April 2019 Review: William Shatner, ABA Apologism, and More

Another year, another April; by now we know the drill. This isn’t gonna be some encouraging post asking Autistics to stand up defiant like the one I made last year, though I stand by those encouragements (and granted, the post itself was kind of cringe-worthy, looking back at it – the message was good, but the delivery could have used a touch or two).

 

However, I’ve decided to start doing an annual review of the month of April, of Autism “Awareness” (or “Beware-ness”) Month, colloquially known as Autistic Acceptance Month within neurodiversity circles, where I will be reviewing some major Autism-related events from April, all the while discussing my own perspectives on said material.

So, without further ado, let us get started.

 

First off: in similar fashion to last year (and if I recall correctly, the year before), William Shatner, an actor best known for playing Captain Kirk on Star Trek (I haven’t seen much Star Trek as I’m more of a Star Wars fan), once again continued to show his support for Autism Speaks.

 

I believe we can all agree that Autistic people are pretty decently represented in fandom groups, particularly what are considered the “nerdy” ones, from Star Wars, to Star Trek, and everything in between. For many of us these things may be “special interests”, interests we are passionate about and thus end up learning and knowing a lot about, attaining levels of knowledge far beyond that of many non-autistic individuals.

 

As such, when Shatner first announced that he was sponsoring Autism Speaks, the Autistic community, particularly Autistic Star Trek fans, quickly moved on Twitter to try to educate him and explain to him why supporting Autism Speaks was a bad idea. Unfortunately, he was rather dismissive of this criticism, dismissing us as a “vocal minority”, moving the goalposts, and, in a typical reactionary fashion, acting as though he was being “bullied”.

 

This year, however, Bill Shatner doubled down, publicly supporting or defending some rather horrendous things. In this case, electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), better known as “shock therapy”. ECT is a part of ABA, a form of conversion therapy in which, through manipulative tactics based on the dogma of behaviourism, Autistic individuals are coerced into mimicking neurotypicals, at our expense – with the stated goal of “reducing Autistic behaviours”, which basically refers to extinguishing stimming and forcing eye-contact.

 

I have made other posts on this blog talking about stimming and importance – and more of those posts will be coming over time. ABA is horrible, and it is unfortunate that the ABA lobby still manages to rally such support (same with Autism Speaks, though). However, if Shatner was only supporting ABA, I could at least somewhat understand that he has been taught that this is a good thing. ABA “therapists” are, after all, experts at manipulating and gaslighting people (I mean, they do it for a living), and they continue to, successfully push the idea that ABA is the “gold standard”, only “evidence based” “therapy” for Autistic people, and worse, our only hope at not living horrific, tragic lives (and ironically, being the very reason many of us do live horrific, tragic, and short lives).

 

Supporting ABA out of ignorance is something the Autistic community at large is working to gradually push back against – but supporting ECT for Autistic people, utilized through ABA, is seriously crossing a line. For one, electric-shocking has been banned in many places, including in the USA, where some centers still use it, such as the Judge Rotenberg Center (JRC), an older ABA center which has somehow managed to withstand multiple campaigns to dismantle its’ use of such torturous aversives.

 

Secondly, electric shocking people is just plain inhumane, particularly to get them to stop behaviour that neurotypicals deem “undesirable”. This is compounded by the fact that animals are treated better than this. That can be said for ABA as a whole, however, which is as much based upon animal training principles as it is of gay conversion therapy – in fact, some might say that animals, whom are often taught skills like “intelligent disobedience”, are given more independence and autonomy than Autistics.

 

Seeing a celebrity with such a large number of followers promoting such a dangerous, harmful, and evil practice was disconcerting to say the least, and it was something I did not expect even from him. And when called on it, he continued to dismiss, belittle, and re-tweet us, with the blatant intention of inciting his fans to target and harass those of us who were criticizing him – and harass us they did.

 

A couple of my friends had to temporarily lock down their Twitter, making their tweets protected in order to shield themselves (to which Shatner screenshotted their tweets to continue to sic his followers on them), and I also had a few exchanges with his fans. Some of them were willing to have a discussion in good faith, which we did – and I and fellow Autistics managed to change a few minds or at the very least, have a productive discussion – which is always nice, especially in a time and environment (such as Twitter) where productive discussion is rare.

 

The most unpleasant exchange I had was with another senior individual, who, after throwing several sub-par insults, decided to rub it in my face by making a donation to Autism Speaks, and taking a screenshot of him doing it. There were many others who attacked me – most of whom were pretty easy to deal with, but this was one that left me angry for several days. It’s one thing if you disagree with someone on an organization, but to then donate to said organization and rub it in their face (especially when I was demonstrating evidence showing a former executive of their group fantasizing about murdering her Autistic daughter) is beyond deplorable.

 

Then again, the whole exchange left me feeling angry and uncomfortable, particularly due to people believing that the mother’s attitude was in any way justifiable. It is very concerning that people continue to believe this in spite of the Autistic community’s efforts to kick this mentality to the curb, because it literally kills us.

 

In the end, many of them, including Shatner himself, blocked me, either because I bested them in a debate, or because I’m not the kind of person to stand around and take nonsense, especially when my friends and comrades are under attack.

 

In addition to Shatner, there has been a continuing backlash against the neurodiversity movement and the Autistic community. As we gain ground, certain groups seem hell-bent in pushing us back; in trying to show us our “place”.

 

This has largely manifested through the hate group known as the “Autistic Dark Web”, a group of reactionary, far/alt-right Autistics who portray themselves as self-styled revolutionaries. In a nutshell, they claim that Autistic people should stop acting like “victims” and submit to the status quo, all the while themselves acting like “victims” whenever we speak out against them. Likewise, they claim that we are vile, mean bullies, while several members of their movement have gone out of their way to harass prominent Autistics, often simply for expressing joy at being Autistic.

 

The dark web opposes the neurodiversity movement, but, as per my previous article addressing the six most common myths about the movement, most, if not all their arguments stem from one of the myths on that list; the most common one being regarding functioning labels. Needless to say, the people on the dark web are mostly Autistics who have grown to support eugenics and curebie rhetoric, but try to justify it by referring to “severe” Autism as opposed to “high functioning” Autism, despite them never truly being able to give a concrete definition for either, as well as ignoring the so-called “severe” autistics who actually support the neurodiversity movement.

 

The Autistic “dark web”, at the end of the day, has nothing productive or useful in either its’ praxis or criticism. Most of their time is merely spent giving out fallacious “criticisms” of the neurodiversity movement or harassing pro-neurodiversity activists online, and then turning around and acting like they’re the victim.

 

Next up: ABA. Much of the issues this month that I am talking about are coming from Twitter, and this is no exception. Unfortunately, Twitter can be a rather toxic place for many reasons, and it doesn’t help that people only have 140 characters to express themselves. In this case, Autistics who oppose ABA are generally at odds with self-proclaimed “warrior parents” and ABA “therapists” who are defending ABA, claiming it “works”.

