Friday, March 29, 2013

Autism Acceptance Graphics! Because Patterns

Because Patterns has created some beautiful, colorful images for Autism Acceptance. View the originals at the link above. You may use these as long as you credit Because Patterns with the link. 









Thursday, March 28, 2013

Autism Acceptance, by Anonymous



Anonymous

I don't like explaining myself. It's a trait that got me in a lot of undeserved trouble as a child and continues to give me a nasty reputation as an adult. But there's good reason for it, especially when it comes to issues of diversity. The proliferation of resources on race/sexuality/gender issues/neurodiversity makes anything I could say redundant. Someone who wants more information on diversity will find it. Someone who doesn't isn't going to benefit from me prattling on about why there isn't a Heterosexual Pride Parade or a White History Month.

And it puts me in an awkward position because more often than not some offhanded comment in casual conversation yields a so called “teachable moment”, which I tend to approach with as much enthusiasm as I would picking hair out of an otherwise decent marinara sauce. Contrary to popular belief, minorities aren't waiting on any and all opportunities to school the masses, and I'm no exception.

But then, there's that one thing you absolutely can't dodge because you know it will just keep coming up in future conversations. None gets to me quite like the gag-inducing complimentary insult.

You've heard them before. What's your favorite? Here are some of mine:

“Your English is wonderful!” (old white lady who assumed I wasn't American)
“But you don't look black, you look mixed!” (Various black dudes. I am mixed, but seriously? Get me off the Self Hate Express.)
“But you have no accent!” (Various white people who assumed English wasn't my first language)
“You have good hair!” (White chick. No. Just shut up)

Last, and unfortunately not least:

“Wow! He's autistic!That's amazing....how did that happen?”
“It must be so hard for you...”


Let me back up a bit. I've been in a committed, non traditional, long term relationship with a man on the spectrum for the past 4 years. We are different races and from different cultures. We get along just fine. This, apparently, isn't supposed to happen. As such, I'm apparently required to explain myself.

There's nothing quite like someone congratulating you for not being in the tears in the fetal position on a daily basis because your boyfriend experiences the world different than you do. Or because it's assumed if he isn't demonstrating his affection for me exactly as a twenty-something, white,  middle class, American male should, that he lacks basic humanity and can't relate to me. Nothing like people asking you why, with wide eyes and slack jaw, you would pick someone on the spectrum, as if the decision were a great burden, or a humanitarian sacrifice. Try asking someone NT why she picked her NT boyfriend, with the same facial expression and quivering note of shock in your voice, and watch how quickly you're (rightfully) declared an offensive twat.

I'm with him because we're companions. I love his company, I love his mind, I love his soul. Really, I shouldn't have to fucking explain that.

And yet, the sad looks and shoulder rubs, and the it-must-be-hard-for-yous. As if all NT only relationships are smooth rides with no disputes, conflicts, pains and problems all their own. As if NTs are nothing but empathetic listeners forever brimming with love and respect for their partners, incapable of being unreasonable, hurtful, or bewilderingly difficult to live with. Please.

Hard compared to what? What it would be for you? Or what it should be for me, based on what you feel NT-AS relationships are: charity cases?

Spare me your sympathy for a problem I don't have. 

Don't get me wrong here. I'm not blind. We're an odd pair by most people's standards. I don't deny that both our relationship and our way of relating to one another is bound to raise some eyebrows, for many many reasons. I also don't resent ignorance in itself: I realize a lot of people simply have very little understanding of autism, empathy, our relationship, our combination of races and cultures, and how they all mesh together. I do, however, resent the fuck out of the insulated atmosphere people create and maintain, which leads to said ignorance and pushes me to a point where I need to justify why I'm not feeling like the injured/abused party in a relationship with an autistic man.

I resent that caring for the needs of your partner and working through problems as they arise—something that is part of any relationship, something that can lead to mutual growth or deterioration depending on the individual dynamics of the couple—is considered a burden when one person is labeled autistic, and nobody questions assumptions that facilitate this stereotype. Nobody even considers what the relationship looks like from both sides, because only the NT side matters.

