Ben’s Message

Embrace who you are.

My name is Ben Levin, and I am 19 years old, and a writer. My first YA novel, entitled In the Hole, about a family facing homelessness, was recently published (Jumpmaster Press, June 2021), and I have a children’s book series called Nellie’s Friends launching at the end of this month. There is a lot of information about the homelessness crisis here on my website, as well as information about my books.

But what I really want to share with you is something much more personal. What I want to tell you is that for over three years, I kept a major part of my identity a secret from at least half of everyone I knew: I’m autistic.

My main reason for keeping my autism a secret was that I thought I’d “recovered” from autism. I did a program in elementary school where different adults spent time with me in an effort to inspire me to want to connect with them. The program was successful in many ways. It gave me more social skills and lowered my needs. And I thought that because of it, I was no longer autistic.

"Redemption does not mean denying who you are."

But in eighth grade, an incident occurred that made me afraid to talk about my recovery. A friend asked me about my lunch, and I replied that I had a special diet because “I used to be autistic, though I’ve recovered.” In response, another friend sitting with us exclaimed, “You can’t recover from autism!” I insisted that one could, and told him about the program I did when I was younger. The second friend replied, “I think they do that with r*tarded people. I’m not saying you’re r*tarded though.” He then told me about his autistic brother and about his mother, who had several PhDs and worked with autistic people. I replied that my mother had written a book about my journey and that the book could show him that recovery was possible. “The book may convince the rest of my family but it’s not going to convince my mom and she’s really smart,” he replied.

I was very shaken by this conversation because while I had been aware that most people didn’t believe you could recover from autism, I’d never had someone say it right to my face. (I’d also just transferred from a Waldorf School where people were very open-minded.) After the argument, I decided to keep my recovery a secret because I didn’t want anyone thinking that I was a crazy liar.

"I knew I didn't want to be ashamed of who I am any longer."

Deep down, the other reason I kept my recovery hidden was because I felt like autism made me a lesser being and I wanted to remove being autistic from my identity. As I’d just switched schools, not having my new friends know my secret felt redeeming.

But last September I began to understand that redemption does not mean denying who you are. After going through a hard time, I realized my secret was holding me back and preventing me from developing tight friendships. Five months later, after a conversation with a close relative who saw me as still autistic, I spent an intense weekend trying to figure out what having autism truly meant. At the end, along with my family, I started to accept that autism really is lifelong—and that I still have it. It was hard to come to terms with, but once I did, I knew I didn’t want to be ashamed of who I am any longer.

"I want my success as a writer to show others that autism is a gift, not a curse."

Last April, for Autism Awareness Month (or Autism Acceptance Month, as I believe it should be called), I posted on social media letting out my secret, and I was blown away by how many supportive messages I received in response. Claiming my autism liberated me. Today I want to go further and embrace my autistic identity, show it to the world, and focus on the good things that came with it. Specifically, autism made me a writer; and, I wouldn’t have bonded with my autistic best friend in the same way had we not had our shared neurodivergence.

I want my success as a writer to show others that autism is a gift, not a curse. I spent years hiding who I was, but today I am proud of who I am. I want to inspire others struggling with shame to learn to embrace themselves the way I did. I just want to keep writing more stories and publishing my stuff to bring both joy and awareness to my readers.

"I want the fact that my dream came true, to inspire others to follow dreams of their own."

In addition, I want to exemplify the power of dreams and how dreams really do come true; specifically, I want the fact that my dream came true, to inspire others to follow dreams of their own.

Most of all, I want to fight all the negative stigma around autism, and I want to help every other autistic person to understand that we should not hide or be ashamed of our different brains. We need to be proud of who we are. I have a shirt with the autism symbol (rainbow infinity) as well as the words “I’m Autistic and I’m Proud” on it, and I would love to eventually sell shirts with that brand. I also dream of helping to change Autism Awareness Month to Autism Acceptance Month, as well as helping to drive hate groups out of business.

I really want to help everyone on the spectrum know they are as capable of leading a full life as anyone. That is my mission.

– Ben Levin