 

Many of the participants in this new front in what I like to term the “Autistic revolution” are actually from my home province of Ontario, Canada. Ontario’s current government (whom I do not at all support, particularly as a left-leaning person who is deeply concerned by the resurgence of far-right political movements), managed to inadvertently do one good thing, which was scrapping the old Ontario Autism Plan.

 

Like with most of their other cuts, this was not done out of benevolence or any real motivation other than to give tax cuts to rich billionaires and whatever new fringe agenda Doug Ford has decided to finance, whether it’s cheap liquor, horse-racing, or frivolous changes to Ontario’s logo. Additionally, the fact that our provincial government has also generally cut funds to education and other social services (including disability support initiatives), does not bode well for the future of disabled people at all.

 

However, the one positive side effect is that the Ford government effectively got rid of the majority of government-funded ABA. Sadly, thanks to the ABA lobby pushing Autistic conversion therapy as the “gold standard” for Autistics, and labeling anything not based upon behaviour analysis as fraudulent or ineffective, and further co-opting other (better) proven methods into their practices (such as AAC usage), Applied Behaviour Analysis was the only “therapy” covered by the previous governments under universal healthcare. So, while cutting funds for Autistic kids might seem terrible, upon examining it more carefully, one realizes that in a sense, it was also kind of good.

 

In Ontario, and the rest of Canada, Autistic-led activist groups are rising up and gaining ground, which has been excellent. Groups like A4A Ontario and Autistics United Canada are changing the landscape of Canadian Autistic advocacy and pointing things in a more positive, productive direction, and we strive to connect and work with the relevant governments and politicians to create meaningful changes to Autism policies, and to build and engage our local communities.

 

As is also happening as self-advocacy movements continue to spread, however, is the inevitable clash between us, the ones who should have been taking the lead from the start, and those who have had the power from the start and do not wish to share it. And thus: members of these groups, from “martyr mommies” to BCBAs (Board Certified Behaviour Analysts), to members of other Autism lobby groups, had taken to starting fights with us on Twitter. It is all the typical “you don’t speak for my child!”, “you’re not like my child”, “but ABA helped MY child and you can’t tell me otherwise”, that one might usually expect from ABA apologists, accompanied with excessive levels of verbal abuse and hostility.

 

Initially, as I generally do, I humoured some of these people, I engaged in conversations with some of them in good faith when possible, and I did my best to civilly educate the general public on why ABA is harmful – however, I still got into the occasional scuffle.

 

There is a part of me that likes to get into skirmishes now and then; a part of me that somewhat enjoys a good fight; that relishes in the thrill and feeling of battle, of righteous anger. However, April is an exhausting month. In addition to a very volatile environment within the Autism community and growing political tensions, the world itself seems to be turning into a more aggressive and hostile place. From the bombing of churches during religious celebrations, to a concerning increase in hate crimes, a rise in terrorism, and a surge of far-right political movements; from an all-around increase in hate and polarization around the world, to having to bear witness to that cringeworthy Sonic the Hedgehog movie trailer, this month starts to take more of a toll than usual.

 

When it comes to social media, and this is a lesson I have yet to master – pick your battles carefully. The task to educate the world and solve conflicts simply cannot fall to one person and taking on too many issues at once will leave you drained and ineffective. And if you are being harassed online, as tempting as it is to respond, sometimes you need to block the blatant trolls for your own inner peace. This is something I have trouble with often, but it is something I also desperately need to learn.

 

I want to at least try to end my review on a positive note, so I will talk about Greta Thunberg, who continues to rise in popularity, particularly as people are starting to acknowledge her Autistic nature, and the role it plays in her activism.

 

For those unaware, Greta Thunberg is one of the youngest people to be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. She received worldwide attention and fame for initiating a climate strike in her home country of Sweden, subsequently inspiring many other climate rallies around the planet.

 

The thing that makes me so happy to see Greta doing what she does, is how she is also openly and unapologetically Autistic, and speaks a lot about how being Autistic is what enabled her to see through the lies of society, particularly climate change deniers, and gave her the drive to stand up and do something about it. It was particularly delightful to hear her speak about how she feels that in some ways, neurotypicals are the “strange” ones – a sentiment most Autistics understand quite well. Each time I see another article being written about an Autistic child (or adult) being inspired by Greta’s story, it makes me feel delighted.

 

As predicted however, though the sheer audacity was still shocking, Greta has received hate now and then – particularly from conservative lobbyists and climate change deniers, some of whom try to spread the lie that she is being exploited (implying that Autistics cannot think for ourselves), or encouraging and spreading hopes that she is triggered into an Autistic meltdown within the public eye so she can be “discredited”.

 

Greta, however, stands unabated by these attacks, refusing to back down.

 

And that is an example we must continue to follow every April, and every day of our lives.

 

 

 

 

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Six Common Myths About Neurodiversity

Neurodiversity. This term has grown in popularity over the last few years. In fact, it has reached a point where if you spend enough time in circles where people discuss Autism, you are bound to hear this term at some point or another. This, of course, is a good thing.

 

The fact that the neurodiversity movement is expanding, that more and more individuals are starting to shift over to this new way of thinking, and that the terminology of the neurodiversity paradigm is finding itself used more and more in mainstream media, pop culture, and society at large, is a great testament to the hard work of Autistic activists around the world. It is heartwarming to see more and more people, countries, and societies that are recognizing Autistic (and other neurodivergent) individuals as important cornerstones of society, rather than as freaks of nature, burdens to society, or worse, diseases/disorders in need of “curing” or prevention.

 

However, the widespread recognition of neurodiversity, like the popularization of any idea, and particularly with the popularization of a brand-new social movement, has led to misconceptions. Sometimes, these misconceptions are peddled from our own side: fellow pro-neurodiversity advocates who did not do their homework and thus do not fully understand the tenets of the neurodiversity paradigm, or what the movement’s beliefs really entail. (I was once this person.)

 

Much more common, however, is, again, similar to most emerging social movements, is backlash. More specifically, backlash from reactionaries – who are more interested in stamping out the movement rather than actually working with us to get things done. And in effect, a lot of strawman arguments come from this backlash: that is, people will write extensive think-pieces about the neurodiversity movement, but few of them actually make a point. That is: few of them actually criticize anything the neurodiversity movement actually stands for. (I was, for an even shorter time, once this person too.)

A “strawman” is a logical fallacy in which people exaggerate or misrepresent another person’s view in an effort to make them look foolish and strike them down (“straw men”). In this case, it takes the form of mischaracterizing or perpetuating myths about what we really stand for.

 

Whether coming from well-meaning advocates who do not fully understand the neurodiversity paradigm, to members of the “Autistic Dark Web”, a reactionary cult-like following that aims to slander the neurodiversity movement (and harass Autistic pro-neurodiversity advocates on Twitter), here are some of the most common myths and misconceptions about neurodiversity.