I resent the ever living shit out of the fact that people can't appreciate and love what I love about him, then dare to ask me about empathy. They can't appreciate the steps he's taken to bring me into his life, the willpower it takes for him to deal with a world that's often physically and sensorially hostile to him and still make an effort to reach his hand out to me every day, to pull himself out of physical pain to smile at me and make me smile. They can't, without adding a caveat and a backhanded insult about how wonderful I am for being with someone of his description, when I still can't figure out what on earth he sees in me.

Still don't get it? You can't figure out why praising someone for choosing what you clearly consider to be an inferior partner is a problem? Here's a fun experiment for you: next time you want to talk about how hard it must be for a person to be with someone from a different background, replace “autistic” with “black”. Then shout out the sentence in public. Yes, with black people standing around. Then have everyone else explain it to you.

If you're into patting people on the back for being “brave” enough to date an autistic man, don't. Nobody needs to see or deal with that level of ignorance swinging around under a threadbare covering of good will/pity for a fellow NT—but disdain for someone she loves and respects.

And if you come across someone eager to give and receive compliments about how awesome you are for existing and making adult choices with your life, run the other way. 
 


Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Autism Acceptance Day from Emma's Messiah Miracle of Music

A reprint from Emma's Messiah Miracle of Music

Autism Acceptance Day

I am on perhaps such an important day willing to speak out for my friends who  are now unable as I was three years ago.

I am now able to speak with my hand and better by mouth.  I am infact fully participating in my world in so many ways. I do all my speaking to all my medical doctors and they fully respect me as me, not as moms imaginary friend who tags along sometimes making a proper verbal comment. I was my own advocate during my final IEP meeting, even reminding mom I can speak for myself! She laughed. I work at Lowes for school credit and frankly believe I could maybe train a few of my peers, laugh.

Perhaps I should speak for really what I believe acceptance is.  Acceptance is not working for a agency,school,or medical practice or social agency that is for disabled and speaking like we don't understand or even exist. I am somebody with feelings that deserve respect. My mind may not show on the outside like when maybe I have jumped or danced in a room when others stared  but I understood everything said by hateful people making fun of my joy of the music.  I understood what was said by teachers about me or my mom. I understood and remember. Having a sticker on your car or wearing the tee shirt isn't acceptance.


Acceptance is knowing my neurology is not the same as yours. You don't have to like when I scream, mom says sometimes we have to leave when I get really loud. She says we can go in the car because people  sometimes get scared.  She doesn't. She says ok lets yell now. But I actually understand because I don't like loud noises either.
Autism acceptance day for me is a day for my friends who still may not speak yet with their hands or mouth to know I will not forget you. 


And to my friends who knew I was inside before I could know, I thank you for believing. 

The original article is here:  Autism Acceptance Day

Belonging



Belonging

Accepted
Embraced
Heard
I found my place

Accepted
Embraced
Heard
The joy of being me

The joy of being part of a community
That sees me

Accepted
Embraced
Heard
Despite the predictions of a lesser life

Accepted
Embraced
Heard
By friends who value me
Friends who value the whole me

Accepted
Embraced
Heard
My friends and I are the same

No judgment
 - Only trust
You can count on me
No games
 - Only truth
We are who we are

Accepted
Embraced
Heard
The joy of belonging

My community accepts me
It propels me forward
High expectations
Embraced
Heard

My life is worthy
My words have purpose
Heard and embraced
My community grows

Acceptance
I am heard
Embraced
By my diverse community

I belong
I thrive
Joy

Accepted
Embraced
Heard
Respected
Valued

Belonging

Happiness




Copyright 2013 by Amy Sequenzia

Autism Acceptance

I spent the majority of my life knowing that I was a little different and had a few quirks.  I assumed it was because I was interested in artsy things.  It wasn’t until I was 34 that I discovered it was due to a high functioning form of autism known as Asperger’s Syndrome.  I don’t look at my life as being “normal” and then discovering that I’m autistic.  My autism went undiagnosed, but it was always present.

