Trigger Warning: mentions of murder, filicide, and suicide. Content also contains examples of ableism.
Hello, my name is Eric Warwick: I am a Queer, Transgender, Jewish, Autistic activist—and I am here speaking for myself. In this speech, I will be discussing issues in our community and I want you to listen and think critically of yourself and our community and what we can do to make it better.
Today marks the beginning of Autism Acceptance Month which for me means a month of stress—not from the work I do as an Autistic activist, but from the work of others in the Autism Community. The dominant paradigm in the Autism Community is set, largely, by the highly criticized, organization known as Autism $peaks, which has no autistic people on its board, rather than Autistic people themselves whether they are speaking or nonspeaking.
This paradigm views me and my fellow autistic people as a “genetic epidemic” in the words of Suzanne Wright in the film Sounding the Alarm: Battling the Autism Epidemic. In the fall of last year, she said our parents and caregivers were “not living” in a highly publicized opinion piece. In the dominant paradigm, I am not a whole person but rather missing a blue puzzle to complete my humanity. The dominant paradigm also unscientifically separates me and my nonspeaking community with functioning labels. These functioning labels are socially constructed and do not represent the lived experiences of either quote “high functioning” or “low functioning” autistic people. These ideas are the dominant paradigm despite an incredibly divergent paradigm presented by autistic people—speaking and nonspeaking—themselves, and that is wrong.
Our paradigm, a paradigm shaped by autistic voices, shape the issues we have in our discourse—whereas in the parent side they talk of molding us into an image of a neurotypical, the autistic side discusses ableism, the systemic discrimination of disabled people. Whereas the parent side talks of being nonjudgmental to all parents—the autistic side discusses the highly, highly disproportional rates of child abuse and murder of disabled people by their parents and caregivers.<Whereas in the parent and professional communities they talk of the acceptability of wishing we were not born, the autistic side discusses the high, high rates of suicide among autistic people.> Who here among us even knows about, much less has attended, a vigil for the National Day of Mourning for disabled people murdered by their parents or caregivers that has been held for years and happened this year on March 1st? I was there.
Autistic discourse centers on our lived experiences with ableism, rather than the experiences of those adjacent to the full effects of this oppression, and as such we discuss things like job discrimination; making AAC more available; the oppression and stigmatization of nonspeaking people; presuming competency of all people; disability justice and pride; the rights of autistic and non-autistic parents to keep their disabled children in the face of a government labeling disabled people unfit to parent and disability as proof of unfit parenting; the intersections of ableism, sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia, classism, and all other oppressions; the struggles of teenage and adult autistics; being autistic and oppressed another way, and being multiply disabled. We also discuss the extremely high rates domestic violence and sexual violence that autistic and other developmentally disabled people face. Which by the way, April is also Sexual Assault Awareness Month.
I do not see these issues in the dominant paradigm of lighting it up blue, grief over the loss of your expected child, and rainbow puzzle pieces. This may be because the dominant paradigm is controlled not only by nondisabled parents and professionals but also by white, upper class, heterosexual, cisgender, English-speaking parents and professionals.
The effect of the dominant paradigm is that it oppresses rather than uplifts the people it claims to support—autistic people. It is now the time to listen—to listen to actual autistic people, to listen to the issues we have at heart and the struggles we face daily. I challenge you to reach outside the bubble of martyr parents and listen to your child and the people like your child.
Thank you. And have a great Autism Acceptance Month.