I said in a previous post that we need to invent a new language for ourselves. I feel we are in particular need of two new words – words which could also help us to change that deadly negative image of autism, by defining the oppression inherent in it.
Let me digress for a minute. Back in the 70s and 80s, in the lesbian-feminist and gay rights movements, we coined a word - ‘homophobia’ - that aptly described loathing/fear/hatred of non-heterosexuals. Gays and lesbians also often had ‘internalised homophobia’. This came from being gay/lesbian in a world that largely disliked and feared us, and which was still only one step away from the ‘bad old days’ when homosexuality was regarded as ‘pathological’, a ‘sickness’ to be ‘cured’. Growing up in such a world, it’s hardly surprising that so many of us learnt to hate ourselves simply for being gay, and often even after we ‘came out’ and embraced ‘gay pride’, some of that still lingered within. On the one hand, it drove down our self-esteem, as we continued to hate those ‘obviously’ gay/dyke parts of ourselves. On the other, it meant we feared/avoided/looked down on others who, in our private view, were ‘too out there’, too ‘obvious’, too ‘different’. Thus internalised homophobia kept us powerless as individuals, and fractured as a community. These things still exist today, in spite of changing attitudes – many still believe homosexuality a ‘perversion’, and raise their children to believe this too. And if some of those children turn out gay….
At around the same time, various social movements were also coining new words – such as ‘ethnocentric’, which puts a certain race, usually white, at the centre of the universe. The implications of this throughout history have been many – slavery, colonialism, and the wholesale theft or ripping away of land and resources from ‘natives’. The excusing of killing of those ‘natives’ by whites, because they were ‘only natives’, and ‘doomed’ for extinction in the face of a ‘superior’ culture anyway. Native languages and culture being seen as ‘inferior’ and ‘savage’, and harshly repressed or even outlawed. Ways of life that had existed for centuries or even millennia destroyed, tribes and families broken or obliterated, rebellions cruelly put down. Etc, etc. And like homophobia, this attitude still exists today, even if the worst excesses of colonial power/racism are safely in the past. It surfaces every time some indigenous person dares to suggest that their different viewpoint should be taken into consideration on some issue. There’s still an implicit attitude that ‘white is best’, that European culture is superior, and everything else should take second place – or third, fourth, or last.
So we need two new words that describe these same attitudes towards us on the spectrum. One that describes the fear/hatred/loathing/rejection of the state of being autistic, and of autistics themselves; and the negative attitude many autistics have towards themselves as a result. ‘Aspie-phobia’? But not all of us fit the definition of Aspergers, or want that label. ‘Autistic-phobia’? Too long, and a bit clumsy, as is ‘autie-phobia’. Another alternative is something along the lines of ‘misogyny’ or ‘misanthropy’ – mis-autism? Hmmm… Maybe not.
The second word we need is one that describes the ‘neurotypical-centric’ view of the universe that currently prevails, and which is responsible for autism being seen as ‘lesser than’, an ‘inferior’ or ‘wrong’ state to be obliterated or cured as fast as possible so that all those poor autistic people can be just like the ‘normals’. And so those ‘normals’ never have to confront the ‘different’ ones, or accept that the culture of the ‘inferior’ ones might have any validity whatsoever, or that there might be anything good about being ‘different’. ‘Neuro-centric’? Sounds like a brain disease. ‘Neurotypical-centric’? Too long again. ‘NT-centric’? Most people outside the autistic community won’t know what NT means.
I’m out of ideas, so I’m throwing the field wide open. Any ideas, anyone??