and hope that I will be able to keep learning from other autistics.
Whatever you do, I’ll do it too
Show me everything and tell me how
It all means something
And yet nothing to me
I can see there’s so much to learn
It’s all so close and yet so far
I see myself as people see me
Oh, I just know there’s something bigger out there
I wanna know, can you show me
I wanna know about these
strangers like me
Tell me more, please show me
Something’s familiar about these strangers like me
Defining yourself for yourself – “Listen” by Beyoncé
The song “Listen” from the musical “Dreamgirls” describes how people try to shape you into someone you are not, rather than listen to your own understanding of who you are. My family has been slow to accept that I am autistic. Understandably they have a certain image of me, and when I told them something about me which contradicted that image they pushed back against it.
It was very difficult for me to go through a change to become a truer version of myself when there was a constant suggestion from the people closest to me that my understanding of myself was wrong in some way. I sent my parents this song to make them see that they were holding me back through not accepting my own way of defining myself.
My parents’ response to my attempt to define myself was confirmation of their inability, even when I was younger, to see aspects of who I am. This has to do with their own fears and does not reflect on me. Knowing that, I could see that I needed to distance myself from their view of me, in order to become more myself. I listen this song to remind myself that I need to follow my own understanding of who I am, and not be shamed into staying within a mould that someone else feels more comfortable with.
Oh, the time has come for my dreams to be heard
They will not be pushed aside and turned
Into your own
All ’cause you won’t listen
I am alone at a crossroads
I’m not at home in my own home
And I’ve tried and tried
To say what’s on my mind
You should have known
Oh, now I’m done believing you
You don’t know what I’m feeling
I’m more than what you made of me
I followed the voice you gave to me
But now I gotta find my own
You should have listened
There is someone here inside
Someone I thought had died
So long ago
Rejecting society’s shame – “The Village” by Wrabel
The Village was actually written about a transgender teenager, but I think it transfers to the struggles of many groups. This song helped remind me that in so far as my expression of my identity went against what society sees as acceptable, the blame was not on me.
When you willingly take on a label with negative connotations people often act like you are attention seeking, lazy or just misguided. It is so easy to doubt your own understand and to feel ashamed for expressing yourself. Especially when you have been raised to deny your needs. However, you do not have to take on this shame. I recently read a post by an LGBTQ person who wrote:
“The shame is not yours to own, It belongs to those that gave it to you. It is for those that clothed you in that shame to take ownership. […] Those parents, family members and friends that shamed you for being not who they wanted you to be. The shame is theirs. Don’t take ownership. However long you have worn and lived with that shame, it is never too late to disrobe.” source
That shame surrounding differences is so pervasive in our society. Now that I understand that I am autistic I can identify that shame in the way I was raised, and the way people react to my label. But the people who say I am the source of this shame are wrong. It is not my differences that are causing problems, nor am I confused or seeking excuses. I am expressing who I am. And when that makes others feel ashamed for me, there is something wrong on their end.
They say, “don’t dare, don’t you even go there
Cutting off your long hair
You do as you’re told”
Tell you, “wake up, go put on your makeup
This is just a phase you’re gonna outgrow”
There’s something wrong in the village
In the village, oh
They stare in the village
In the village, oh
There’s nothing wrong with you
It’s true, it’s true
There’s something wrong with the village
With the village
There’s something wrong with the village
Connecting with a societal struggle – “Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken” by P!nk
Sometimes it helps us in our personal struggle against oppression if we can see that we are a part of a bigger fight for the equal rights of a whole community. Through reading the work of autistic people and people from other marginalized groups I was able to adopt a societal level of analysis of my existence in this world. I developed a bigger picture understanding that I had been missing, and which had made me ignore my needs. This struggle in turn is validated by songs like “Wild hearts can’t be broken”.
Seeing things through the perspective of a societal struggle can help us feel that our personal struggle is part of a movement that is positive for others, which is important when others accuse us of being selfish for drawing attention to our needs.
It can also be a comfort to be able to connect with other groups that have fought similar battles. Some have fought for longer and gotten further than the autistic community, and all have something to teach us.
Furthermore, this perspective can validate our struggle as legitimate, thus defending against the accusations of creating problems that don’t really exist. To be accepted as who we are and to go through our lives on equal terms are not privileges, they are rights. Songs like “Wild hearts can’t be broken” validate that the resistance in society towards people like me is real, and my fight to be accepted as I am is important.
I fight because I have to
I fight for us to know the truth
This is my rally cry
I know it’s hard, we have to try
This is a battle I must win
To want my share is not a sin
There’s not enough rope to tie me down
There’s not enough tape to shut this mouth
The stones you throw can make me bleed
But I won’t stop until we’re free
Wild hearts can’t be broken
No, wild hearts can’t be broken
You beat me, betray me
You’re losing, we’re winning
My spirit above me
You cannot deny me
My freedom is burning
This broken world keeps turning
I’ll never surrender
There’s nothing, but a victory
Accepting myself – “This Is Me” by Keala Settle
My parents’ explicit response to my increased self-realization was difficult. But even more of a hindrance to my self-understanding were my own internalized ideas of who I ought to be. Most central have been my ideas about needs, weakness and worthiness.
Because of the way I was raised, I associated interdependence with failure. In particular, I did not feel safe acknowledging those of my needs that others could not easily meet. And so when I started understanding and expressing my autistic needs better, it brought about deep feelings of shame, insecurity and worthlessness. Through all of this I needed to keep reminding myself of what I knew intellectually: that having needs is normal and that being yourself can’t be shameful.
Despite coming from a very questionable movie, “This is me” has become a theme song for those who are different and facing rejection. For me it is a reminder that difference, even when it means being bruised, is not weakness, it is bravery.
Another round of bullets hits my skin
Well, fire away ’cause today, I won’t let the shame sink in
We are bursting through the barricades and
Reaching for the sun (we are warriors)
Yeah, that’s what we’ve become (yeah, that’s what we’ve become)
I won’t let them break me down to dust
I know that there’s a place for us
For we are glorious
When the sharpest words wanna cut me down
I’m gonna send a flood, gonna drown them out
I am brave, I am bruised
I am who I’m meant to be, this is me
Look out ’cause here I come
And I’m marching on to the beat I drum
I’m not scared to be seen
I make no apologies, this is me
The full autism playlist with links