01 August 2008

Pushing Limits Interview

Today I was interviewed on KPFA (94.1), for the program Pushing Limits, which centers around disability issues, about autistic rights and aspies for freedom.

The program can be listened to at:

The questions were given to me prior to the interview, as well as displayed on a thread at AFF, and these were my answers I wrote out ahead of time, so that I would have a reference of what I wanted to say. The interview covered some other stuff that I didn't have written out, and I didn't get to all of these points on the program (though I had a lot of time and got to the crucial stuff), so here are my prep notes:

What is autism?
Autism is a neurodevelopmental condition that generally affects speech and language, socialization, and sensory processing. Autistics vary greatly in how this manifests, as some people are completely non-verbal, while others have little to no difficulty with speech and language, but most of us are somewhere in between, and that goes for a lot of traits.

What does neurodiversity mean?

Basically, that neurological configurations that differ from the norm, such as autism, are not inherently inferior to more typical configurations, and trying to make the neurodivergent conform to typical ways of doing things, often creates more problems than it solves.

Why did you join this AFF site?

I joined AFF, for a couple of reasons. One is the community - when I'm facing discrimination, or trying to figure out how to navigate an airport, there's a lot of support, from a lot of people with diverse knowledge and experiences. The main thing is the activism - it's easy enough to say, yes, I'm autistic and proud, there are better ways to improve autistic people's lives than by funding research to make sure no more of us are born - but as it is today, not many people are hearing our voices. That is changing for the better - it's better than 5, even 2 years ago, thanks largely to the work of autistic self-advocates, but we still need to make a lot of progress.

Do you know of the wider disability rights movement?

In my research of autism and autistic advocacy, I started to realize not only how much autistic rights are tied into things like gay rights, but also to disability rights. Some believe that all autistics are disabled or that none of us are, but from what I've seen it varies from person to person, especially when looking at our situation through the lens of the social model of disability.

Even autistics who don't consider themselves disabled, and are capable of employment, even if they have degrees, a lot of times won't be hired because of unusual eye contact or body language, things that have nothing to do with their job responsibilities. Others don't attend out-of-work social events, and are seen as not being a "team player", even if the reason is that they don't see obligation to the events and that they would stress them out too much.

Where would you like Autism Rights to go?

I would like there to be better information and supports to the families of the newly diagnosed, and for there to be less stigma. We should get to a point where it's not considered an undue burden to write out instructions instead of saying them, for instance, or to provide autistics access to communication, whether by using pictures, signing, typing, speech, or any combination of methods. When a parent gets told their child is autistic, and that parent sighs in relief because now they know their child will have access to a good education and services and opportunities and choices for their future, then I might say we've reached our goals.

Also I'd like to see the Judge Rotenberg Center shut down, for their use of electric shocks and other harsh aversives on autistic and otherwise disabled people who are kept there. They have withheld food from people for not getting the right answers on a computer, and administer the shocks in such a way, that the person receiving it has no way of even knowing where on their body the shock will occur. There are many complaints about the treatment of people held at Guantanamo Bay, but when acting in these ways on disabled people in the name of "treatment", then it's allowed to go on for decades.

I would also like more of a venue for autistic people to voice our opinions and advocate for ourselves. There is too much of a trend in having non-disabled people "speak for" people with disabilities, and this even gets reflected in the names of organizations - for instance, the pro-institutionalization group called "Voice of the Retarded", or "Autism Speaks". The people leading these groups assume our voices, and in so doing assume our goals and intentions. I'd like to see more support going towards organizations like the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network, and Autism Network International, which are led primarily by autistics and allies. Autism Speaks does not speak for me.

Does this community here give you positives where the larger society can't meet those needs?

The larger society is certainly capable of meeting many of these needs, through greater understanding and acceptance, which runs deeper than garden variety awareness, though there is one need that I don't think the larger society will ever be able to meet, and through no fault of anyone - there is a certain...recognition, almost, a deeper kind of understanding that you find with someone who's wired a lot more like you than most people, and to be able to communicate with a whole bunch of such people, who aside from being autistic have a huge variety of experiences and interests, there's a certain connection that is hard to describe and impossible to substitute. But as for other things, like acceptance and removing roadblocks to education and independence, society in general is capable of meeting those needs, and I have seen individuals demonstrate this capability. It's just that we're not there yet.


abfh said...

Excellent answers to the interview questions! I can see that you put a lot of time and thought into choosing your words.

Casdok said...

Yes we need to push those limits! Great interview.

geosaru said...

Thank you! I certainly tried to be well-prepared.