15 December 2007

Tact and Advocacy

I sincerely would like to apologize about some of the insensitive people who claim to speak for the autistic community but in truth don't.

I am not strictly describing pro-cure NTs. There are also autistics who get on my nerves because not only are they narrow-minded, but they show no interest in expanding their understanding and perspective.

Of course these people are in the minority. It is unfortunate, however, that Alison Tepper Singer can be put on a video claiming to raise "awareness" as she describes the only reason she didn't kill her autistic daughter was because she had a normal daughter too and even be praised for her "courage", while a few narrow-minded autistics who state their views without presenting them in any kind of logically comprehensible OR emotionally sensitive way are demonized as "nasty self-advocates who want to take our kids' services away."

Like extreme views of anything, people are far too prone to get rigid and nasty about them, autistic or NT. I do not consider myself a "radical" or "extremist" for opposing the idea of cure. I tend to define these terms by the way a group or individual goes about achieving their goals. Of course, there are cases when the goals themselves are extremist and dangerous: who would argue that the advocacy for genocide, racist Social Darwinism, or war-mongering are not of themselves dangerous? Likewise, just because there are dangers to the ways that religious fundamentalists, such as of Christian and Islamic denominations, doesn't mean that everybody who is Christian or Muslim advocates for death to America or persecuting gays.

I hate it when autistics who don't have much of any of the disability aspect try to speak for everybody just as much as I hate it when non-autistic people try to speak for us. It's just no use.

On the Internet, I have encountered many pro-cure people who viciously attacked me even when I wrote about understanding that it can be very difficult for parents; my NT mother has had much trouble with me, and I do not have as many special needs as some others (such as, I can't brush my hair, but I can do toileting; I can speak, but often get overloaded and can't).

Remember everyone: assholes are assholes. Some of them happen to be autistic, some of them happen to be NT. It doesn't mean that either group is more prone to such attitudes.

Autism, while a disability that should receive supports, accommodations, and adaptive skills, should not be eradicated or looked at as wholly negative. I don't want a cure, but I also don't assume that the people who say they want one are bad parents/hate their kids/insert other stereotype.

I believe in diplomacy. This doesn't mean we have to be wishy-washy, roll-over-and-do-what-the-NTs-all-tell-us autistics. We can criticize the foundations of the ideas in favor of cure without resorting to ad hominem attacks on those who support it. Especially this is true since the word "cure" is often used to describe developing adaptive skills (such as speech and toileting), which I do not believe is cure.

While it is still very important that we not concede on helping parents to understand that being nonverbal is not a jail sentence, if the individual is capable and willing, some of these things are useful skills. We should focus more on the WAY the skills are taught, to see that they are not being coerced, that the individual is not made to feel inferior for "autistic behaviors." These, after all, are requisite to human equality, and I have no intention of conceding these goals, which need not be compromised by employing some empathy.

As to the divisions. They are Everywhere.

HFA, LFA, AS? Touch of AS? ND or curebie? Retards and computer geeks. I get pretty sick of it. Especially it annoys me when people use the word 'retard' as an insult. It is to me like using the word 'gay' as an insult. When I was in elementary school, I heard people say, "That is SO GAY - you're so GAY" so much that I preferred the word homosexual. It surprised me much when this summer I got my hands on a copy of The Advocate and some books about the gay rights movement, and I learned that the preferred term in the gay community is just that - gay. Why? Because 'homosexual' was too medicalized a term, one used often when it was a diagnosable disorder voted in by the APA and voted out again in 1973.

Why did I bring this up?

I am not sure at this point if I really forgot my topic or if I was trying to utilise a rhetorical strategy. In any case, the existence of a word alone does not make it offensive or acceptable. In fact, devoid of the usage and origin and other available context, a word has absolutlely no meaning, and is merely a string of the shapes of the letters to form it, and the sounds it would make if one were to produce it.

The problem lies with kids growing up thinking that if someone is gay or retarded, then they are less valuable and worth mocking. Growing up, I frequently got called both. I wonder how many grade-school kids get called "retarded lesbo?"

The fact is, whatever category people try to group me (or anybody else) into, to force-fit like the puzzle piece so many seem to think goes well with autistics into the narrow configuration so many would like to see me fit, I just can't, and I won't. Even though on the surface I resemble the math-and-science-obsessed Aspie stereotype, and that aspect of it is true, it is impossible to put someone in so narrow a box without losing a few chunks of the individual.

I tend to relate more to nonverbal auties who use a speech device than to the highly verbal aspie who has trouble with social skills. My social skills are actually pretty good; though eye contact and body language for me are atypical (in the case of eye contact, virtually nonexistent), and these are not instruments I use to augment my social understanding. Fortunately, the high school I attend is generally accepting of different people, so the fact that I spend 90%+ of my time at school rocking and moving my hands and occasionally getting up to pace, or those days in tae kwon do that I just can't speak at all, these don't affect friendships adversely for me. At my other school, where I repressed most of these behaviors to the best of my ability out of fear, I had the understanding of a select few, the sympathy of a few more onlookers who recognized injustice - most of whom did nothing to support my efforts, however.

So as we recognize that these labels are often used as dividing lines and demeaning labels, that we are not so simplistic as to fit them - no one is - we must also consider that not everybody is being a big NT meanie who wants to take away our rights and abort us. True, we cannot be weak and submissive, or we will only be worse than ignored, but being rude will work to this unfavourable end as well.

So please, I urge all budding activists, who seek to impact the posautive change that I have begun my journey to realize, to employ tact wherever it is necessary. Of course someone who outright insults you with an ad hominem attack loses that privilege, but where the individual is not making a direct attack that is meant to villify, then please employ this tact. It is difficult at times, and what helps me is to write my angry, emotional stuff down on a separate file, then post a logical, tactful reply. (Not that I always succeed - I am sure that I have slipped up. My crowning achievement in this area is when in response to a YouTube video in which a parent referred to the autism "epidemic" as a "slaughter" I kept my cool for a 500 word response limit.)

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