 

Myth #1: “Neurodiversity is just a bogus opinion”

 

One of the most common things I notice in attempts at criticizing the neurodiversity movement – in fact, the first thing I usually notice – is something that starts like this:

 

“Neurodiversity is this bogus idea that _______” or “We don’t need no stinkin’ neurodiversity!” or pretty much anything that starts with “neurodiversity is/entails _______”.

 

It is from that point on that I am almost certain that the “criticisms” of neurodiversity will amount to nothing. This is because neurodiversity, by itself, is not an opinion, viewpoint, or mindset at all. These are concepts built around neurodiversity. But they are not neurodiversity.

 

Neurodiversity is, quite plainly, the diversity of brains and minds. Neurodiversity is a biological fact. Its’ parent term, biodiversity – the diversity of life – is as much a fact as neurodiversity. Neurodiversity is as real and valid as other recognized forms of diversity – cultural, ethnic, religious, gender, sexual orientation, etc., and neurodivergent people deserve the same protections afforded (or should be afforded) to said groups.

 

When people form ideologies and philosophies that are centered around neurodiversity, that value neurodiversity, that is not neurodiversity itself. Philosophies that work with the concepts of neurodiversity fall under the neurodiversity paradigm, which, coined by Autistic Nick Walker, refers to the view that neurodiversity is a good thing: that neurodiversity is a healthy, natural form of diversity, and should be embraced and accommodated, much like other forms of diversity – and that they are subject to the same power dynamics of privilege and oppression that have historically affected (and continue to affect) other forms of diversity. It is the opposite of the pathology paradigm (also coined by Walker), describing the idea that there is only one correct, normal way for a human brain/mind to function, and that anything deviating from that range of “normal” is a disease. This is antithetical to the neurodiversity paradigm, which posits that just because something deviates from what society ascribes “normal” doesn’t make it inherently bad or undesirable. One can argue against this paradigm, but they cannot say that “neurodiversity” itself is false, and one cannot say that “neurodiversity” itself is a philosophy or movement.

 

The civil rights movement based upon the neurodiversity movement, similarly, is aptly titled the neurodiversity movement. Proponents of the neurodiversity paradigm and movement can be considered to be “pro-neurodiversity”, as we see neurodiversity as a good thing.

 

Neurodiversity, in and of itself, however, is simply a fact of life. It is an obvious, verifiable fact that peoples’ brains and minds differ. If you take a group of random people and scan their brains, and look at how different people sense, react and relate to the world around them, you will easily find that peoples’ brains and minds are different, and that certain groups of people with certain brains and minds act similarly, thus making up a neurominority (such as Autistics), while the general range of what we consider “normal” is a neuromajority (aka neurotypical people).

 

People who criticize movements for cultural justice would never claim that “cultural diversity doesn’t exist”. They may oppose multiculturalism, they may oppose having cultural diversity (which is a bad thing to oppose), but nobody would seriously argue that cultural diversity itself s a bogus myth.

 

This leads to another common misconception, and one I used to believe years ago.

 

Myth #2: “The Neurodiversity movement is only about Autism.”

 

The neurodiversity movement was created by an Autistic woman, Judy Singer, in the 1990’s. And the vast majority of neurodiversity activists since, particularly those who make new and big contributions to the movement, are often Autistic too. And the movement does, at its’ core, focus on Autism, and Autistic rights and liberation. That is the origin, and that is its’ current main focus and trajectory.

 

However, as time slowly passes, the neurodiversity movement, like other movements, have expanded. The neurodiversity movement is continuing to expand – slowly, but surely.

 

As mentioned above: Neurodiversity is the diversity of brains and minds. This means all brains and minds. Neurodiversity is about fighting for the empowerment and emancipation of all neurodivergences – from changing the way we view neurodivergence as something medically wrong with a person to one of diversity and acceptance, advocating strongly against discrimination or targeting someone based on neurodivergence, and supporting inclusion and accommodation for others.

 

Neurodivergence itself can cover a lot of things – developmental neurodivergences, such as Autism or Dyslexia, to psychological/psychiatric neurodivergence – anything currently classified as a “mental illness”, even to brain injuries and trauma, and neurodivergences associated with that, such as trigeminal neuralgia or epilepsy. [The term neurodivergent was coined by Autistic activist Kassiane, otherwise known as Neurodivergent K, who runs the Radical Neurodivergence Speaking blog.]

 

As such, the neurodiversity paradigm and movement advocates for all sorts of neurodivergences, and various causes relating to those. For instance, we (and I in particular), am very invested in fighting the stereotype that people with psychiatric diagnoses are more prone to violence, or a “risk” to others, and then discriminating against them because of that. I am against scapegoating neurodivergent or Autistic people when one of us happens to commit a crime (while simultaneously ignoring those of us who do good things). (I will be writing a blog post about this very, very soon, actually – been planning it for over a year now.) I am also against gun control laws that discriminate against neurodivergent people (which is something of controversy and debate).

 

The neurodiversity movement advocates for all neurodivergent people. It advocates to recognize and respect the diverse ways in which people’s minds work. It fights against discrimination and stands up for inclusion and accommodation.

 

In some ways, this carries over to the next myth about neurodiversity – and this is probably the most common myth, and definitely the most cited one. It is the go-to strawman for every reactionary, every martyr warrior mommy, every person who is interested in attempting to discredit what we stand for.

 

Myth #3: The neurodiversity movement does not recognize neurodivergence as disabilities.

 

I am trying to keep things civil for the sake of writing an informative post, but this widespread lie makes me want to bang my head on my desk, rather hard. The moment I see anything remotely resembling such an insinuation, I am pretty much certain that the person writing another so-called “criticism” of the neurodiversity movement is full of bullsh*t. This myth is without a doubt, one of the greatest strawman arguments of all time.

 

First off, the neurodiversity movement has effectively become the subset of the disability rights movement as a whole – and I could just end this myth-busting right there, but I won’t.

 

Literally NOBODY in the neurodiversity movement – aside from perhaps some who, again, did not do their homework and does not fully understand what the movement entails – ever implies that neurodivergent people (such as Autistics) are not disabled. In fact, proponents of the neurodiversity movement do not shy away from saying disabled and reject euphemisms such as “differently-abled” quite strongly.

 

The difference, however, lies in how a person views disability. One of the first things a person learns if one is to study the theory or philosophy of disability are the different models of disability. The medical model of disability (similar to the pathology paradigm) entails the dominant narrative of disabled people being seen as defective versions of “normal” that we need to accommodate. The social model of disability, on the other hand, (corresponding to the neurodiversity paradigm/movement), is an outlook recognizing disabilities as forms of diversity: everyone has strengths and weaknesses. Everyone has things they cannot do, and things they can do rather well. What disables a person (aka what separates ‘inability’ from disability) is when society is set up in such a way that it discriminates or does not account for people whose minds or bodies work in certain ways. Thus: there is no default human, no factory model for how people’s minds and bodies ought to work – and it is society that disables people.

