Monday, 17 March 2014

I'm Impatient.

I’m impatient. I’m getting more and more fed up with the whole mess of autism attitudes ‘out there’, the entire public image of autism; the misconceptions, the distortions, the downright fallacies, the blind, unquestioned assumptions. There’s a part of me that wishes I could just sweep it all away, clear the decks, like someone swiping a table clear with a backhand - I’m that frustrated, because I am seeing more and more of the damage it’s doing. So many things are connected to this bad image of autism. Let me give just a sampling of that.

- The autism parents who see autism as a ‘tragedy’, and spend mega-bucks on all sorts of useless or downright dangerous treatments to their kids, many of which, if done to any other kid, would be deemed ‘abuse’. But hey, it’s okay to do this to autistic kids, because they’re not ‘properly human’, and it’s ‘for their own good’, to make them ‘normal’, which is a good thing, right?

- These same autism parents claiming that by giving those ‘treatments,’ they are ‘rescuing’ their children – the assumption being that just to be autistic means you are suffering – because autism is so terrible, a disease, a tragedy, a ‘thief’ of the ‘real’ child supposedly buried underneath, a home-wrecker, a burden, blah blah blah.

- Again, some of these same autism parents, who go on camera saying that they’d ‘get rid’ of the autism if they could, that they wish they had a ‘normal’ kid. Right in front of those kids. And all their ilk who don’t go on TV, but spend years telling their autistic kids anyway, in one way or another, that to be autistic is a Bad Thing.

- The ‘autism industry’, who cons those parents into spending those mega-bucks on those treatments, and by golly if that one doesn’t work, or that one or that one, oh look, here’s something even more weird and even more expensive, and if you don’t do it, you’re a bad parent, maybe even guilty of ‘abuse’. (Yes, really.)

- The young adult autistics (and some not-so-young ones) who think having autism means being ‘doomed’. Of course they hate their autism – who wouldn’t hate something that seems to have ‘ruined’ their lives? Some of these are of course (surprise, surprise) the now-adult children of the above parents.

- Yet other autism parents, who think that their autistic child should be allowed to do whatever they want, whenever they want, regardless of whether it impinges on other people or not, because “they don’t understand”, so there’s no point in setting limits on their behaviour, or disciplining them in any way.

- The special autism ‘schools’ or camps that spend more time repressing the kid’s autistic traits, punishing their stims, etc, often forcibly and harshly, than they do actually educating the kids or even getting to know them properly.

- The struggles autistics have in regular schools, and the teachers who seem afraid of them, the other kids who bully them or reject them, the lack of support, and then how they get tossed out because they’re ‘aggressive’ or ‘don’t follow the rules’.

- The adult autistics who also think that being autistic automatically means being miserable, like the one who, when tossed out of a Facebook group, told the moderator that if she wasn’t suffering and unhappy, then she “couldn’t really be” autistic!

- The high unemployment rate of those with autism, not just because we flub interviews, but because we get fired or leave because of the hostility and/or manipulations of co-workers and bosses.

- The hesitation and caginess many autistics who are employed have about ‘coming out’ as such, for fear of losing their jobs, or incurring hostility, misunderstandings, rejection or arms-length ‘sympathy’ from their co-workers/bosses.

- The hostility directed at many autistics from their own family members, who think we’re either ‘faking it’, or ‘could pull ourselves together if we tried’, or misconstrue our actions and words, or just use us as scapegoats for family tensions.

- The professionals who think they ‘know what autism is like’, so of course we “can’t be” autistic if we can talk well, have a partner and/or kids, hold down a job, etc.

- The family members and general public who also assume they ‘know what autism is like’, and so if someone says they’re autistic but they don’t seem to fit that mold, that person, they decide, must be ‘faking it’, ‘jumping on the latest bandwagon’, etc, etc.

 - The way the media beat up any story that involves any autistic or any person who even might be autistic committing a crime, as though to have autism/Aspergers means being intrinsically violent or criminal.

- The same media, who regularly trumpet yet another and even more bizarre ‘cause’ of autism, everything from motorways to older mothers to the Internet, as I recounted in a previous post.

