I’ve been trying to write about this issue for several months, approaching it from various angles, and then getting bogged down and abandoning it. And yet I feel it’s a very important and often controversial one. There are many who tell apparently ‘high-functioning’ autistic adults that they ‘cannot speak’ for all autistics, because they aren’t ‘really’ autistic, or are ‘not autistic enough’. There are those who say high-functioning autistics shouldn’t object to how the low-functioning are treated, because we ‘can’t understand’ how ‘awful’ they make life for their caregivers and families, and it’s ‘for their own good’. And so on and so forth. And these tactics often work. I have encountered aspies who refuse to identify as ‘autistic’, because, in the words of one, “I’m not autistic, because I’m intelligent”.
Well I DO identify as autistic, AND with those ‘low-functioning’, I refuse to be separated from them, and so I’ve decided I’m just going to say how I feel, in an attempt to make clear my reasons why.
Reason One - Defeating the ‘Divide and Conquer’ thing. Many autism ‘experts’, parents, etc, and their organisations, take the stance that “It’s all right for you high-functioning types, but ‘these people’ have ‘real’ problems, which can only be addressed by this drastic treatment/long hours of therapy/punitive suppression/etc/etc/etc”. What this effectively says is “We’ll leave you alone as long as you can pass for ‘normal’, and as long as you don’t protest what we’re doing to ‘those people’.” It’s an unspoken but nonetheless potent threat – but also a nonsense, because –
Reason Two - There is no clear dividing line between low and high functioning. Many autistics are able to communicate via the internet, write articles and books that get published, or advocate on behalf of their fellow autistics, but cannot communicate verbally, hold down a regular job, or live independently. Others can, but only with a great deal of support from family or social services. Even those who, like me, are fully ‘independent’, function best with help from those around them. We all have problems, are prone to break down, overload, melt down, etc, etc. None of us are ‘high-functioning’ in all areas of our lives. NONE.
Reason Three - All autistics are entitled to respect, no matter what their functioning level. Many are labelled ‘low-functioning’ because of their lack of verbal speech, but if/when they finally find a way to communicate, a perfectly functional intelligence is revealed. But even if this is not the case – if they are intellectually disabled, for instance – they are still entitled to be treated well, to have all the rights that I list in my recent ‘Bill of Rights for Autistics’, as well as any other rights that, for instance, the intellectually or physically disabled have or are campaigning for.
Reason Four - I feel more in common with them than with NTs. NTs see me ‘looking normal’, and think I ‘must’ like that, must want to be identified with them, that it’s a compliment if they tell me how ‘normal’ I seem. When actually, it’s an elaborate front I’ve evolved to cope with life, and frequently a strain to keep up. I often feel like a fake doing it, and long to reveal more of my true self. I do not identify with NTs in general, or want to. Underneath, I know I am far more like that kid rocking and flapping in the corner than any of them suspect. Underneath, I understand why he rocks and flaps – and even do it myself, when no-one’s looking. Because -
Reason Five - There is only one autism. I’ve said this before, and I’m saying it again – at the core, we are all equally autistic. The big difference between high and low functioning is not ‘how much autism we have’, but ‘how well we can pass for normal’, ie how many social, communicative and life skills we are able to learn. If scientists, doctors, etc, really want to help autistics, they should be researching why some autistics can learn these skills, learn to talk, etc, and others can’t, what part of our brains determines this.
For my part, I can only say this.
I will not be separated.
I will not be disempowered.
I will not be silenced.
I will not have my true, underlying nature denied.
I will not stop being autistic, and championing the right of EVERY autistic to BE autistic, to be free, and to be given the human rights they so desperately need.
I stand in solidarity, and I invite all autistics, low or high functioning, to stand with me.