Imagine if the world saw you as a problem. Not because you’ve done anything wrong. Not because you choose to live a certain way. Not because you choose to believe certain things. The world sees you as a problem because you were born a certain way. I am not talking about racism, or sexism, or any of the more well-known forms of discrimination. This one is far more pervasive than those. I am talking about autism awareness. April is considered Autism Awareness Month. Every year, big corporations and so-called “non-profit” organizations such as Autism Speaks pour massive amounts of money into campaigns aimed at stigmatizing, dehumanizing, and eventually, eradicating people like me, people who are autistic. Worse, most of the world goes along with it.
Let me explain. Autism is a neurological condition. People who are autistic are different than people who are neurotypical, which is a word used to describe people with a typical neurology, or, in everyday vernacular, “normal” people. Because of this difference, autistic people and neurotypical people often have difficulty understanding or communicating with one another. Autistic people often communicate differently than neurotypical people. We often learn differently. We often express ourselves in different ways. In addition, we often have difficulty doing things that may be easy for others. In contrast, we may be better at doing things that others have difficulty doing.
If that sounds to you an awful lot like normal human experience, that is because it is. Autism should be considered normal. Everyone is different, and autism is one of those differences. People always have to work to understand each other and accommodate each other’s needs. It is just part of being human. We are all different. However, many people do not believe in other people’s right to be different. As a result, they believe autism is a disease, or a disorder. They believe autism is something to be cured, and that autistic people are inferior to neurotypical people.
There are many ways that this plays out. One way is the kinds of therapies that large organizations such as Autism Speaks recommend for parents of autistic children. One of the most popular therapies, Applied Behavioral Analysis, or ABA, is mistreatment at best, and child abuse at worst. In fact, I would refer to ABA as psychological torture. It is done in the name of making the child “indistinguishable from their peers” by forcing the child to stop behaviors that are considered abnormal and do behaviors that are considered normal. The parents are usually lied to by the therapist, told that the child will not be able to succeed in life unless they can “fit in.” The therapy consists of using punishments and rewards to coerce the child into behaving in a way that is considered normal by the therapist. The therapies are non-stop, and are usually recommended to be forty hours a week. Because of the grueling, exhausting nature of the therapy, and the complete lack of privacy and rights for the child, people who have been subjected to ABA often develop post traumatic stress disorder later in life.
In addition, autistic people are not seen by society as fully human. This is most evident in cases of tragedy involving autistic people, especially the incredibly tragic, and tragically not uncommon scenario in which an autistic child is murdered by their parents. In news stories about such incidents, all of the sympathy goes to the parent, who is often portrayed as driven to the end of their rope by the “burdensome” autistic child. The article will often ask the readers for “understanding” for the murderous parent. The child, on the other hand, is portrayed as subhuman, unable to make their own decisions, and someone whose life was so terrible that it was a mercy that their parent ended their misery by killing them. Even if autistic people did lead miserable lives, it would still be wrong to kill them. However, the truth is that autistic people do not lead miserable lives, and if they do, it is not because they are autistic. While it can be difficult to raise an autistic child, (it can be difficult to raise any child) that is never a justification for murder. Autistic people are people. We have the same rights as everyone else, including and especially the most sacred and foundational of all rights: the right to life.
However, even to people like me who never went through therapy or were the victim of abuse, autism carries a stigma. People treat us differently than they do other people. We are patronized, looked down upon, and generally ignored. It’s harder for us to get jobs. It’s harder for us to make friends. The rest of the world sees us as a burden, as problems to be fixed.
So, this April, and any other time for that matter, please do not go along with those who wish to silence, marginalize, and destroy us. We don’t need people to simply be aware that we exist. We need people to accept that we are people, to accept that we have rights, and to respect our rights. Autism does not speak, but autistics do. Not always with actual speech, but with whatever method of communication we use. Do not listen to those who claim to speak for us. Listen to us.