 

The social model of disability, upon which the disability rights movement and other more progressive theories on disability, works toward disability justice by fighting for accessibility and inclusion.

 

The neurodiversity paradigm advocates for these very same things, focusing more on the needs of neurodivergent people. Both the social model and the neurodiversity paradigm are very important, as it is essential to fight for the rights of neurodivergent and physically disabled individuals.

 

The neurodiversity movement acknowledges that Autistics and other neurodivergent people are disabled. However, we prescribe to the social model of disability, and we believe that the medical model does not lead to proper solutions and inevitably leads to stigmatization and maltreatment. Instead, we focus on inclusion and accommodation, and how we can make a person’s life better without trying to “fix” them.

 

Myth #4: “Pro-neurodiversity/Autistic activists say that being Autistic is all sunshine and rainbows!”

 

Literally no one, Autistic or otherwise, has ever claimed that being Autistic is a universal walk in the park. Being Autistic is hard. Being Autistic can be stressful. From sensory overloads to meltdowns, to facing maltreatment and discrimination from over 70% of society, sometimes being Autistic can be hellish. Nobody would ever claim that being Autistic is always a walk in the park. And people who make that claim know this: anyone who says this is being dishonest.

 

People who oppose the neurodiversity movement, though, assume that just because we talk about Autism positively, that we acknowledge and share the positive aspects of being Autistic (and there are many), that we show that our lives are worth living, and that we like being Autistic, are indicative of us ignoring the struggles or pretending that being Autistic is perfect.

This is not only incorrect, but completely disingenuous. Just because we acknowledge the positive aspects of something does not mean we do not acknowledge difficult aspects or problems with it. Conversely, just because we acknowledge that being Autistic has difficulties, it does not mean we see being Autistic as some kind of horrible tragedy or a life/death sentence.

 

Most of us have nuanced views on Autism. We see being Autistic as something neutral; something that just is – with many also arguing that the positives outweigh the negatives. We believe that being Autistic is still worth it in the end.

 

One thing that we do consistently postulate is that the struggles of being Autistic, primarily occur due to a lack of accessibility, or, in other words, how society treats Autistic people. From a lack of inclusion/segregation in schools, to sensory unfriendly environments, to forcing us to “mask” being Autistic (supressing stims, forcing eye-contact and making us imitate neurotypicals) – commonly done through procedures like ABA, to consistently gaslighting our perceptions and violating our autonomy and then turning around and claiming it is “for our own good” – these are the primary causes of Autistic struggle. And these struggles have one thing in common: they are rooted in the pathology paradigm, in the idea that Autism is a disease or “disorder” that needs to be “treated” or “cured” away. This is but one example of how the pathology paradigm harms everyone while attempting/pretending to help us.

 

The neurodiversity movement, meanwhile, focuses on accommodating Autistic individuals so that, while we may still have certain challenges or impairments, they should not impede our ability to live life to the fullest, or bar us from fully participating in society.

 

We do think being Autistic is awesome in many ways – but not without its’ struggles. Struggles that need to be understood and accommodated.

 

This myth goes hand-in-hand with the next myth, which is another common one: just as, if not more common than the previous misconception.

 

Myth #5: The neurodiversity movement only cares about “high functioning” Autistics.

 

Again, this is untrue, as described above. We recognize the struggles that all Autistics face, whilst also advocating for each individual’s strengths. However, more importantly, this is a blatant strawman of our true position.

 

It’s not that we care for “high” or “low” or “mild” or “severe” Autistics more or less: more so, that we reject functioning and severity levels altogether. Perhaps one can debate us on that (good luck winning, though), but to say we only care about “high functioning” Autistics is a deviation from the fact that we recognize that “high/low/mild/severe” Autism doesn’t exist.

 

There are countless think-pieces written on both the uselessness and the harmfulness of functioning labels. I will briefly touch upon these, though the main purpose of this essay is again to focus specifically on myth-busting.

 

The basic summary is that functioning levels, aside from being completely arbitrary and ambiguous and having no concrete definition, are a silencing tactic. Any Autistic person who questions the status quo or lays down truths people do not wish to hear, are told, “you’re too high functioning” to have an opinion on the matter. That they couldn’t possibly speak for “severe/low functioning Autistics”.

 

Of course, given that many of these interactions take place online, never mind the fact that most of the time they have no idea about one’s life and struggles; they will use functioning labels as a way of moving the goalposts, evidenced by how they change the definition of “low functioning” with each shift. I’ll give a basic example below:

 

“You’re not like those Autistics! You don’t bang your head in the wall or have meltdowns!”

 

“Actually, I have struggled a lot with self harm, sometimes still do, and have had aggressive meltdowns before.”

 

“Yeah, but you’re verbal!”

 

“Actually, there are periods when I go nonverbal during stress, during which I use AAC (Augmentative Adaptive Communication).” (Or, alternatively, the person they are arguing with may actually be nonspeaking.)

 

“Well, you can type this and express thoughts, therefore you’re clearly not too Autistic to have an opinion!”

 

That last statement is where the shifted goalposts typically end – and this pretty much sums up the perpetuation of this myth. Functioning labels are a silencing tactic, and what they are really saying is that Autistic people cannot and should not have opinions.

 

It is also worth mentioning that some of the loudest voices for the neurodiversity movement, come from people who would be considered “low functioning” or “severe” by proponents of such useless terms. This fact is often ignored, mostly because it is inconvenient to the narrative of anti-neurodiversity reactionaries.

 

When people say that the neurodiversity movement ignores “those Autistics”/ “that kind of Autism”, they are simply wrong. We advocate for the inclusion of ALL Autistics, regardless of ability or background. The only reason people think we don’t care about certain Autistic people is because we speak of all Autistics in humanizing, respectful, non-exploitative ways.

 

Autism is not a linear spectrum. It is better described as a continuum, or a colour wheel, with people falling into different areas of strengths and shortcomings. Autistic traits overlap, too – fully speaking Autistics can struggle with meltdowns or self-harm. Nonspeaking Autistics can be able to articulate themselves excellently through writing and are often capable of demonstrating excellent intellect when supported. Some Autistics speak less early on yet become very articulate later on in life. We are all different, and we all learn and grow at different paces.

 

Myth #6: The neurodiversity movement opposes all forms of therapy.

 

This is another myth that is perpetuated, often by the ABA lobby. That because we support acceptance, that because we oppose ABA because of its’ abusive history, we must automatically therefore oppose all forms of therapy and support that an Autistic may require. This is another gross strawman.

 

We support any therapy or support system that is inclusive and respectful. This also means that it respects the autonomy of the individual in question. Many neurodiversity activists are also very strongly against forced treatment, including involuntary commitment and other forms of psychological/psychiatric coercion.

