Thursday 8 September 2016

Autism-Negative or Autism-Positive - Which Are You?

For some time now, I’ve noticed an increasing polarisation of stances amongst those who have anything to do with autism. I’ve started to call these stances ‘Autism-Negative’ and ‘Autism-Positive’. There isn’t really a ‘Autism-Neutral’ stance, as the default still tends to be the negative one, alas, given the prevailing public understanding of autism. Those who disagree with it are almost required to be positive in order to counteract that.

It’s usually pretty easy to grasp which people are which of course, but to make it crystal-clear, I’ve listed the prime characteristics of each stance.

If you’re Autism-Negative, it’s likely you will –

1) View autism predominantly via the ‘medical model’ of disability, which sees the autistic person as ‘unwell’, ‘abnormal’, or simply ‘bad’.
2) Talk of autism as a ‘disease’, ‘epidemic’, ‘brain damage’ or a ‘thief’ of the ‘real’ child, and/or describe autistics as ‘afflicted’ or ‘suffering from’ autism/Asperger's.
3) Insist on person-first language when describing autistics, ie ‘person with autism’, implying the autism is somehow separate (and hence can be detached and gotten rid of).
4) Conduct or uncritically support ‘research’ that frames autistics as ‘abnormal’ whenever they differ from neurotypicals.
5) Misinterpret autistic behaviours, eg lack of eye contact, because you never consult the actual autistics, even those adults who are able to speak.
6) Devote much time, energy and money to either searching for a cure, or supporting and/or working for organisations that have this objective in mind.
7) Insist that all autistic children should be subjected to long hours of ‘therapy’, designed to ‘cure’ them or at least render them ‘indistinguishable from their peers’.
8) View this goal of ‘indistinguishability’ as the ONLY worthwhile goal for autistics. Suppress stimming and any other obvious autistic behaviour, and punish meltdowns.
9) Tell autistics or their parents that if only they/their child was ‘normal’, they wouldn’t be bullied. And hence give the bullies a free pass.
10) Be hostile to autism advocates, telling them they are ‘too high-functioning’ to understand the ‘real’ autistics, who ‘need these treatments’.
11) Complain about how ‘stressed’ you are, how autism has ‘ruined’ your life, and similar pity parties, if you’re the parent of an autistic child, or write about autism like this, if you’re a journalist.
12) In the most extreme cases, support ‘cures’ such as MMS and similar, even when they’ve been judged illegal and abusive.

On the other hand, if you’re Autism-Positive, it’s likely you will –

1) View autism via the ‘social model’ of disability, which sees autism as simply a different neurology, and society and its attitudes as the problem.
2) Talk of autism using positive words, eg ‘neurodivergent’, ‘neurodiverse’, etc.
3) Use identity-first language when describing autistics/yourself, ie ‘autistic person’, because you view the autism as intrinsic to the individual, affecting their/your perception of the world, self-expression, thinking and emotional processes, etc.
4) Severely critique all research that frames autism negatively, and possibly conduct your own to find out the truth, even if it’s just an informal poll on social media.
5) Investigate the true motivations behind autistic behaviours by asking autistics. Or at least not assume the reason is a negative one.
6) Insist that autism doesn’t need curing, but rather acceptance and understanding.
7) Allow autistic children to BE children and to be autistic, to play and to develop in their own way, using non-invasive therapies only when absolutely necessary.
8) Acknowledge the problems, but also talk of the strengths and advantages of being autistic. Celebrate and be proud of being autistic. Stim happily and frequently, and/or allow your child to do so.
9) Promote inclusiveness of autistics in the classroom, workplace, etc, and protest the bullies, even punishing them if you have the power.
10) Either support the autism advocates, or be one yourself, and letting people know that ‘functioning levels’ are not a useful way of measuring autistic capabilities.
11) Either never experience high stress because of your autistic child, or have learnt ways to understand and deal with disagreeable behaviours, often by getting support from other autism-positive parents. And probably never appear in the media, because you’re not ‘newsworthy’. Or get reported as ‘different’ or ‘unusual’ if you do.
12) Be horrified by, and adamantly against, all harsh, abusive ‘cures’, even perhaps campaigning against them, signing online petitions, emailing your MP or representative, etc.

There are probably other items that could go on the list, but you get the picture. Note that you don’t have to tick every item to fit in one category or another, eg some Autism-Positive autistics would perhaps still prefer to say they ‘have autism’, rather than that they ‘are autistic’. It’s often a matter of personal choice.

Plus, there are bigger issues than what terminology you use. The attitudes and practises of the Autism-Negative crowd predominate, and they are hurting us badly. Very badly. I don’t think there is an autistic on the planet (unless they are very young and protected, or live on some remote island without access to the outside world!) who hasn’t met an Autism-Negative person, or experienced some of the ‘treatment’ they dish out. It has to stop. It’s time to change the public perception of autism, from Autism-Negative to Autism-Positive.

So which one are YOU?


  1. Happy to be in the positive-autism camp :) love this blog post

  2. Positive is the only way I go.

  3. 100% positive!
    Well maybe not 100% but a happy dad of an autistic son who amazes me daily, not high or low function... just him..

  4. I know quite a few in-betweeners! For myself, would put myself 90% in the positive camp, but welcome any therapies and strategies that are respectful and compassionate and that help our autistic loved ones feel better in the world they have to live in, and help those who care for them feel less exhausted and alone.

  5. Thank you. I’m certainly trying but it’s so great to hear from different prospectives because I’ve obviously been negative through ignorance.

    1. I think a lot of parents are, Lucy. That's part of why I write my blog, to counter the negative stuff that too many parents get fed by the system, when their child is first diagnosed. ☺

  6. You want to know what it feels like on this planet being an aspie? It feels like you live your life feeling like you are from another planet. Sometimes it even makes me wonder.

    Proud positive aspie, no therapies and not diagnosed until 40.

  7. Like Annelies, I love my son as he is and I encourage and support him in his interests. I support his request for therapy to improve mood. He has a great therapist who also supports his interests. That said, we also encourage support group and social skills group to gradually develop additional skills that may benefit him in a world that doesn't understand autism and to help him meet his goal of decreasing loneliness.

  8. Happy camp....Definitely ��‼️

  9. I was diagnosed with Asperger's at the age of 23, I'll be 43 this April, and contrary to popular opinion, as posted by morons online, I am NOT retarded,

  10. Please answer this; is not the Proper Noun form for Autistic; Autist. Such as I am an Autist not I am Autistic.

  11. I have,from day 1, viewed autism as a gift. A very special gift. I tell my son that he is not disabled but rather "different abled". I have learned a lot of patience and positive solutions for everything. Though lately, because I have neglected myself, I could use some ideas of how I can get time to keep myself in good health when I have raised him most of his life, alone. His father, undiagnosed adult with autism, was killed by his own father who had never excepted him. It was and is so very sad but we can't stay there. But I wonder if there is a safe and nurturing place where 18 year old graduated high school. So he's the s doing well. He's verbal although we have occasions that we forget how to read each other and it escalates. Being an older single mom. And my son is 18, doesn't want to leave home. I don't mind if he lives at home but there in lies the problem. He needs help helping transition from teenager to young adult. I'm willing to even try moving