Autism and culture by Jessie

Autism and culture By Jessie. Photo of Jessie standing in a field of sunflowers.
Hi, I’m Jess. I’m an Australian-born Korean working as an Autism Connect Advisor at Amaze.

Growing up Asian in Australia has its own difficulties, and when you add neurodivergence to that, it’s even more challenging.

Even though I was born and raised in Australia, my parents were both born in Korea and therefore instilled many Korean values in me. In the broader Korean community, it is shameful to speak about your struggles and even more shameful to have a mental illness or disability. There’s a common social perception in Eastern culture that unless your disabilities are extreme, they don’t exist. There’s a lot of stigma that surrounds it to this day. Diagnosis and public understanding is minimal, especially compared to Western countries.

I grew up in a culture of Eastern values where you’re supposed to prioritise family and not yourself, which gave me less time to inflect and worry about me.

I grew up feeling extremely lonely and really struggled to make and keep friends, and was constantly masking and mimicking to try fit in. I wanted to be “normal” and like my Australian friends, and in turn rejected my culture and true identity. I felt lonely in sea full of neurotypical people and Australians, and I always knew I was different. Given that I was diagnosed in my twenties, I had this omnipresence of being neurotypical-passing (one foot in being neurodivergent and neurotypical as I could switch it on and off) while at the same time not quite feeling Australian enough and definitely not feeling Korean enough.

I’m not an academic person, so this made me feel like an Autistic and Asian imposter… many of us Autistics can get imposter syndrome where we feel like we’re not truly neurodivergent, and we’re not valid in giving ourselves the autism label. I have always been fiercely independent and self-sufficient, so I thought, well I’m able to function everyday so am I really Autistic? But then I realised for me I learnt to be in self-preservation mode because I always struggled with social interactions and therefore learnt to lean on myself.

Getting my diagnosis was a huge weight off my shoulders and made me feel like I could breathe – it was so validating to know that there wasn’t anything wrong with me, my brain just worked differently. But it was something that also made me feel a bit lonely – where were the Autistic people that looked like me and grew up like me? Growing up with those community and family values, I really needed other Autistic people to lean on. I found solace and support in Instagram pages and TikTok creators who helped make sense of the new world I was in. I found it to be just as helpful as therapy, as I was surrounded by a community of young Autistic women who were telling me I was valid.

It was really only after I received my diagnosis that everything for me fell into place, and I found some true friends who are either neurodivergent or extremely understanding of my neurodivergence. I also learnt how to care for myself properly, and love myself for the first time in my life. I understand now that there’s nothing wrong with me – I’m just different and not only is that okay, it’s what makes me me. I would still love to see more people of colour and women of colour in the Autism space, and that’s something I would love to pave the way for. But if you’re a person of colour and feeling lonely, just know that there are communities out there that will accept you with open arms.

About Jessie

Jessie is an Autism Connect Advisor at Amaze and is also studying a Master of Social Work. She is aspiring to work as a high school counsellor. Jessie’s interests are astrology, health and fitness and BTS.

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