 

More importantly, as we believe in inclusion and accessibility, we support any sort of system, technology (like AAC), or therapy that helps include Autistics.

 

The neurodiversity movement, however, does condemn the mindset that Autistic individuals need to be “fixed” or “cured”, as we have seen time and time again that this inevitably leads to abuse.

 

The only therapies that we truly condemn are those based on abusive principles, like ABA, or those which are blatantly fraudulent, such as anything that claims to biomedically “cure” Autism.

 

On the whole, pro-neurodiversity activists generally oppose anything that treats neurodivergence as a pathology that needs fixing, and rather focuses on accommodation.

 

To this end, we are not anti-medication, as certain drugs are proven to help neurodivergent folks – and we support having easier access to said drugs. That being said, many of us are against forced medication under any circumstance, as often happens in psychiatric units. Psychological autonomy, also known as cognitive liberty, is a cornerstone of the neurodiversity movement.

 

The neurodiversity movement recognizes the current power dynamics present in many situations involving therapy and treatments – and as such, we are wary of the potential for abuse and harm, which continues to be rampant. And unlike those who have nothing better to do than complain about us, we actually campaign and work to solve these problems through speaking out.

 

Closing thoughts:

 

These are only a few of the common myths, misconceptions, and straw-man arguments thrown around regarding the neurodiversity movement. However, most of the arguments that I have seen fall into one of these six categories at some level or another.

 

The neurodiversity movement is a civil rights movement. Like every other social movement that advocates for equality and human rights, it will face backlash. It will face opposition. But this does not in any way undermine the importance of the movement.

 

That being said, it is important to listen to the needs of others, and it is essential that we listen and address valid criticisms, whether they be of individual advocates, or a trend within the neurodiversity movement as a whole that could be better handled. And having these important conversations is crucial for improvement.

 

However, it is equally important to realize when a person is not arguing in good faith. Many of us are already limited on energy in a world that taxes us to our limit every day, and it is better not spent fighting with trolls or wallowing in toxicity.

 

One may oftentimes find that a person’s opposition to the neurodiversity movement is inversely proportional to one’s understanding of it.

Blog Updates & The Future of “The Autistinquisitor”

Hello, everybody.

This post has been a long time coming. I had many plans for this blog since I started it, including weekly posts that I had started making around the beginning of 2018.

Unfortunately, it was around this time last year that I was hit with a sudden incident – an situation that initially seemed minor, but over time, dragged on indefinitely, and continued to get worse – it seemed that just as things would start to settle down and the situation move toward a resolution, something new would suddenly emerge and things would get more tense/worse. If anyone reading this has ever played Call of Duty: Black Ops Zombies, you can think of it like the changing round theme:

 

Anyhow, memes & jokes aside, 2018 was a very difficult and challenging year for me on many fronts. And while I am currently not at liberty to share the full story, once the waters clear it is something I intend to do – to prevent future occurrences, particularly, and to spread awareness of the fact that these things commonly happen to Autistics sadly.

When 2019 rolled around, I decided that I wanted to turn things around for good. Learning from the hardships of the previous year, I no longer wished to be stuck doing nothing, hardly traveling outside my home, feeling constantly depressed, and taking a less active role within the Autistic community.

I suppose one can say, that my “new year’s resolution” (if people even do those things anymore) was to take a more active role within the Autistic community, to no longer hold myself back, to put myself out there, and to rebuild my life.

When it comes to holding back, I say that specifically because like many Autistics, I have  great ideas, but I do not always take the opportunity to act on them – sometimes because of fear, such as the fear of inadequacy. And that brings me to finally announce the future of my blog, The Autistinquisitor.

This has been a long time coming. Since I joined the Autistic community and found my place within the Neurodiversity Movement, I have always wanted to innovate. To pioneer. I have always thought of myself as one who likes to find unconventional solutions to problems, to think of unconventional approaches, much like many Autistics. This innovative, inquisitive spirit was partially what inspired me to name my blog, “The Autistinquisitor”.

But now I realize that this blog has more potential than I initially thought. Yes, I want, like many of my Autistic comrades, to have a blog where I can both express my thoughts, and educate the populace on the neurodiversity movement and paradigm. But I want to do so much more than just that.

Taking inspiration from some other Autistics such as Amythest Schaber(neurowonderful) or Christa Holmans (Neurodivergent Rebel), I will be expanding The Autistinquisitor.

Alongside maintaining a blog where I will continue to post articles, I will also be resurrecting the Autistinquisitor YouTube channel, and have started a Twitter account .

I have a new vision, which is to eventually transform The Autistinquisitor into an independent Autistic-run media “channel” that both contributes to Autistic activism, and shows Autistic lives from the lens of the neurodiversity paradigm.

This goal, of course, is not an easy task. But as the saying goes, Rome was not built in a day. And so: day by day, I will continue to work on making this vision happen.

So in the meantime, what can you expect from The Autistinquisitor in the foreseeable future?

When it comes to my blog, I intend to re-vamp frequent postings; either weekly, or bi-weekly. I will also re-write older articles (and label them as re-written). I will start to address both current and older issues facing the Autistic community – some of these articles were meant to be written months ago, but will be published in the weeks and months following.

When it comes to YouTube. I have a bunch of more ambitious projects coming. In my bid to create an Autistic media channel, I, along with a close local friend, have been working on the creation of an Autistic original semi-fictional action-comedy series. The name is TBD (to be determined). I plan on creating more original Autistic series as well.

The first episode of said series will release in May 2019, followed by a teaser for future episodes.

In the mean time, I may work to organize other videos to be posted on my channel, such as video chats or discussions with fellow Autistics on different issues affecting our community.

 

I am looking forward to my return to “active duty”, as I like to humorously call it – and I am glad to finally be back in the game. Hopefully permanently, this time.

An Unorthodox Autistic Perspective on Stimming: Empowerment, not Weakness

This post was written in honour of the first “International Day of the Stim”, started by Autistic advocacy group A4A Ontario. 

 

What’s one of the most surefire ways to identify an Autistic out in the open? What’s one of the primary ways Autistic people express themselves, and the first thing we are either forced to, or strive to suppress via social pressure, in order to pass as neurotypical?

 

Stimming.

 

In short order: stimming is the verb connotation of stim, short for self-stimulatory, which refers to activities, often of a repetitive nature, that stimulate and regulate the sensory, cognitive, and nervous system.

Stimming is something everyone does. In fact, it could be argued that all species, not just humans, stim in one form or another. Perhaps any living being with a sensory system does it. That goes into speculative territory, sure. But the fact remains: everyone stims.

 

And yet stimming is mostly recognized in Autistics. Why? Because we stim differently. We stim more, too.

