Last week, we blogged about “Autistic people should…” as a response to Google’s autocomplete suggestions for “autistic people should” and “autistic people can”. This was a flash blogging event, and there are more entries chronicled here.
Since then, a number of things have happened. People took notice. This is a good thing! Google is going to change their search terms. Even large organizations like Autism Speaks noticed! That’s a good thing, right? Oh wait. Autism Speaks mentioned Google. They didn’t mention anything about the Autistic people who made this happen. Comments on their page by Autistic people have gone completely unanswered. This, on the day when we as Autistics are taking time to mourn our dead, unjustly killed by their caretakers. Deaths that were caused by the terrible ideals that Autism Speaks perpetuates. I am demanding an apology from Autism Speaks.
So today, I am going to tell you a little bit about this community of mine.
Autistic people are authors of our own stories. Too many times, I find an article about an autistic person that makes me think that their voice is going to be adequately represented, that they’re going to be able to tell their own story. And while that is sometimes true, most of the time it is not. I’ve gone into the #autism tag on Tumblr on more than one occasion, seeking to connect with my fellow autistic people, and finding nothing more than parents and siblings and educators and so-called “experts” talking about someone they know who “has autism”.
But Autistic people are speaking! Loudly! In many different forums. I find that I can connect with a great deal of very diverse Autistic individuals online, because it’s certainly easier for most of us to communicate in text-based ways than verbally or in person. Autistic people are capable of telling our own stories. While, yes, we may appreciate being backed up by our family members, we don’t need them trampling all over us in order to tell our story for us, as though we cannot do it on our own.
Autistic people are competent. There’s a saying that goes for all of the disability community, but is especially relevant to autism, as there are many among us who are nonspeaking. That phrase is “presume competence”. Assume that regardless of a person’s level of communication, you must presume that they are able to understand you, I’m constantly reminded whenever we talk about presuming competence of Carly Fleischmann, and how her parents were told that she was incapable of understanding. They were told incorrect information regarding their daughter’s diagnosis, and as such, they assumed that she didn’t have the ability to understand. That is, until she turned 11, was given access to a computer keyboard and she began typing her thoughts. This is the case with many nonspeaking individuals. I recall one of the last documentaries I watched (that wasn’t autistic-led, which is hard to find in the first place) was Loving Lampposts. In it, one of the nonspeaking Autistics said that people presume that he doesn’t have much to say, that there’s little of worth that he will communicate. This is the problem with in-person communication between neurotypical folks (who are sometimes considered “experts” but really know very little) and autistic folks. The NT folks see someone who cannot speak, who stims quite a bit, and they think “weird”, “not having anything to contribute”. However, if these NT folks came upon some of the nonspeaking Autistics I know online, they would claim that there was no way that they could be “low-functioning,” because in many NT folks’ mind, “low-functioning” equals “non-thinking” or “incapable”. Autistic people are competent.
Autistic people are more than a functioning label. This is related to point #2, of course. It’s a little bit ridiculous, but many allistic and NT folks (allistic simply means “not autistic”, whereas NT means “completely neurotypical with no neurodivergences) tend to like to put these labels on those of us who are Autistic. “High functioning”, “low functioning” — all of these undefined terms that really don’t mean anything. Laura Tisoncik described the dichotomy best when she said “The difference between high-functioning and low-functioning is that high-functioning means your deficits are ignored, and low- functioning means your assets are ignored.” In other words, it’s a no-win situation. I’ve had the functioning label thrown at me over and over again. I’m “too high functioning” to deserve a voice in the debate over a cure, so some say. But then again, “low functioning” folks don’t get a voice either, because they aren’t able to have coherent thoughts, and opinions and make decisions about their own lives. I am a person. Autistic people are people, first and foremost. We are not functions. I addressed some of this (and a few other points) in this post.
Autistic people are brilliant. This doesn’t mean “high IQ”. That’s not what I mean when I say brilliant. Perhaps it’s somewhat of a throwaway word, overused like “awesome” and “amazing”. But Autistic people are brilliant. We are a people who are often treated as though we are not quite human, we are erased, we are dehumanized, we are told we have no empathy, we are monsters, we are not worthy of love or affection, and that in the end, our abusers will be the ones to receive sympathy if we are abused or murdered. We are told that we are not trustworthy because of our awkward body language and lack of eye contact. But you know what? We are resilient. We are survivors, and we fight every single day of our lives to do away with the stigma against people like us. Not every one of us can be “out” as autistic, because currently, that’s not safe to do. Despite the fact that autism is a disability covered under the ADA, many of us have been discriminated against with regards to schooling and work, and perhaps it is necessary to hide, to “act neurotypical”. Autistic people are a community. We are a community of very different people who share a common experience with the world — an overwhelming yet beautiful place to live.
Autistic people are brilliant.