Autistic people are people too, you know V.2.0
by neuro diver
After a re-examination of my previous post , I have concluded that perhaps my anger clouded my articulation in reinforcing my opinion , possibly compromising the point I sought to establish with regards to the predominant reaction to the events surrounding the attempted murder of the autistic girl Issy Stapleton by her mother Kelli Stapleton . Consequently, I wish to explore my own reaction to the general consensus and expound upon the rhetoric which led to the formulation of my opinion in a clearer and less judgmental manner , and hopefully illuminate the different points of views which divide the autism community .
I briefly entertained the idea of deleting my previous post due to the aggressive nature of my discourse, but have decided against it in acknowledgment of my own frustration and anger upon learning of the ableistic reactions that dominated the media outlets . It’s this alone which I had hoped to articulate in my previous post , and not my opinion on Kelli Stapleton , as I know nothing of her character and person and do not wish to extend my opinion publicly . Rather , it’s the frightening onslaught of support and understanding towards the perpetrators which this attempted murder and the murder of the autistic teen Alex Spourdalakis by his mother have elicited , hinting at the underlying troubling public perception of autism and the multiple issues surging from the medias’ misinformed portrayal of autistic individuals .
But while my reaction and indignity were informed by my own perception of autism achieved through hours spent pouring over information begotten from autistic individuals and interaction with my autistic son , the same cannot be said for most people with no autistic relations whose knowledge of autism is rightfully limited to the public information available , which is unfortunately highly unreliable : A narrative centered mostly around the perspectives of the caretakers and medical community and NOT autistic individuals themselves , or occasionally, the view that autism is a superpower with savant skills , both views placing autism in the “otherness” category without seeking to provide understanding into what it means to be autistic in order to offer insights that would bridge the understanding and relational gaps between autistics and non autistics .
The dominant view on autism is one dictated by those with similar opinions to the people asserting that autism is an illness which needs curing , an epidemic taking over the world, a burden to families, and a depletion of monetary resources .
Autism Speaks, one of the biggest autism organisations in North America , explains autism in their video entitled “autism everyday” with a series of interviews with parents of autistic children complaining about the children’s shortcomings and their own hardships while showing them during various moments of distress as they exhibit symptoms of tantrums . One woman states at one point that she sometimes wants to drive herself and her daughter off of a bridge during the interview with her daughter playing in the background within hearing distance .
As disturbing as that comment is , it’s representative of the mass mentality with regards to autism as being a burden to parents and fails to take into account the opinions of the autistic people , many of whom address this disparity by opting to become self-advocates, taking to blogs to have their voices heard , asserting that they are here and trying to communicate their humanity , their person-hood and their depth of feeling in light of the false belief that they lack any of these . And yet their voices are quelled by those manipulating the media’s content as they falsely speak on their behalf and promote the notion that autism is “the other” , bolstering the barriers of understanding between autistics and their neuro-typical peers and dehumanizing autistic individuals by reducing them to a set of common behaviors , when they are anything but.
Furthermore, this type of media content promotes parents to avail themselves of similar displays of self-pity and martyrdom to view themselves as victims , and to render acceptable the notion that suicide/murder as a resort is possible and/or justifiable , opening it up as an option.
While It’s not my intention to undermine the hardships of parents who are burdened by the stress of worrying over their children’s futures , constantly find themselves in distress while forced to fight the world to secure a place for their children within it , and acknowledge that everyone is entitled to bouts of bitterness over the disappointments and frustrations in life , my previous opinion stems from the trend that some parents have adopted of documenting their tribulations on blogs where they display their children’s shortcomings along with video support (without regard to the child’s privacy) corroborating the nefarious distortion of autism’s public image .
It might be considered presumptuous on my part to assume competence with regards to parenting a child on the spectrum and pontificate on these issues , especially seeing as how each person’s experience with parenting an autistic individual is their own ; my thoughts and opinions , however, reflect the many discussions , blogs and articles written BY autistic activists fighting against the public perception that they are ill, need curing, or are in any way incomplete . Most of them are accepting of themselves and only wish to be treated with the same respect and acceptance that any other human being deserves without making assumptions about their mental condition and person-hood based on their neurology.
Amy Sequenzia , an autistic activist, writer and poet who is nonverbal and communicates using facilitated communication , responds to the question of the most common misconceptions people seem to have upon meeting her with
“That I am ‘not there’ , that I am not smart or that I cannot think by myself, that I am a child and that I deserve pity. None of these are true .”
And when asked what she would like people to say to her upon meeting her, she replies with “Not what they would say, but how they would approach me. With respect and interest. Not ignoring my disabilities or how I look and act — I am not ashamed of that — but wanting to know what I think, how I feel.“
Amanda Baggs , another non-verbal autistic who made this must-see short film entitled “In my language” , presents her opinion that just like the existence of different verbal languages , there are different forms of communication , and that lack of conventional communication does not imply that someone lacks depth or is unable of communicating , but that emotions and thoughts are expressed differently and consequently need a different means of interpretation.
Many other autistic individuals , both verbal and non verbal who have articulated their experiences provide evidence against the previously held assumptions that “low-functioning” autistics are intellectually challenged or lack emotion . (And on that point, labels such as low-functioning are highly offensive and detrimental to autistic individuals’ self esteem because it insinuates uselessness .)
When a woman’s husband leaves her and she stabs her two children , when a man driven by poverty and deplorable socio-economic conditions murders another for his wallet , when a refugee driven from his home and country during war goes on a killing spree , does the initial reaction consist of examining their motives and asserting that “we can understand how they got to that point ?” or “we cannot judge them for we haven’t walked in their shoes?” or is the reaction more along of the lines of “those poor kids, how can someone do such a thing?”
The circumstances leading up to the atrocious acts are not taken into account when forming a judgment on them , so why not extend the same courtesy to the autistic victims ?
Why were they seen as a contributing factor to the acts instead of being mourned as the victims they are ? Is raising a child with autism worse than poverty or the effects of war that it should warrant justification for murder /suicide ?
When Dorothy Spourdalakis stabbed her autistic son and when Kelli Stapleton attempted to poison her daughter with carbon monoxide , the public reaction veered towards sympathy and attempts at understanding how these women could be driven to such extreme acts of violence with no regard to the HUGE gap which exists between thinking something and actually doing it . Many people think of suicide at various points of their lives for instance, but the step from thought to action is so wide and complex that claiming to understand someone who has attempted suicide based off of the fact that they themselves have entertained the notion is completely unfounded . The MOST important factor is that last step , the translation of thought to action , from abstract immaterial and inconsequential fantasy to concrete reality which marks the final progression towards psychosis and dissociation and which distinguishes mental illness , not the social or economic stressors leading up to the act . If that were the case, suicide rates would be much higher than they are .
So why weren’t these cases against autistic children held under the same standards of morality ?
Because people are misinformed about autism .
Because autistic people are having their stories told by others .
Because the information presented about autism is highly bigoted .
Autistic people should be allowed to tell their side of the story too.
I urge everyone to question their initial reactions to such news , examine their beliefs and overcome presuppositions to try and make informed opinions before posting such hurtful and discriminatory comments against autistic people .
A poignant quote from a youtube user who goes by the name Xadreos:
“If you use electricity, then you can thank Nikola tesla, inventor of Alternating current.
If you are using a computer, you can thank Bill Gates.
If your house is powered, it is likely partially powered by nuclear power, thanks to Einstein.
ALL of the people I have mentioned are believed to have been on the autistic spectrum, and if you really do appreciate what they have discovered, you can start by not trying to cure us.
Maybe we aren’t the broken ones, maybe those judging us are ”