Autistics are more sensitive. We have a chaotic and complex sensory system, which requires stimming to regulate, and to gather and channel energy. Thus we need to stim more often, and sometimes differently. This was covered in a previous entry, where I discuss the popularization of stim toys such as fidget spinners.

 

Stimming and other actions are normalized among non-autistic populations, because their stimming is often more subtle, and viewed as more acceptable. The way we do it, isn’t.

For months now, I have observed the different ways that Autistics and non-autistics stim, and I have come to this conclusion: while there are differences in Autistic and non-autistic stimming, one major difference is that common Autistic stims are often stronger/more intense variations of non-autistic stims. Whether vocal pattern-shouts, hand gestures and motions, leg-bouncing or other subtle movements, our stims are often not too different, just more frequent and visible.

Many of our stims are also different, however, as, after all, they are a form of self-expression, and every Autistic is unique. Stims, despite being a universal and common trait of life, are still deeply personal and depend on the individual. This, however, also means that they need to be respected.

And this is not a bad thing at all. It, again, simply reflects what we know about Autism, and what Autistics have known since forever: stimming regulates and powers up the senses. And in our case, can even help us take advantage of the unique and often supernatural strengths of Autistic sensory perception, while mitigating the inevitable downsides that come with everything in life.

There is much research and investigation, even from fellow Autistics, that go into ways to cope with sensory overloads, how to generate extra energy to complete tasks, and more. And while these projects are well-intentioned and should continue, they seem to overlook a natural tool we have at our disposal: stimming.

Almost all of the strengths, as well as challenges of Autism can often boil down to sensory issues – in fact, this is arguably the most defining trait of Autism, with every Autistic experiencing it in a slightly different way, but still with common links. And we all have our own unique stims alongside them: coping mechanisms, and tools, to regulate and energize ourselves.

An Autistic person’s stims are as unique as the Autistic person. Each Autistic will prefer to stim in a different way, but a common and universally recognized one is the hand flap, and many stims are variations of this. But it doesn’t stop there, by any means. It can vary from subtle things like leg-bouncing, hair twirling, tapping, to bolder and more noticeable things, like spinning, jumping, rocking.

Stims can range from unrefined and erratic movements, to graceful, controlled stims – something a lot of people seem to believe isn’t possible, but in fact really is. I often try to innovate and create new stims for myself – these stims are often created with practice, and are subsequently more precise and controlled, and purposeful. I will make a future blog post regarding utilitarian applications for stims that I think will be of further use to Autistic people. Sometimes intentional stimming can be as wonderful and beneficial, if not more, than spontaneous, recreational stimming.

 

Autistic people describe stims as empowering, uplifting, and euphoric. Stims are not only used to regulate, but to energize, enhance, and deepen our perception. They can be used to channel the buildup of energy we feel inside us, and apply them into our environment, and in some cases, to shield us from negative sensory input altogether. In fact, the application of stims into our daily lives are endless, and by creatively exploring them, we can find other uses for stimming.

Sensory issues and emotional intensity can cause strife and overwhelming feelings, but creates gifts: deep empathy, hyper-awareness, excellent memory, the ability to form connections with your environment. Without stims, it can be hard to regulate such intense experiences. In fact, I would argue that stimming is a cornerstone of being Autistic. It is more than just mere fidgeting or a pastime for us: for us, it is about survival.

 

ABA practitioners and similar groups of people stop us from stimming, despite the fact that the happiest, most successful, and most thriving Autistics are often those who were free to stim, and free to explore their Autistic body and mind the way they saw fit. In fact, through incorporating stimming into our daily lives, through my daily life, I saw the benefits really early on. I could handle things easier, I felt more insightful, and I felt more a drive to indulge in my passions without fear or shame.

As a musician, incorporating stimming into my technique greatly enhanced my abilities. Many Autistics I know who are martial artists, musicians, artists, and more, channel stimming into their practices to enhance their performance to the excellent levels we often see. An Autistic person without their stims, is like a Jedi without the Force, or a bird without wings (a more proper analogy, and a fascinating one, given that birds also flap their wings). We will not survive long without it. Anti-Autistic ableism comes in two forms: people who think Autistics are diseased, and doomed. And people who fear Autistics. And I think stopping Autistic people from stimming is born of the latter: the fear that through stimming, we will be further empowered to be who we truly are. Through stimming, we gain the freedom to explore, and change, the world as we know it, and expand on our own gifts and talents.

 

And the solution? Do it anyway. Be the resistance: stim openly and without fear, and do not let anybody stop you from doing it. Obviously, be judicious and careful about it when necessary, to protect yourself.

And do not be afraid to innovate. Hand-flapping is fun, but go beyond that. Turn your stims into an expression of yourself, an extension of your being. And show the world who you really are.

 

Happy International Day of the Stim, my fellow Autistics. Our time is now. Take the mask off.

 

Autistic April Survival Guide: A Call to Action, and More

This is a message directed to all members of the Autistic Community. Note how I use the term “Autistic”, and not “Autism”. When I refer to the Autistic Community, there is a simple criterion one must fit to be a part of it: you must be Autistic.

This is meant to be a survival guide, a call to action, a sandbox of ideas, and more. It is meant to bring comfort, but also amusement and joy, in a month where we are often overwhelmed with stress, negativity, and fear.

 

Another year, another April. I think we’re all used to it by now, but we really shouldn’t be. At first glance, you may think the puzzle pieces and blue lights that signify “awareness” are somehow great. As the Autistic community continues to push toward acceptance and the neurodiversity paradigm, those who oppose it adjust their tactics accordingly, sometimes attempting to hide their true colours. They mask their ableism, and their desire for a world where we no longer exist.

Yet past the headlines and clickbait, what we really see is a horror show. This horror is not Autism, but peoples’ reactions to it. Tragedy. Epidemic. Disaster. Crisis. Before April 2018 even started, articles are already pouring, of people referring to their Autistic children as burdens, and alarmist rhetoric about how the number of us are supposedly increasing. The past 12 months have been filled with ableism and anti-autistic sentiment, from “To Siri With Love” to “Autism Uncensored”.

 

There is much more that can be said about the rhetoric in April, but other blogs have covered that adequately. My question is: how do we deal with it?

 

It’s heartbreaking that in a month where we are theoretically supposed to be accepted and loved, we are instead feared and further ostracized. It is appalling and deplorable that Autistics are sometimes so traumatized or afraid,  we dread the thought of leaving our homes, with some of us going into hiding, even online.

“Awareness” turns into “beware-ness”: we exist, and that is scary and tragic. People are aware of Autism, but that doesn’t mean they understand it. Often, it is quite the opposite, especially in a culture dominated by neurotypicals and the pathology paradigm. Many of us get overwhelmed by the hate and fall apart or become reclusive. Sometimes it’s necessary. We need to take care of ourselves first, long before we can protest the anti-autistic vitriol flowing through April. But the two do not have to be mutually exclusive at all.

