by The #ActuallyAutistic Coach
Hanukkah has always been my favorite holiday, not only due to its main figure being my namesake, but it being about revealing things deep inside of us, its mystical implications, and the idea of light over darkness.
In the spirit of Hanukkah, the festival of lights and liberation, it is fitting to draw parallels between the historical struggle for freedom and autonomy and the contemporary concept of autistic unmasking. Hanukkah, celebrated by Jewish communities around the world, commemorates the triumph of light over darkness and the resilience of a people fighting for their identity. Similarly, the concept of autistic unmasking emphasizes the importance of being true to oneself, resisting societal expectations, and being mindful of and advocating for the rights and needs of autistic humans, starting with ourselves. I will quickly explore the historical and religious significance of Hanukkah, drawing connections to the modern-day pursuit of authenticity and acceptance for not only autistic Jews, but all autistic humans.
Hanukkah recounts the tale of the Maccabees, a group of Jewish rebels who fought against the oppressive rule of the Seleucid Empire in the 2nd century BCE. The Greeks, seeking to assimilate the Jewish people into their Hellenistic culture, imposed strict laws and desecrated the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. Jewish culture was suppressed and the Maccabees were a group who resisted the occupation and defacement of their homes. In the face of adversity, the Maccabees rose up, reclaiming their religious freedom and cultural identity. The miracle of Hanukkah is symbolized by the oil in the Temple’s menorah lasting eight days when it was only expected to burn for one.
Autistic unmasking is a contemporary concept that focuses on shedding societal expectations and norms imposed on autistic humans. It’s about being mindful of our needs as autistic people and reclaiming our autonomy. Many autistic humans adopt a “mask” to conform to neurotypical behavior, always at the expense of their true selves. Unmasking involves embracing one’s authentic identity, advocating for one’s needs, and challenging societal expectations.
Hanukkah and autistic unmasking intersect in their core themes of resilience, identity, and the pursuit of freedom. The Maccabees’ resistance against the assimilationist agenda of the Greeks mirrors the struggle of autistic humans against societal pressures to conform. Just as the Maccabees fought for their right to practice their faith and lifestyle freely, autistic humans are advocating for not only acceptance and accommodation, but freedom to be ourselves and freedom from the paradigm which seeks to keep us down.
The lighting of the Menorah during Hanukkah holds a powerful metaphor for the autistic unmasking journey. Each candle represents a step towards self-discovery, embracing authenticity, and challenging societal expectations. The gradual illumination of the menorah symbolizes the unfolding process of unmasking, where autistic humans courageously reveal our true selves, which was always there.
In the Hanukkah story, the rededication of the desecrated Holy Temple is a pivotal moment of reclaiming of both religious, spiritual, and cultural identity. Autistic unmasking similarly involves reclaiming the self, rejecting NT societal expectations, and embracing our needs and authentic selves. By advocating for our rights and needs, autistic humans contribute to the rededication of a society that values and celebrates neurodiversity and autistic people in particular.
As we celebrate Hanukkah, let us draw inspiration from the Maccabees’ resilience and commitment to cultural and spiritual identity. In the same spirit, let us support and amplify the voices of those advocating for autistic unmasking, fostering a society that embraces diversity and honors the authenticity of each autistic human. Hanukkah teaches us that the light of freedom and identity will always triumph over darkness, and in embracing autistic unmasking, we contribute to the ongoing journey toward a more inclusive and accepting world.