I know I promised to get back to talking about writing stuff instead of autism stuff, but, well, plans change. (Sorry.)
Earlier today, the lovely Beth Cato linked to this article on Twitter–Autism Awareness is Not Enough: Here’s How to Change the World–and I loved it so much I had to post about it. This will be my new go-to article when explaining the autistic rights movement and neurodiversity to people.
If you’re interested in autism at all, I highly recommend taking the time to read the full thing. After an important introduction, fifteen people with close connections to autism–self-advocates, parents, teachers, and combinations thereof–are asked to share five thoughts on how to make the world more inclusive to people with autism. I don’t agree with every viewpoint, but I do agree with the vast majority–and the viewpoints I don’t agree with are still important enough that people should read and consider them to understand where people are coming from.
Since it’s such a long read, and because so many points made me want to jump up and cheer, I made a selection of my favorite quotes–one for each of the people interviewed.
(I also added my own ‘advice’ at the end.)
Accept us. Autism is a part of who we are. As sure as skin color or sexual orientation, we cannot change being Autistic. Acceptance starts by understanding that we are not broken, defective, or diseased. We do not need to be fixed or cured. There is nothing wrong with us. Yes, autism is a disability, and yes, some Autistic people are very severely disabled. Accepting our autism does not mean ignoring or denying disability; it means accepting us for who we are, as we are.
Shannon Des Roches Rosa:
Seek autism-friendly autism education resources. When looking for autism education resources, ask yourself: does this agency, book, or website support and respect autistic people and their families? If the answer is “no,” then go elsewhere — no matter how well-established, funded, reviewed, or popular the resource is. I direct people to The Autistic Self-Advocacy Network, Rethinking Autism, Wrong Planet, and Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism as starting points.
Require autism awareness training with the input of autistic self-advocates for every single educator in the US, not just special Ed teachers. I’ve heard this is done in Japan, why can’t other countries follow suit?
Paula C. Durbin-Westby:
Where behaviors are simply “odd” or different, there is no need to expend energy on doing anything other than supporting the person and working to end discrimination based on harmless behavioral characteristics. Education should focus on the strengths of Autistic people, not on making us “indistinguishable from our peers.” By the way, our peers are other Autistic people.
Practice perspective taking. It’s ironic that autistic people are expected to have trouble with insight into others when so many people have trouble with insight into autistics. Everyone should try on the other person’s shoes and walk around in them for a while.
Stop killing us, and stop glorifying our killers. Every time an autistic person is murdered, people fall over themselves to feel sorry for the killer. That’s pretty terrifying if, like me, you are actually autistic right this minute. Stop. You are not supposed to side with killers, empathy does not work that way.
Jennifer Byde Myers:
Change the word “talk” to “communicate.” When my son was younger, therapists just wanted him to talk. They still call it speech therapy. Talking is overrated. We don’t care if he “talks” we want him to be able to communicate his needs effectively so he can lead the life he wants to live, not the one we think he wants to live.
Move the conversation from tolerance and acceptance of individuals on the autism spectrum to understanding and appreciation. (“Tolerance and acceptance” give a sense of putting up with something, whereas “understanding and appreciation” suggests valuing the contributions that individuals with autism bring to humanity.)
Understand autism as diversity. If we still struggle with issues of race, gender, and sexual identity, where are we with accepting disability? Disability is diversity too.
Many of the worst injustices faced by people with disabilities would be considered illegal and the source of considerable public outrage were they to occur to a non-disabled person. Federal law allows for people with disabilities to be paid less than minimum wage. States with bans on corporal punishment nonetheless allow the use of “aversive interventions” — the inflicting of pain as a means of behavior modification for children and adults with disabilities — despite the fact that the two are indistinguishable from each other. When disabled people are killed by family members and caregivers, public sympathy is often with the killer, who will frequently receive a more lenient sentence than if they had murdered a non-disabled person. Only when labor laws, protections from abuse and torture, and other relevant legal rights are applied equally for people with and without disabilities will we move forward as a society.
Universal acceptance of the idea that “human abilities are a constellation, not a linear spectrum.” Universal acceptance of the big idea that different brains come with different strengths and weaknesses, and societies need all kinds of minds to be robustly healthy. This is big-picture neurodiversity, embracing not only autism, but ADHD and other neurodivergencies now called dyslexia, dyscalculia, and so on.
Anyone who asks “Where are all of the autistic adults?” must make a donation to the Autistic Self Advocacy Network.
Forget “normal.” Recognize that when it comes to human diversity — including the diversity of minds — “normal” is a highly subjective, culturally-constructed fiction. Recognize that there is no “normal” mind, and that conformity to the local conception of “normal” is in no way synonymous with health, well-being, or personal fulfillment – and is, in fact, often in direct conflict with those things. A healthy, thriving autistic person looks very different from a healthy, thriving non-autistic person. In nurturing the development of autistic individuals, the goal of parents, educators, therapists, etc. should be to produce healthy, thriving, autistic people, rather than autistic people trained to stifle their true selves in order to pass as “normal.”
Start recognizing our communication.
Remember that talking with a disabled person is not an heroic act. There is absolutely nothing required in the way of superhuman patience to communicate with a person with a disability, and stopping to listen to someone with atypical communication, far from being a charitable act, is an act of bringing a fellow human being into human community. Social inclusion and interaction, when someone desires them, are basic human rights that no disabled person should have to request, and that no able-bodied person with an ounce of ethical understanding should refuse.
My own additions:
1. Stop the tragedy narrative. Some people hate their autism. Some are neutral. Some love their autism. Don’t make assumptions about other people’s experiences.
2. Listen to us, not just our parents. Parents’ perspectives should be valued, but right now they completely dominate the conversations around autism and that’s not okay. We are not passive objects to be coddled.
3. Don’t even consider mentioning ‘vaccines’ and ‘autism’ in the same sentence unless it’s with a good amount of scorn.
4. Don’t assume that only ‘high-functioning’ autistic people care about acceptance/neurodiversity/anti-cure movements; plenty of ‘low-functioning’ autistic people are badass activist types too. (Those terms are in quotes because they’re entirely subjective and occasionally demeaning. Non-verbal people who stim 24/7 may function perfectly well. People who have been forced to speak and stop stimming may suffer for it.)
5. Tied into point #1: If you hear the word ‘autism’ and your first thought is sympathy–whether it’s for the parent or for the autistic person themselves–examine why that is. Aim for solidarity instead.
I hope that you’ll read the full article, and that you’ll walk away with new insight, appreciation, and determination.
If so, please share the link with the rest of the world.