 

On self-care:

There are many “self-care” guides for Autistic and non-autistic individuals. However, many are either generic or unhelpful. In some cases, counterproductive. My view on self-care(for anyone), on the other hand, is much simpler: do what you love, and find what makes you happy. For Autistics, this can mean focusing on things that interest you; your passions. Or what non-autistics refer to as our “special interests”.

Our special interests are frequently referred to as “weird”, “unhealthy”, “obsessive”, or other derogatory terms meant to pathologize our existence. And I say, to hell with that. Those are words meant to oppress us, to prevent us from enjoying things as well as we do. Our interests bring us joy, and oftentimes end up highlighting our skills. They bring out the best in us, as they do with most people. And we must use that.

 

Self-care is not one concrete thing and making yourself feel better and happier is also not a concrete thing. It varies from individual to individual, and it is important to find whatever it is that makes you happy and do it.

 

When it comes to immersing yourself in your interests and passions, it leads into the other part of this survival guide: how you can turn self-care into a weapon of protest. Particularly during this month, I will openly speak about my interests and passions, no matter how unusual. We are often discouraged from doing so, lest we come off as “odd”. We are taught to be ashamed of having intense passions and interests.

“Awareness” has contributed to this. But it doesn’t have to stop us. On the contrary, focusing on our passions and special interests is, in my eyes, a double-score: we get to make ourselves happier by thinking about and doing what we love. And it in and of itself is a form of protest.

 

“Respect existence or expect resistance.”

This quote sums up my survival guide for “awareness” rhetoric throughout April. For all the hordes of people proudly displaying their desire for a world where we don’t exist, the best way to protest that is to be ourselves wholly and without compromise. It is hard, but it is worth doing. Simply being openly Autistic is in and of itself an act of resistance. We have been oppressed for long enough, and it is time to take a stand. We were never broken, and we will not go away for the convenience of others.

 

We are often forced to try to be more like allistics, to be someone we are not. That must end. As some would say, “living well is the best revenge”. If we can show people that despite all the hardships and struggles we face, we are capable of being happy and thriving, we can be the living defiance of the narrative that being Autistic is an all-out tragedy. We can display parts of us that we do like. In the process, we can wind up frustrating those who express anti-autistic sentiment.

 

There is another way we can protest simply by being ourselves: stimming… openly.

I have written about this before. Stimming is a universal trait within multiple species. Autistics may need to stim more due to a complex sensory perception, and the need to direct our focus. Stimming is something that is supposed to be both helpful, and a way to express ourselves through movement. And yet, it is vilified by non-autistic people.

We are made to suppress it through ABA, and taught to avoid it in most other situations, lest it come off as “weird”. But who cares about “weird”? If it brings you comfort and doesn’t harm anyone, it’s acceptable, and as far as I’m concerned, “weird” isn’t a bad thing at all.

 

Stimming brings us comfort and it brings us joy. It helps us deal with our pain. It helps us connect with the world and the universe around us in a unique, and special way. Most importantly, it is a form of self-expression. An Autistic person’s stims are as unique as them, and they deserve to be respected as such.

Stimming also happens to be one of the ways Autistic people are easily identified in public. If people have a hard time believing you are Autistic, flourishing your stims openly may persuade them before they have the chance to voice that.

Stimming openly is also a measure of defiance, in a society where Autistic expression is frowned upon. Stimming openly and without hesitation is one way we can enjoy ourselves, express ourselves, and defy cure-rhetoric.

 

In summation, two of the best ways to survive April as an Autistic person are to openly stim, and to express your passions and interests. Turn to the things you love for joy, even if they are forbidden. It has long been said that the best way to defy the anti-autistic narrative, and to spite your oppressors, is to be openly Autistic in front of them. To flaunt it, and to wear it with pride. Living as an Autistic person is one of the most defiant things you can do and is also the most gratifying.

 

That being said, it is important to take safety precautions. When it comes to openly stimming, apply your judgement and be careful doing so around law enforcement, or anyone with the power to do you serious harm. Remember to protect yourself first and foremost: know your limits, and apply your judgment to the best of your ability. You know how to take care of yourself best.

These ideas are not to be seen as solid instructions, but concepts to be molded, customized, and personalized to suit you. Withstanding April is hard for many Autistics, and I hope that these ideas bring comfort, hope, and amusement to some of you. Best of luck surviving, and fighting April.

 

 

Empathy: A Cultural (Neurodiversity) Perspective

Imagine living in another country or planet where the culture was vastly different from what you were used to; most people acted completely differently from you. Imagine that what was normal to you was absurd to most others; what was normal to them seemed absurd or nonsensical to you. Imagine that because of these cultural differences, you were the one seen as “odd”. More importantly, when misunderstandings occurred, you were blamed. Because everybody acted so differently from you, saw the world differently than you did, it was hard for you to understand them, and you were blamed: it must have been some sort of personal defect; perhaps a lack of empathy. You may eventually learn to understand others on some level, but you will always be different and painfully aware of it. You may resonate with those who share similar traits, but to the majority of the population you’re a deviant. According to them, you lack the empathy needed to connect.

 

This is a reality that Autistic individuals face every day. There is a stereotype that we lack empathy. The truth is, however, that everybody, including Autistics, possess varying degrees of empathy. Moreover, empathy has many different interpretations and is no single concrete thing. Allistic (non-autistic) people are included in this. Therefore, to say that an entire population of people lack empathy is stereotyping, and unfairly so.

 

Much of the reason we are labeled as collectively lacking empathy lies in the reason stated in the introductory paragraph: cultural difference. Neurotypicals make up the majority of society, and because Autistics are wired differently, we may struggle to understand them. This can come in the form of not interpreting their social cues, struggling to understand expressions, or comprehending their language.

 

However, this does not reflect a lack of empathy. This reflects a difficulty in understanding something that is different from you. In this case, Autistic culture versus neurotypical culture. When my family moved from India to Canada, we faced similar struggles when it came to understanding the different dynamics of Western culture. Indeed, immigrants usually find a hard time adjusting to new norms at first. And when a person’s brain is wired differently to the rest of the population, these challenges can be amplified.

 

Autistic people, in reality, often experience extreme amounts of empathy. This is one of the reasons many of us have a strong sense of justice; we feel for those who struggle and want to make the world a better place for them. This is why many of us, including myself, are emotionally impacted by stories, movies, or music. It is also why myself and many other Autistics tend to develop powerful bonds and strong emotional attachments to others, sometimes to a fault. Many of us have reported having to shut down and lock ourselves in due to this, which is consistent with the Intense World Theory of Autism. When people suffer, we notice, and we care. We may not always express it in a typical way, but we do care.

 

Autistics are stereotyped to lack empathy due to innate differences: our difficulties understanding neurotypicals, and the differences in how we respond to emotions.

