Friday, August 29, 2014

Stop With This "If You've Met One Person with Autism then You've Met One Person with Autism..." Bullshit

Alright, I feel like I should clarify something. I have time and again tried to argue that Autism is an intrinsic part of my nature and inseparable from myself. This is not a new idea, either; I just felt like adding on to some of the ideas I have read. This may give the impression that I believe I am wholly defined by being an Autistic person. This is not true. Autism is not everything--it's a lot, but not everything.

Being Autistic means certain things and like every other identity, autism is in a certain sense, just a set of characteristics. These characteristics also happen to be non-normative. Autism is a word that tries to categorize people by how alike they are in speech, language, movement, and all manner of things. It is commonly defined by psychologists, like Leo Kanner or Hans Asperger who first described the non-normative behaviors of autism as autism, in various diagnostic tools. Issues with the DSM 5 and other diagnostic tools notwithstanding, that is on a very basic level what autism is--a set of characteristics. That's true of bisexuality for example. Bisexuality means feeling sexual attraction to people of your own gender and to other genders. Bisexuality is not mutually exclusive with autism. (Guess how I know! *evil bisexual grin*)

Autism is not a descriptor for sexuality like Bisexuality is so therefore there are a/Autistics of every sexuality. Autism, in fact, covers a fairly finite set of human behaviors that can deviate from one a/Autistic person to another. There are a/Autistic people of all gender and all religions  a/Autistic people who are more artistic, a/Autistic people who are more scientific, a/Autistic people who are more political, and there is a great deal more of diversity within the Autistic Communities.

It is absolutely true that autism is, in the words of Jim Sinclair
"a way of being. [That] It is pervasive; it colors every experience, every sensation, perception, thought, emotion, and encounter, every aspect of existence. It is not possible to separate the autism from the person--and if it were possible, the person you'd have left would not be the same person you started with." 
This is all true. This is also true for my other identities. It's true for my Judaism; it's true for the fact that I'm cisgender Transgender, white, and male Agender; it's true for the fact that I live in the Pacific Northwest; and for any other formative thing about me. So yes, autism is not everything; it is not my whole being. However, that does not mean it is meaningless of course. I covered that in the links before.

So where am I going with this clarification? Well, there is a saying that often times is used to invalidate the experiences of a/Autistic people based on the idea that autistic people can't relate to each other because we're just "so different" or something: "if you've met one person with autism, that means you've met one person with autism." This is one of those things that are true but are essentially meaningless to write. Well of course that's true--a/Autistic people are diverse and have various levels of ability in areas like executive function, speaking, etc! The tactic here is to say "no, you are not like my child so you don't get to tell me anything about my child's autism."

 Yeah, no. Autistic people know a thing or two about autism, because, as stated, autism literally just a descriptor for people. You don't have people saying "if you've met one d/Deaf person, that means you've met one d/Deaf person" when talking about deafness* because that literally makes no sense. I'm not even sure how to explain why this makes no sense without just changing the subject.
(*not sure if people do this. Wouldn't surprise me.)

Now, you might be thinking about the idea that "autism is a spectrum" but that idea is, truly, poorly understood. The spectrum is for individual characteristics--not all of them. So I can be considered "low-functioning" in one area and "high functioning" in another. The concept is best explained in this comic.

So the idea that autistic people can't relate to each other about autism? Bullshit. The idea that autism is all an autistic person is? Also bullshit. Identities--wait for it: intersect! Intersectionality, y'all! The experiences of a/Autistics of Color are obviously going to be different than white a/Autistics. Goyische a/Autistics obviously are going to have different experiences than Jewish a/Autistics. You know why, it's the part about the different identities. Autism is only one identity, and it is powerful, but it's not the only one.


This post was inspired by a conversation/facebook thread started by Autistic activist  Lei Wiley-Mydske.

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