Thursday, April 30, 2015
BADD-Blogging Against Disablism/Combatting Negative Media Messages
Good riddance to my first April as an Autistic person. Of course, it's not my first April as an Autistic person. It's just the first April that I knew I was Autistic. The ableism cuts deeper when you know they're referring to you. It wasn't too many years ago that I didn't have much of an idea what autism was. My first intro to autism for real, where I thought it might be close to me, was when a pediatrician casually mentioned the possibility at a doctor appointment. My son, (now 11 years old,) was 9 months old and not yet laughing. I went home and immediately googled autism. This was my introduction to the ableism. The images, anecdotes, and articles all painted such a horrific picture of autism that I blocked the thought out for several years. The ableism that runs rampant in the media told me things like, if my son "had autism" he would never be able to tell me he loved me. He would never live an independent life. He would never have real friends. "People with autism," as they love to "respectfully" call us, lack empathy and fit the profile of a psychopath, the media says. A quick google search will tell you page after page about what is wrong and broken, never to be fixed, or worse--we have the magical cure if only you... So I logged off and shut the idea out of my mind. I could have been getting him help. We could have used the help of an occupational therapist to address his sensory needs, if I wasn't so busy pretending they didn't exist. We could have used the help of a speech pathologist to help him communicate. But no, any help we might get wasn't worth selling my soul. Ultimately though, I couldn't ignore it any more. Lucky for me, by this point I did know some actually Autistic people, and I knew that I liked them. I knew that they didn't fit the descriptions I had read about. So my son got his diagnosis and the help he needed. Now I know that I'm Autistic too, and I've learned a lot about what that really means in the last 10 years since this journey began. The thing is that all the messages out there, in the form of "Awareness" do so much harm to actual Autistic people. For us it meant waiting to get real help, because we thought it meant admitting this terrible, bleak future. Now it means fighting the stigma day after day. It means that I am an Autistic wife, mother, and teacher, but very few people know I am Autistic because it is unsafe. I have proven myself to be a great teacher, capable and caring; and yet, if my colleagues knew I was Autistic, they would look for my flaws instead. They would assume me incapable of certain tasks. That's because of the ableism disguised as awareness so common these days. No, I wasn't caused by vaccines. Yes, I do think autism has its benefits. Yes, my son and I are great, nice people with some weird quirks. No, going for a walk and talking about my deficiencies does not help me, and no I don't prefer person first language. I want Autistic people to be treated as the real people we are. Support us when we need it, but also recognize what good we bring to the table. Lay the negative, disabling rhetoric aside. I want a different world for my son and for myself, and your "awareness" isn't helping.