Monday, April 9, 2012
Autism ACCEPTANCE Month: Fuck Your Awareness
Since it's Autism Acceptance Month (a rewording of Autism Awareness Month, from neurodiversity proponents who want to take the month back), I wanted to explain what Autism Acceptance means to me, and what I hope for the future of me and other autistics I know and love.
Autism Awareness is a term used in the same vein as Breast Cancer Awareness, Kony 2012, and other "slactivist" campaigns. It means being involved only so far as sharing a link on Facebook or buying a shirt. It means endorsing a superficial understanding of the issue, but not actually trying to understand what it means (especially for the people directly involved). It may be better than being completely oblivious, but it's not enough. Where "Autism Awareness" is concerned, it's especially troubling because it speaks of the disability in the same vein as a terminal illness. The autistic person then is reduced to an object to be pitied, with the condition treated as a bogeyman that captures the "real" person underneath, rather than a factor that influences their larger individual personality.
Autism Acceptance means actually understanding that autistic people, and for that matter other people who aren't physically or mentally normal (re: everyone), are simultaneously influenced by their conditions but not defined by them. It means looking at such differences as a part of life that can't be erased, no matter how much money we pour into medical research for a "cure". It means trying to understand and negotiate with people who have different behaviors, and see what they can contribute to society on their terms.
In a world of Autism Acceptance, people on the spectrum will be able to find work based on their talents, not their disabilities. Autistic celebrities will not just be people that promote themselves for "overcoming" autism, but people with actual occupations as well. The world of Autism Acceptance will be a world where we have openly autistic doctors, teachers, scientists, politicians, athletes, journalists, artists, CARTOONISTS, and others. As Ari Ne'eman (IIRC) puts it, we'll have fewer professional autistics, and more autistic professionals.
In a world of Autism Acceptance, neurological disabilities will not be treated as an inherent stigma. The R word will be treated as hate speech, just like the N word or the other F word. "Don't be so autistic" won't be treated as a colloquial insult, and autistic people who behave like total assholes won't reflect on everyone on the spectrum. The likes of Christian Weston Chandler will be treated as a reflection of nothing but internet weirdos.
In a world of Autism Acceptance, neuro-atypical characters will abound on television and literature and be acknowledged as neuro-atypical. They will come in all shapes and sizes, not just the stereotypes of the inspirationally disadvantaged, the special needs morality pet for the martyr parents, or the autistic sociopath. We'll no longer need to make do with diagnosing fictional characters like Reed Richards or Hal "Otacon" Emmerich who probably fit the criteria.
In a world of Autism Acceptance, discussion of autistic peoples' handicaps will be focused on practical accommodation, not fanciful cures. Discussions about the "autism epidemic" and its causes will be dismissed, inconsequential compared to the people here right now. Instead of talking about sweeping, badly-researched gestures like gluten-free diets or chelation therapy, treatments will try to stick to the individual and how to treat their specific symptoms, not the "bogeyman" of autism.
In a world of Autism Acceptance, no moral ambiguity will be put into debates over news stories like the murder of George Hodgins by his mother. The focus will be on the victim, whose life was tragically cut short by the person he should've been able to trust the most. There will be no sympathy given to the mother who murdered him, because no matter what difficulties she had raising a special needs child, nothing can excuse taking an innocent life. The caregivers who murder their charges (and this is way too common) will be treated as that-- murderers, the likes of whom can and will burn in hell.
Finally, in a world of Autism Acceptance, the kids I work with at my residental facility day job will see all of these things happen, and be able to navigate a world even slightly less harsh and narrow-minded.