Friday, 11 December 2015

Not Pretty Enough

Submitted by Naomi from Respectfully Connected

There is this strange dichotomy when it comes to being autistic.

Especially if you are an opinionated autistic person. And anyone who knows me knows that opinionated is exactly the word to use.

You see, according to a lot of allistic (non autistic) people, autistic people seem to fall into two camps. The Quirky Aspie Genius, or the Non Verbal Forever Child.

Obviously, if you applied that to any other group of people, you’d see it was not only extremely offensive, but completely wrong. There is as much diversity and variation amongst autistic people as there are any other group of people. But it suits people to think in stereotypes, to make snap judgements about things that may only brush against the periphery of their lives. We all do it, although we should all also question it.

The problem with those two stereotypes when it comes to being an opinionated autistic is that then people who really should know better use them against you. People who don’t want to hear what you have to say, who have time or money or energy or ego invested in whatever status quo you are challenging.

Here’s how that works:

Say, as an example, that there is some rather craptastic article or meme going about that depicts autism or autistic people negatively. Bonus points if it is written about autistics without including them.

Say that in the comments section (the underbelly of the internet in way too many cases), there are lots of people supporting the view that yes, autism is terrible, or really hard or caused by aliens with carrots, or whatever is being spouted as the latest “cause”.

Most of those people will not be autistic. Most of those people will be parents of autistic people, or people who “know someone who is autistic/has an autistic cousin/met someone who touched an autistic person that one time”. You know how it goes.

Say now that autistic people try to join the conversation. To suggest that actually, their lives aren’t miserable, they are actually pretty happy, and would be even more so if people stopped acting like their very existence was an insult.

This is where it goes bad. Because you see, the majority of people still seem to think about autistic people as being in one of those two camps. And thanks to the insidiousness of functioning labels people still think that there is such a thing as being high functioning or low functioning, not realising that those labels can apply to the same person on the same day, about different areas of their life, that may change the next day, depending on how many spoons they’ve had to spend explaining that yes, they are actually entitled to an opinion about the value of their own existence… for example.

What that means for an opinionated autistic – and an opinionated autistic is basically every autistic person – is that you are put into one of two groups, and either way, your opinion is invalidated. If you’re considered a Quirky Aspie Genius, then you can’t possibly know what it is like to be “really” autistic (this is usually told to autistics by people who are not autistic at all, btw) and your opinion is not relevant, and your advocacy is only for other Quirky Aspie Geniuses. If you’re considered a Non Verbal Forever Child, well you can’t function well enough to really understand all the nuances and intricacies of being autistic (also told to autistic people by people who are not autistic), and by default aren’t capable of expressing your opinion, which would be irrelevant anyway, so….

Yeah, I know. There aren’t words to describe how horrendously offensive and dismissive either of those positions are.  

But that is where we sit. Despite the facts of our experiences. Despite the actual existence of autistic advocates who fit into both of those camps, or who fit neither (usually all at the same time). Despite everything we have to say, everything we have lived, the work we do, the thoughts we have, the effort we make to share ourselves with other autistic people and their loved ones.

We are still either too autistic and our opinions are ignored, or not autistic enough, and our opinions are ignored.

Which leaves us… nowhere.