Autism Pride Month: Do we need Awareness or Acceptance?
By: Muskaan Arora
It is April 2, the World Autism Awareness Month has begun and all MNCs, NGOs, Activists and other Abled people will have started talking about Autism and are motivating us Autistic people to be happy, for "at least some awareness is being raised". Once again, the Autistic Community is disappointed, thinking that we would rather have no information about Autism being spread than hve misinformation being spread.
Mention of m*rder, s*icidal tendencies, N*zism, Ableism, Autism Burnout
It is that time of year when the Autistic Community protests against everyone celebrating this month, when all of us on the other hand try to educate people on what Autism actually is, and why we say we are 'Autistic and Proud'. The Autism Awareness Month was started by The Autism Society, an NGO founded by scientist Bernard Rimland, who debunked the 'Refrigerator Mother' theory, which says that Autistic children are born because of the mother's neglect. The entire organization however is made by Parents of Autistic children who are supposed to be allies, while the movement itself should be led by #ActuallyAutistic people. In fact the most popular NGO related to Autism is Autism Speaks (A$), a hate-group that "wants to eradicate Autism from the world" and "fix" Autistic people by "curing" our Autism. It has only one Autistic person in its BOD, uses the puzzle symbol to show how Autism is a puzzle (We are humans, not puzzles), and has campaigns demonizing Autism. Every year it continues to spread hate about Autism, uses marketing gimmicks like 'Light It Up Blue' (wear blue) for Autism Awareness and makes millions of dollars off our lives and our struggles, but allocates a very negligible amount to us Autistic people.
All this reminds me of the problematic history of Autism, where back in the World War 2 times, a psychologist Hans Aspergers who worked in Adolf Hitler's Nazi regime, developed the word "Autism Ps*chopathy" and classified Autistic children as; the ones who have less Autistic traits and can become better and normal (later called Asperger's Syndrome) and the ones who are severely Autistic (whom they would k*ll). In euthanasia under Hitler's regime, Psychologists and Physicians would classify people as genetically fit or unfit and determine who would live and who would be murd*red.
Doctors have never been kind to us. Even now, when all disorders are moulded into one disability called 'Autism Spectrum Disorder', you will still find people categorizing Autism as high-functioning and low-functioning, mild and severe - only to further degrade us as "Mild Autism! So you're not really Autistic, right?" and "Severe Autism! So, you'll fail in life, won't you?" This plus the doctors' perception of an ideal Autistic person being a Cis White Man, erasing all other communities Autistic people come from.
The Medical Model of Disability is highly Ableist, as it is formed by Abled doctors who treat everyone as sick patients feeling bad about their condition. The truth is, we are disabled, not sick; and we have nothing to feel bad about the way nature created us. The Social Model of Disability explains that we are oppressed because the society is Ability-normative, and we don't have to mask (hide) our natural traits to conform to the society's standards of being normal.
Disabled people are just - people. Just because our body organs don't match the society's idea of being normal, that does not make us any less of a human being.
Today, on account of the World Autism 'Acceptance' Day (2nd April), let me bust some myths on Autism and Neurodivergence:
Neurodivergence means having a neurotype (nervous system) different from majority people on the Earth. It includes Autism, ADHD, Dyslexia, Dyspraxia, etc. developmental disorders. It is completely natural, just uncommon. Unlike Neurotypical people who are born with average skills in most developmental abilities, Neurodivergent people are born with either high or low skills in every developmental ability. Autistic people have high logic, rationality, honesty, attention to details, pattern-drawing, but low motor skills, social communication skills, etc.
Autism is much more than savants and fools. Intelligence is nowhere related to Neurodivergence, so Autistic people can have low, average, high - any level of intelligence. However, being rude to Intellectually Disabled people is not good either.
No Autistic (or any Neurodivergent) trait is inherently good/positive or bad/negative. Society defines its standards of normal and abnormal, good and bad. There is ample evidence in historian Yuval Noah Harrari's book Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind that the best life of human beings was the one where we believed only in Objective Reality (nature) and no Imagined Reality (social constructs) were into being.
When we say Autism lies on a spectrum, we do not mean a linear gradient type spectrum with mild to severe degrees. We mean a pie chart with all pies symbolizing an Autistic trait each, and different charts for different people, explaining that all of us experience all traits in different manners, and all of us are valid.
Hence, when you meet one Autistic person, you meet one Autistic person. All of us are different.
So now, when you have understood some basic things about Autism, let me tell what the Autistic Community thinks and wants you to do this month.
Don't support the tokenist, Capitalist companies who pretend to be Autism-friendly for their marketing gimmicks and make profits out of our lives and our struggles.
Look at the history of the NGO if you are supporting any. Avoid Autism Speaks, Autism Society, Autism One; and support the Autism Self Advocacy Network (ASAN), Autistic Women and Non-Binary Network and Self Advocates Becoming Empowered (SABE).
Call this month what our Autistic Community calls - The Autism Acceptance Month. Not the Autism Awareness Month. There is no point of spreading awareness if you don't accept and embrace Autistic people. And say no to A$'s hateful commentary with us. Instead of lighting it up blue, go "Red Instead" (red - the complementary colour of blue, slogan made by Autism Advocates to fight A$), or use the Neurodiversity Rainbow Infinity symbol, or the Autism Golden Infinity Symbol.
"Don't be rude to that one classmate/colleague of yours who is 'awkward', does not make eye contact enough, talks about the same repetitive topics, is over or under sensitive to a lot of sensory stimuli – there are high chances they are Autistic. Supporting Autistic people means accepting Autistic traits as a natural, normal part of human life." - The Autistic Life on Instagram
There are a lot of myths and stereotypes about Autism. My first introduction to Autism was the film Barfi! where Priyanka Chopra played a mythically stereotypical, severely Autistic character Jhilmil. I do not relate to that even a bit. I am lucky that I discovered I am Dyspraxic at some point of time in my life, and later decided to search up about other Neurodivergences, and found out I am Autistic too. Imagine the number of Autistic people who still do not know that they are Autistic. Being in a country like India, where anything related to brains, nerves and the mind - sometimes even the profession of a psychologist or a psychiatrist is tabooed, Neurodivergences like Autism are simply not talked about, and a lot of times it takes really long to learn that you are Neurodivergent.
A lot of people who know they are Neurodivergent have to mask (hide) their Neurodivergent traits from other people, due to the stigma, which is practically not possible as we can not change how our nervous systems work. Masking leads to burnout, which refers to intense physical/mental exhaustion accompanied by a loss of skills, and can also be manifested as anxiety, depression and even s*icidal tendencies. Imagine someone dy*ng because people have a stigma about Autism.
And you don't have to pity Autistic/Neurodivergent/Disabled people. You just have to show basic human decency you do to other Abled people. Allyship is not an act of benevolence, it is the bare minimum.
Imagine how boring and dull life would be if all people would think and behave the same way. Neurodivergent people are those who are unique, and very different from the rest. Celebrate these differences rather than stigmatizing them. The world will look very beautiful.