No, I won’t be wearing blue or celebrating autism “awareness” this April 2nd. No, I won’t be proudly displaying any puzzle pieces, blue or otherwise in my profile picture on social media. No, I will not myself use or in any way support the use of supposed “gold-standard” “autism” intervention, that first spread its toxic spores from Ivaar Lovaas. And no, I will certainly not be associated with a certain world-famous (infamous, rather) “advocacy” organization that is, in fact not so much advocacy but borderline abusive towards autistic people. Oh, and speaking of which, I will most definitely say “autistic people” and not “people with autism.”
‘How dare you?’ You ask. ‘You who call yourself a healthcare professional and disability advocate, how can you turn your back so cruelly on people suffering from autism? And what about their poor parents? The brave autism moms and dads who valiantly vlog the daily struggles they go through because of their child with autism and thus make millions of dollars from the viewership thereof? Can’t you support them?’
And I say…
‘Golly, I’m so glad you asked.
I shall now tell you, in the form of an enumerated list, why I won’t do each of those things. But before I do so, let me tell you the most important reason, the reason that is the bedrock for everything else to be built upon….
I won’t do any of those things because autistic people consider them harmful. Nice an succinct, innit? Now read the long version.
1. Blue and puzzle pieces
There’s some history behind the symbol and the color to unpack here. Simply put, the puzzle piece was chosen to represent this population because it conveyed a sense of incompleteness, as though an autistic person was missing some essential aspect of being a person. Blue was chosen because of the largely false belief that autism occurred more commonly in boys. We now know that autism is only *diagnosed* more commonly in boys because autistic girls tend to mask, that is, try to act “normal” to blend in, at high costs to their mental health.
2. Autism “awareness”
Autism needs acceptance, not awareness. It is most likely that autism has existed in humanity since the beginning of… well, humanity (read Neurotribes by Steve Silberman for an excellent and very readable history of autism). It is just another type of brain. The word awareness posits autism as something to be rooted out of society while acceptance conveys the exact opposite. Let’s be honest…humanity needs the autistic personality to progress.
3. The bEsT tHeRaPy fOr aUtIsM
You know the one I’m talking about. The one where people claim to magicians and ‘change people’s problem behaviors’ with a swish and a flick of their wands (and piles of data). Yes, that one. This one’s a big fish, so let’s see if I can put it across in small words. This particular therapy has the long-term goal of making autistic people “indistinguishable from their peers.” It works primarily on principles of reward and punishment, where when someone is rewarded for a behavior, they may tend to repeat it, and when someone is punished, they tend to not repeat it. It works. Of course it does. It certainly works, at the expense of systematically extinguishing every trace of autonomy a person has in the process. ‘Touch nose’, they say. If you touch it, you get a cookie. Yay, 1/1. ‘Touch nose’, they say. You don’t want to touch it. Oh no, 1/2. Cookie goes bye-bye. ‘Touch nose’, they say. That cookie was yours, and you want it back so you scream. ‘Attention-seeking behavior,’ they say. ‘Touch nose,’ they say. Ad infinitum. Oh and one more thing. This particular “treatment” was once very commonly applied to people exhibiting “sexually deviant behaviors.” Like, you know, homosexuality. And of course it worked. Heaven forbid their patients so much as thought about a sexual partner that was right for their orientation after that treatment. The final point. A lot of new studies with autistic adults show evidence of PTSD that can be traced to this “treatment” in their childhood. You know, PTSD? The thing hardened veterans get after years of war torture? That.
4. That one organization that claims to fundraise for Autism All. The. Time.
Again, you know the one I’m talking about. They’re probably the ones you’re wearing blue and peppering your social media with puzzles in honor of. Ah, those people. The thing is, again the problem is multi-fold. They don’t have autistic people in positions to be listened to in their organization (which is really ironic if you think about their name). They don’t respect the views and requests of the autistic public. Their funding doesn’t really cover things useful for autistic people, just more fundraising. Their information for parents of autistic children tells them to grieve for their ‘dead’ normal child. They have supported false cures, including dangerous things like bleach enemas. Yes, bleach enemas. The two words that shouldn’t go together. They release horrible ‘informative’ videos that tell people that autism is worse than pediatric aids and cancer combined, and a leading board member has, on video, and in front of her autistic child, talked about she’s often considered murder-suicide of herself and her autistic child, and only never went through with it for the sake of her non-autistic child. Let that sink in.
5. “People with Autism.”
Again, the easy answer is…because autistic people want to be called autistic people, not people with autism. They feel that they would actually rather like to be defined by their autism, and they are not actually ‘so much more’ than their autism, thankyouverymuch. Also, they say that if we need to keep saying ‘people with autism’ to remember that they are people first, autistic second, are we non-autistics as empathetic as we claim to be? They’ve got a point.
Okay, so after all that text, what should we be doing this April? There is only one answer, and it’s only four words long…
Listen to Autistic People.