Monday 16 September 2019

All Autistics Are Traumatised

All autistics are traumatised.

This is the conclusion I’ve come to, after over ten years of being in the autistic community, listening to people’s stories, doing research, reading what parents of autistic kids have to say (and how they’re so often misinterpreting our behaviour), commiserating with our problems and woes, and thoroughly absorbing the general state of autistic lives and psyches.

We’re constantly being overloaded, stressed out, misunderstood, rejected, ridiculed, having our voices or our non-verbal attempts at communication ignored, having our intelligence denied or used as a putdown or an excuse not to give us services we desperately need, hearing ourselves described as ‘defective’ or ‘diseased’ or ‘damaged’, being excluded from schools, social gatherings or jobs, being bullied/beaten up/abused by family members or partners or schoolmates or so-called ‘friends’, with many of us ending up unemployed, poor, homeless, in mental health care or jail. We’re pushed to our limits and then over them. Constantly. Repeatedly. And then we’re told that “we’re not trying hard enough”, or that “we’ve brought it on ourselves”, and so on. The list is endless, you all know what we’ve had to endure, both individually and collectively.

There are undoubtedly some very young and/or lucky autistic kids with lovely, accepting parents out there, that haven’t yet been traumatised, but sooner or later, they will meet up with the circumstances that cause that trauma. They’ll be yelled at in a supermarket, encounter an unsympathetic teacher, get bullied in the playground or street, get overwhelmed in a mall and have their reaction misunderstood, (over)hear someone call them horrible things on TV or during ‘mom chats’ over coffee… and it will start.

I believe such traumas are inevitable, given the current public attitudes to autism and autistics. The only things that differ are to what *degree* we’re traumatised, and what our individual reaction to it is, at any given point in our lives.

But – and here’s the ghastly bind we’re in - too many people look at our traumatised state: the meltdowns, the fleeing, the banging our heads on walls, our extremes of emotion, our physical and sometime verbal lashing out, our problems in school or social situations or public places, or our co-occurring conditions or mental health problems, etc, etc, etc, and think/assume ‘Oh, that’s because they’re autistic, it’s an intrinsic part of their being autistic, therefore there’s nothing that can be done about it, look at them, they’re a huge problem for society, wouldn’t it be better if we could get rid of them/their autism/ensure more autistics aren’t born?’ And/or they see us only as ‘problems to be managed’ – something that tends to increase our trauma, not diminish it. With this attitude, about the best that can be expected is that they’re ‘nice’ to us, ie use us as inspiration porn.

This is so endemic, it even affects how we’re diagnosed. The indicators of our trauma are so engrained in the public and professional minds, they’ve become ‘diagnostic criteria’, so that kids or adults who don’t display such behaviours can either lose their diagnosis, or never get one in the first place. Even if our not displaying it is due to the pressures of ‘normalisation’, where we’ve been taught (or taught ourselves, in some cases) to hide our autistic traits and suppress those ‘symptoms’, at the expense of our long-term mental health. (Ie hiding the results of our trauma actually causes more trauma in the long run, which should be a no-brainer, but hey, you know, we’re not supposed to be human…)

But what if we were NOT constantly traumatised?

What if our autism was accepted from the beginning of our lives, and our families, childcare workers, teachers, etc, were educated about autism by autistics, and we were properly supported and accommodated through school, higher education, and into work? What if doctors, other professionals and autism organisations were truly educated about autism, and gave parents a positive view of autism, and referrals to autistic organisations, instead of all the doom-and-gloom stuff?

What if we were not assumed to be lacking in intelligence because we can’t use oral speech, or whatever speech we do have is limited, or ‘babyish’ sounding? What if we were taught to use sign language, cards and/or AAC systems right from when it first becomes obvious that we’re struggling with oral speech? What if we’re standardly given OT and various aids as soon as it’s seen we have trouble with movements? What if we were not laughed at because we’re adults who can’t tie our shoelaces or button our shirts? What if it was considered okay for adults to always wear polo- or t-shirts or slip-on shoes, and need help to cook/shower/whatever?

What if NT kids were taught social skills for interacting with us, while we were taught ‘this is how non-autistics think and feel and act, it’s up to you how much you want to do it’, rather than being effectively told that our way of being is ‘wrong’ or ‘defective, and forced into unnatural styles of interaction, simply to hopefully (and usually unsuccessfully) avert bullying and social rejection? What if NT adults were given awareness training too, in workplaces where autistic people work, or because they’re likely to come into contact with us in a professional situation, eg, cops, nurses, teachers, paramedics? What if it were simply a regular part of their training?

And what if supermarkets and malls and other shops had ‘quiet hours’ all the time? What if public ad campaigns about autism, similar to those about mental health, written by autistics and/or their allies, were regularly broadcast on TV? What if we had mentors to help us negotiate both social scenes and acquire practical skills, from getting our first job to getting a mortgage? For that matter, what if it became accepted practise for us to be considered for a job on our CV, references and a job trial, rather than be put through the torture of interviews, which we tend to fail?

