Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Autism Acceptance—not “Awareness”

Autism Acceptance Month is upon us. Its official start is April 1st, though it’s traditionally kick started April 2nd—World Autism Day. In my state, the State of Washington, it is called “Autism Acceptance Month—”other places, it is not. Why the discrepancy? Well, it is new to call this a month of acceptance, it has almost always been a month of “awareness.”
Awareness and acceptance are not the same. To be aware of something makes no judgment of the subject. Acceptance affords a subject respect. Oftentimes, however, awareness means fear. That is exactly how “Autism awareness” is marketed. Autism is not only implicitly compared to cancer or HIV/AIDS—deadly diseases—it is literally compared to these by the largest Autism-related organization in the world: Autism Speaks. To be aware of Autism is to try and stop it. What is the purpose of an “awareness” campaign other than to make an issue stop? To be aware of the food insecurity endemic to the Inuit people in northern Canada is to try and eliminate the inhumane, illegal oppression of them. To be aware of HIV/AIDS is to try and end the pandemic. To be aware of cancer is to try and make sure no one succumbs to that wretched disease ever again. To be aware of Autism is no different. It’s almost as if Autism is a large predator hiding behind a bush waiting to snatch its prey, and to be aware of it is to stop Autism.

To parents who have seen their children turn out in an unplanned way—a divergent, deviant path—this may seem an apt metaphor, which is why Autism Speaks uses one like it to solicit donations. It’s almost as if they believe beneath the façade of Autism, they can snatch “their child” from its jaws, or at least recover their dead. To parents, it is impossible for Autism to be a part of us; no, it is a wall, a barrier to their hopes and dreams. This, too, is the language of Autism awareness.

The only way to rid Autism from the Autistic is to kill us—and many have. Autism is who I, and every other Autistic, am. It’s as ridiculous to separate my being Autistic from say having sight. It is an intrinsic part of my being. If I didn’t have Autism, I would be a completely different person. Perhaps I wouldn’t be as interested in chemistry or in music or in linguistics or in botany. Perhaps when I find out that the rate of unemployment for Black people in America is double the rate of whites in America, I wouldn’t get as vehemently angry—determined to tell anyone and everyone in efforts to meet this injustice. Perhaps I would not care when my fellow humans are bleeding because of transmisogyny. Maybe if I wasn’t Autistic, I wouldn’t find it in my nature to be passionate about anything that catches my interest; perhaps I wouldn’t be what the internet condescendingly calls a “Social Justice Warrior.”

But whatever sort of means of “productivity” I have done because of being Autistic or just the environment I grew up in—one that values Social Justice as the most important goal for life—that does not matter, because at the end of this day, at the end of this month, at the end of my life: being Autistic is an intrinsic part of me. We do not deem people with quirks to be inhuman. Personalities and human behaviors have wonderful and rich diversity. Why are we policing being Autistic? If someone cannot draw (as I can’t), we do not call them “low functioning;” we give them a different job. So why when I can’t do certain things, but I can do others, am I insinuated to be less than human? Why do poets like Amy Sequenzia get called “low functioning” when she can’t talk, but her poetry rivals any others. Have you ever heard Ernest Hemingway speak? What I’m arguing here is, in an elementary way, the concept of neurodiversity.  It is a topic covered better by more eloquent writers. 
Acceptance, rather than awareness, is what we must strive for. Acceptance believes in the basic humanity of people regardless of qualities that for one reason or another are deemed "deviant." Accepting your transgender, lesbian, gay, intersex, bisexual, or asexual co-worker, child, friend, family-member is an example. They might not be “straight,” but they are human and they are real.  They are a person. Accepting your Autistic co-worker, child, friend, family-member is another. Acceptance isn’t forcing us to have “quiet hands” when having loud ones are just a part of us, nor is it subjecting us to Applied Behavioral Analysis (which was used on deviant children with “homosexual tendencies,” too).

Language is important. Autism isn’t some human tsunami bent on the destruction of civilization. There is no “Autistic Agenda”—unless you count existing as an “agenda”—just as much as there isn’t a “Homosexual/Gay Agenda.” Autism is Eric. Autism is me. I am Autism. Autism Speaks, are you listening?

Resources on #BoycottAutismSpeaks:

AutisticAdvocacy.org (Autistic Self Advocacy Network)


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