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Steven’s Story

“Speak your truth. Tell your story. Listen.”

Share your stigma experience.

I was diagnosed on the Autism Spectrum when I was around ten years old, following several years of emotional and behavioral disturbances that resulted in my removal from public schools. I lived in a majority white, upper-middle class hamlet in one of the most racially and economically segregated suburban areas in the United States. We lived on the “poor side of town”, a fact I was not aware of until I was in my twenties. Because I did not attend my town’s school district, I was not exposed to the emotionally toxic, racist, and misogynistic culture that pervaded the social structure and interpersonal relationships of the residents, particularly among youth. Instead, I traveled up to two hours a day to attend classes, including summer school in neighboring villages. This resulted in significant social isolation, which I supplemented by creating visual art, short films, and writing poetry in my lonesome. When I did attempt to engage with children in my neighborhood, I experienced consistent bullying. A wooded area in our community became of place where memories of verbal abuse and assault still linger; where local boys called me “sped” and beat me up, because they never saw me in school, and in our small town mythos this meant you were easily labelled the Other. I didn’t see myself as having friends for a long… certainly not any near my house. (Maybe that’s why my hometown never felt like home). I remained enrolled in a alternative education setting until high school, where I entered a rematriculation program a few towns over. Here, for the first time, I began to gain a social network, and I remember vividly having to learn the basic skills of socializing — how to carry on a conversation, mirroring emotions, how to navigate gossip, drama, romantic relationships, and so on — because I had never been exposed to those opportunities. These early childhood experiences became invaluable when I began to study philosophy and psychology in college, eventually attaining my master’s in social work. Though I was sheltered, being exposed to peers with a vast array of needs, talents, quirks, and struggles protected me from the cruelty, ignorance, and inhumanity that would have otherwise been required of me to survive in my community. It is because of this that I now dedicate my career as a social worker, artist, motivational speaker, and performance activist to assisting communities in dismantling the stigma surrounding mental health and building a more just, kind, compassionate, and loving practice in our individual (and collective) lives.

How did you overcome this experience?

As a white, middle class, able-bodied citizen, I recognize the privileges and blessings afforded to me to overcome the relative social and emotional struggles I experienced as a child. Indeed, I reflect on the clinicians, teachers, caregivers, and counselors whom I do not remember, yet invariably contributed to my survival. This and the freedom to creatively express myself sustained my soul through these chapters. Now I find a duty in my own clinical practice to see the joy, beauty, worth, strength, and power in those I am poised to work with, and to reach for and uplift their voices.

Help others by sharing a brief, positive message.

We all have power. Power in the moments we have, in the spaces we occupy. Make it a loving power. Speak your truth. Tell your story. Listen. Then make others listen, if you have to. See to it that love exists as a daily practice in all that you do.

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