- The researchers who, when they find a ‘difference’ between us and NTs, always assume that this represents a ‘lack’ or ‘deficiency’ or ‘pathology’ on our part. In their minds, NT= always good, and autistic = always bad.

I could go on, but you get the picture. It’s all connected. All, all, stemming from the concept of Big Bad Autism. Intrinsic to this is a whole bunch of totally incorrect and distorted ideas of what it means to have autism, what motivates our behaviour, etc, etc. To give just one example of this – our lack of eye contact. Experts decided that this is because we’re “not interested in other people”. BZZZZ. WRONG. We don’t make eye contact because we find it a) painful, b) invasive, c) irrelevant (because we don’t get the ‘messages’ we’re ‘supposed’ to get from it), and/or d) many of us find it difficult to look at and listen to people at the same time. So how, you might ask, did the ‘experts’ get it so wrong? Because. They. Never. ASKED. Us. They made an assumption, and the assumption became ‘Truth’, and that ‘Truth’ is still being faithfully repeated and perpetuated. This is but one example of why we demand nothing about us, without us.

It’s like the gay thing, in some ways. Once upon a time, gays and lesbians were also assumed to be ‘unhappy’, ‘twisted’, ‘scourge on society’, blah, blah, blah, too. We ‘had’ to be, because being gay was an ‘aberration’, right? A twisting of the ‘normal’ pattern, right? So ‘of course’ we were unhappy, etc, because we weren’t heterosexual, right? A similar story could be written for old attitudes to many other minority groups. Well the world has largely changed its ideas on them, due to various social movements, and by goddamn it’s going to have to change its ideas on autism too.

Because I’m sick of the whole thing. I want to throw it off, the way you throw off stifling covers on a hot night. The way we throw out clothes that don’t fit us. The way we rip up an old script that isn’t of any use to us anymore. Like that. Yeah, like that.

I know I can’t. But I want to. I’m so sick of what is. I want each and every autistic person to be seen as an individual, as a human being first and foremost, with the same needs – for respect, education, etc, as any other human being, albeit we have to do these things or get these things in our own way. Yes, there are broad similarities, many traits we have in common, but we are first and foremost human beings, not a ‘label’ or a ‘category’ or a ‘specimen’, though an autistic identity (as an aspie, HFA, whatever) must be taken into account as an essential part of that human being. I want people to see beyond the diagnosis and the labels to see what our real capabilities are – like the case of the autistic kid whose parents were told not to worry about teaching him to read and write, to focus instead on things like tying his shoes – and now he’s proved to be a young genius. I am certainly not claiming we’re all geniuses, and nor should we have to be, to be accepted, my point is that trying to pigeonhole us is actually doing both us and the world a disservice.

Because enough is enough is enough. It’s got to stop. Things have to change. The public image of autism is beyond overdue for a complete overhaul. So I’m impatient, I’m very, very impatient. And I like to think that I’m not the only one.


  1. You are most certainly NOT the only one!

    Well written, well argued and long overdue.

    I too am sick of the so called experts, like Prof. Simon Baron-Cohen, who insist that they are able to tell us what is going on in our minds - and get it invariably wrong!

    When we can't do something - even something as simple as tying shoelaces - it isn't because we are stupid and need training how to do it!
    We all have sufficient intelligence to know exactly what it is we need to do; it is that the signals from our brains get lost or mixed up on the way to our muscles. For we know what is to be done and we send the right instructions, only they are not followed.

    I know that one of my biggest problems has always been being unsure of what is wanted when I am given instructions or what is meant when I am told something; yet I have lived my life without any knowledge of Autism, and had a successful career in IT, where everything is very very specific.
    It is not that I cannot work out what is meant, it is that I can see so many different meanings that I find it hard to find the right one, yet I am so very literate, indeed language is one of my special interests.

  2. This is the one that gnaws at me the most: "The family members and general public who also assume they ‘know what autism is like’, and so if someone says they’re autistic but they don’t seem to fit that mold, that person, they decide, must be ‘faking it’, ‘jumping on the latest bandwagon’, etc, etc."

    Great post - direct and to the point. Thank you!