I could go on, but you get the idea I’m sure. What if we weren’t being constantly traumatised? What if the whole public image of autism and autistics was turned around, and people actually accepted us as we are, and not only stopped abusing us, but gave us the support we really need? What kind of autistic would emerge? Who and what would we be?

I think we could be amazing. Actually, I think we already are, we just need the world to stop constantly dumping a tonne of excrement on us. Because if they did… we’d be even more amazing.

Saturday 7 September 2019

How To Dehumanise Autistics

Recently, I’ve seen a couple of items floating around social media either proposing that autistics should be killed, or that autistics and those who have autism running in their families should refrain from reproducing, to rid the world of the ‘scourge’ that is us.

Now, I don’t know if these are some horrible kind of satire or the work of (possibly fake) trolls, but it doesn’t really matter. Because it can only work as satire, or trolling, because there are plenty of people out there who DO have these attitudes, for real, even if they’re not usually so blunt about it.

These posts could be called ‘How To Dehumanise Autistics 101’. Here’s how you do it. (All italics are actual quotes from the above mentioned posts, some slightly abridged.)

1) Tell people that we are lacking in basic humanity.
Describe us in language that will frighten people who don’t really know much about autism. Tell them that we are not [in possession of] a fully aware sentient controlled mind, that we’re mental invalids, who are incapable of participating in the kindred spirit of human connection, that we have a deficiency of the essence of feeling, an inability to consider empathy, or that autism is the most inhumane, most destructive and dehumanising condition, in short that we’re the ultimate monstrosity.

2) Create an alarmist picture of ‘typical’ autistic behaviour.
Paint us as mass shooters blowing the brains out of kindergartners, or becoming stalkers, or simply as terrible things who tear our families to pieces, leaving our parents’ lives in ruins, who remain forever incapable of toilet training (what is with these neurophobes, that they always go straight to the faeces?), or the cause of public disturbances, or just claim that each of us cost the world a million dollars of medical care. A big part of much of this, of course, is assuming that we’re all low-functioning human pets, though even THAT picture is a distorted and incomplete one.

3) Insist our lives are ‘miserable’.
Tell people that we are doomed to suffering, spend our time banging [our] heads on the floor (or filling our pants, presumably), live lives of constant pain and hate [ourselves], and that those lives are incomplete, missing the most important components of humanity and sentient feelings. You might even claim that autistics themselves would like it if nobody would again suffer from the condition [we] have.

4) Suggest or even state outright that the world would be better off without us.
The bald advice of these people is to leave [us] by the riverside as babies, or that anyone on the autism spectrum or with… relatives with autism.. needs to be discouraged from reproducing. Because if you carry autistic genes… [they’re] not worth passing on. That we should dare to dream big, that we owe [it] to the future, in fact, to wipe autism from the face of the earth.

Never mind that much of this is contradicted by the evidence, eg that autistics actually have too much empathy, hyper-sensitivity, and all-too-aware minds. Never mind what should be obvious, eg that a kid banging their head on the floor is either in pain or in an extreme of rage and frustration. Never mind that most of us do not consider our lives, or ourselves, or our minds, ‘incomplete’, or ‘lacking’ in anything but acceptance and understanding from others. Never mind even that much of our ‘pain’ is actually caused by that lack of acceptance and understanding. Yes, even the so-called ‘low functioning’ (a label that is essentially meaningless in practical terms anyway). The attitude of those around us is *THE* biggest single indicator of the quality of autistic lives. Period.

Actually, never mind common sense or facts at all. Just go for the jugular, and fill people up with so much fear of us that they’ll agree to anything to get rid of us.

That’s how you dehumanise autistics.

We have been abused, beaten, denied basic human rights, had our intelligence discredited, been tortured with ABA, had bleach or turps or other horrible things shoved up our bums or down our throats, had our authentic autistic selves forcibly or even violently repressed, and much, much more, including sometimes being killed, because of attitudes like this.

I suspect that people like this haven’t actually met any autistics, even those who would be considered ‘low-functioning’, they’re just going by some mental image of ‘what an autistic is’. They certainly haven’t met me, or any of my friends. They haven’t seen their beautiful souls, their depth of compassion, their empathy for the underdog, their ability to create communities and support each other (that ‘kindred spirit’ it’s claimed we don’t have), their joy in their favourite interests, or helping others, or simply in small things like a drop of dew in a flower.

But I repeat – these people are have only *publicly* stated what many others are thinking or feeling, without much reflection. The media, the ‘martyr/warrior mommy’ movement, and Certain Big Autism Organisations who don’t actually include us or even attempt to understand us are largely responsible for this, but the attitudes are rife in the general public as well.

It’s these attitudes, not autistics, that I believe should be ‘left by the riverside’, and ‘wiped from the face of the earth’. Enough with the dehumanising. We’re people. We’re human. We’re here to stay. And we deserve better than to be treated this way.