I’ve spent years being ashamed of myself—who I am, what I am. “And what are you?” you might ask. Well, I am autistic. For years I’ve felt that having this part of my identity made me less than neurotypical people (and non-autistic people in general). It was especially hard after I did this program in elementary school which gave me more social skills, because I thought that it removed my autism as a whole.

Then, in eighth grade, after a fight with someone about whether or not you can recover from autism, I began to be afraid to tell people that I “used to be autistic” because I did not want to be seen as a crazy liar. I’d just switched schools and it felt liberating and redeeming to have my new friends not know about my autism. But in eleventh grade, I started feeling stifled by having this huge secret and I started to understand that redemption does not mean denying who you are.

Last winter, my family and I were forced to accept that the program did not remove my autism, and that autism really is lifelong. I also started to understand that autism is not something to be ashamed of, but something I should embrace and be proud of. After spending a month coming to terms with it, I posted on my social media letting the world know that I am autistic. It felt amazing. I was stunned by how much support I got. Being different is not the same thing as being not as good as. Whether or not you have autism or anything else, you should always embrace yourself for who and what you are.