By Katie Munday (they / them)
I have spent most of my life creating and maintaining a shield for myself (see Autistic realisation and shielding). It allows me to protect myself from toxic neurotypicality – the insistent need for society to make everyone comply to the ideals of the neuro-majority.
The shields are protective, some of the time they are unconsciously created and sometimes they are more of a thoughtful struggle to maintain. Sometimes they are created alone and sometimes they are created together – Autistic communities often make shared shields which protect and validate all of us lucky enough to be underneath them. In these safe spaces we can talk honestly and in a manner that suits us, we can stim, tic, behave and present ourselves in authentic ways. Community shielding isn’t just about making friends with others it’s about making friends with ourselves too, especially for those of us who have experienced trauma and those of us who are new to our Autistic realisation.
These shields allow us a space to explore our neurodivergent embodiment. The way we think, talk and fit into a world which is not set up to support or validate us. Shields are used in community building, they are safe places where we can come together, create and recreate ourselves, look after each other and challenge ideas of neuro-normativity.
Community and individual shields are cyclical, we need them to feel safe and joyful but the more we need and seek these, the more we need the shields. Shields aren’t always easy to create or maintain and they can become faulty during times of intense stress or burnout. They are a useful tool, but they can be exhausting to maintain. Creating shields with other Autistic people means we can share the load, allowing us to look after our mental health and stamina.
This is particularly important during intense bouts of advocacy and activism – when one of us can no longer hold our part of the shield someone with more energy can take our place. We can replenish so that we can once more contribute through writing, speaking, protesting, sharing information and challenging policy makers. These shields are made up of all sorts of people with different experiences and skills, and we are all the better for it.