 

The irony is that non-autistic people tend to blame miscommunication entirely on us without criticizing themselves or examining their own prejudices. They say we lack empathy, but did they ever stop to see if they understood how we feel? Most of the time they do not. Every stereotype about Autistic empathy can be flipped: non-Autistic people may not be able to read our body language or social cues. They may struggle to understand our expressions or feelings. And such is often the case.

 

Autistics usually, in contrast, get along with each other, or at least understand each other, better than Allistics understand us, since our minds are wired more similarly, and we can relate to one another. Many discussions around Autism revolves around comparisons of our sensory, emotional, and other experiences. This empathetic support provides us with much-needed validation: that we are not broken; we are just Autistic; our minds are wired differently.

 

Now, it is important to remember that empathy varies within every individual; Autistic or not. There are some Autistics who may genuinely lack empathy, but this does not mean that they do not care for others. One can lack empathy but still have morality. And just because some Autistics may genuinely lack empathy does not mean we all do. Just as some neurotypicals lack empathy, but that does not automatically make them bad people, nor does it imply that all neurotypicals lack empathy.

 

 

 

My personal experience with empathy is complicated. As a child, there were adults who assumed I didn’t have empathy. And it was true that as a child, there were times when I was self-centered, or not understanding of the needs or wishes of others. However, I was far from the only kid who behaved this way, and others often treated similarly; in fact, it could be argued that I was treated this way far more than I treated others.

 

As a teenager and adult, I am always deeply impacted by depictions of injustice; particularly bullying, exclusion, or environmental destruction. I was also affected by depictions of oppression; whether it was from my friends in the LGBTQ community, or people of other subjugated minority groups, being multiply marginalized myself. Abuse, bullying, social rejection, prejudice, trauma, depression, and suicide, are issues that very deeply affect me. They rattle me so much I develop strong opinions regarding these issues.

 

I am not fully innocent myself (is anyone?), having said and done things I’m not proud of. But for what it’s worth, I stood up for others. I spent time with those who were excluded, and helped them fight back against bullies. I know firsthand the negative effects of unfairly judging others, and that was something I swore never to do. I absolutely refuse to be ruled by prejudice, even when pressured to by others. When it comes to friendships, I display a staunch and fierce loyalty to people I care about, vowing to do my best to be a caring and supportive person. Even if such loyalty is rarely, if ever returned.

 

All these attributes are a testament to my empathy, and directly contradict the words of non-autistic “professionals” who played off stereotypes and tried to label me unempathetic just because I may not have expressed my emotions the way they wanted me to.

 

My affective empathy is strong, and I can often tell if someone is upset or unsettled, even if I do not show external signs of knowing. As an Autistic, I am naturally hyper-aware and sensitive of my surroundings. However, there are times when I do not understand why someone feels a certain way. Why would someone choose to end a close friendship rather than fixing the problems that arose just because one situation was difficult to deal with? Why does Autistic infodumping(the act of imparting substantial amounts of information on a specific subject) come off as “annoying” to certain people? Why do parents mourn having an Autistic child? Why do minor things make people uncomfortable?

 

Some of these are questions asked by everyone, and it goes to show that empathy is fluid and varies from person to person.

 

There are many instances in which I can tell that a non-autistic (or in some cases, even another Autistic) person feels a certain way about something, but I will not understand why they feel that way, or will disagree with their perspective, which is also perfectly normal. While it is my responsibility to be a respectful and understanding person, it is also their responsibility to meet me in the middle and be understanding of my perspective.

 

It is a common saying within the Autistic community that where we give 97%, Allistics resent having to give back a meager 3% of emotional energy and empathy. This isn’t fair. For proper inclusion, we must demand an equal amount of understanding.

 

Empathy goes both ways.

Why I Do Not Identify as a “Self-Advocate”

I am not a “self-advocate”. I am an Autistic activist.

 

Since I started advocating as a member of the Autistic community (a collective group of Autistic, pro-neurodiversity activists who fight for acceptance of Autistic people, advocate for our civil rights, and combat narratives that view us as tragic diseases), I was branded a “self-advocate”.

Now, some people may find this term appealing or empowering. I don’t. In fact, I truly despise it: a term used to minimize our efforts and silence us. I hope that someday this term gets phased out of existence.

In disability advocacy, a “self-advocate” is someone who happens to advocate for themselves. Now, for those who value intersectionality, you may already start to see a problem with this. Why is the term “self-advocate” applied only to disabled and neurodivergent people?

How come people of colour who fight for racial justice aren’t labeled “self-advocates”? How come LGBT+ activists are not called “self-advocates”? How come most activists are simply referred to as such, rather than “self-advocates”?

We recognize these people as brave individuals fighting for their community, sometimes putting their safety on the line. It comes as no surprise to the layperson to see a member a marginalized group standing up for their demographic as an activist. Most oppressed groups throughout history have been known to come together as a community to fight for their rights. So why are only disabled/neurodivergent activists called “self-advocates”?

The answer is simple, but also disturbing: the term “self-advocate” is used to deny us agency. Autistics are often not seen as full human beings. We are assumed to be incompetent and incapable of fighting for ourselves. It is assumed that unlike other marginalized communities, we cannot come together and fight alongside one another. When someone refers to me or any Autistic individual as a “self-advocate”, what I hear is “I am genuinely surprised to see an Autistic person voicing their opinion on Autistic issues”. People often assume that Autistic activists are rare, or don’t have much to say about how we are treated. An assumption that is quite obviously false, and perpetuated with labels like “self-advocate” – used ultimately as a silencing tactic.

“Self-advocate” is also fundamentally wrong in another way: it assumes that we must advocate only for ourselves. One of the most common phrases used to silence Autistic activists is, “you don’t speak for all Autistics”. While it is true that we cannot speak for every Autistic person, this also implies that we are incapable of standing up for our community. And why should we only be permitted to speak in ways that non-autistic people approve of? Why should everything we say be carefully coded as applying only to us? Why can’t we fight for the fair treatment of everyone in our community, the same way members of other marginalized groups do?

When other disenfranchised activists fight for their community, they are just seen as activists. They want justice for everyone in their group, not just themselves. Thus, self-advocate is inaccurate to describe Autistic people like myself, who fight to make sure that no Autistic is ever mistreated or oppressed. We fight for the liberation and empowerment of all who share our neurology.

There are many “controversies” over Allistic (non-autistic) parents of Autistic children clashing with those they consider “self-advocates”. These parents will often point fingers at us for wanting to “speak for everyone in our community”, and cite it as a reason that “self-advocates” should not take the center stage. Ironically enough, they are the ones who try to speak over us.

It is true that nobody of any demographic can speak for every single individual. That is virtually impossible. However, Autistic people, like members of other communities, CAN and DO stand up and fight for each other. We are perfectly capable of creating our own movement, one centered around Autistic voices.

So, to my fellow esteemed Autistic activists, it’s time to drop this demeaning and useless term. Stop calling yourself a self-advocate, and start referring to yourself as an Autistic activist.