I don’t consider myself special needs.  I went to normal classes with everybody else my age.  I didn’t receive any special treatment with tests or social activities at school.  There wasn’t a need for that.  Plus I went to school in a time when this mentality did not really exist.  I was primarily a straight A student, with the exception of a B in Geometry.  I didn’t find school challenging especially.  I spent very little time studying.  I know I could have studied harder and better, but there wasn’t really a point since not trying still earned me an A grade.  My quirks were never behavior issues.  And anytime I would start to get bullied, I was well liked enough that the girls in my class would defend me.  I didn’t have close friends or get invited to parties or sleep overs, but I got along with people and was liked, even if I wasn’t popular.

Today you will hear that autistic people have behavior issues.  I guess some do.  My quirks and oddities were not behavior against other people, but then again I grew up in a different time than today’s children.  We didn’t have FaceBook, Twitter, 24 hour children’s programming, video games, iPads, smart phones, and other technology.  It was more of a society that communicated with each other by talking to each other and interacting with each other.  Being on a phone in public, texting, or walking around with headphones on would have been considered rude.  I had problems with social interactions, but as a society, we were more capable of interacting with each other.  It’s not this way today.  Autistic children and even so called “normal” children are missing out actual social interactions and building social skills.

Having been raised “normal”, I guess I could have spent the rest of my life not getting the autism diagnosis or revealing it.  I could have continued to pass myself off as a “normal” person who works a 40 hour a week job as a manager of a convenience store that spends his free time making movies and writing books.  I mean, whenever I tell somebody that I’m autistic, the first thing to come out of their mouth is, “I’m sorry.”  It’s like they think I have somehow contracted this horrible life debilitating disease, which is kind of how the media presents autism spectrum disorders.

The truth of the matter is that autism isn’t a disease.  It’s a difference in thinking.  You can cure diseases.  And I have no problem with funding for curing diseases like AIDS or cancer.  You see, diseases make you sick and even take your life.  Autism doesn’t do that.  All it really does is cause the person to see the world differently in the way that other supposed autistics like Thomas Jefferson, Mark Twain, Beethoven, Michelangelo, Isaac Newton, Jane Austen, Henry Ford, Charles Darwin, and Albert Einstein did.  Their lives were not cut short by autism.  If anything, we remember these people for being different, but they would have been diagnosed with autism had they been born today.

I read an article today about the alarming medical costs for autism with the various special needs and treatments required.  The article also pointed out the alarming rise in autism rates.  In 2007, it was 1 in 88 people born were autistic.  It has risen to 1 in 50 this year.  And the Koreans estimate that it is probably closer to 1 in 38 in their population.  While the article applauded the fact that the diagnosing of autism has gotten better, it warned that the continual rising of the occurrence of autism must be stopped.

For the alarmists out there, I would like to propose that the increase in autism might have to do with diagnosing it better.  It could also have to do with evolution.  It’s not a disease.  It’s a difference in thinking.  Look at our society.  The Stubenville Rape case shows a group of normally socialized people who think it is okay to rape somebody while they are drunk, video tape it, and to do all of this in a public area with witnesses.  Nobody speaks up.  In the UK, there was a gay, autistic, epileptic boy that was murdered on his 18th birthday.  It seems his classmates thought it would be good natured fun to write gay slurs on him with lipstick, cover him with tanning oil, and then open a lighter near his crotch.  60% of his body was burned, and he died 2 days after his 18th birthday.  Again, this was in public with lots of witnesses.  Nobody said anything or tried to stop it.

Being autistic, I can tell you that one of the differences I have is my ability to question the rest of society.  I have never understood peer pressure.  I have never understood making fun of somebody else so that I could gain the popular opinion of another person.  I have never understood wanting to impress people that I consider idiots.  I have never followed trends.  I didn’t get a class ring.  My parents offered to buy me one like they had bought my brother and sister.  It was $300.  I would much rather have $300 to buy something that I would want than a ring that I would never wear, especially after high school.  It might have been popular, but it was a lot of money for something that only had a real value for four years of my life.

Maybe I was fortunate in that I was born when I was.  Instead of having Yo Gabba Gabba and these other children’s shows that teach social skills, I had Sesame Street, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, and The Muppet Show.  Instead of learning that I needed to fit in, I learned that it was okay to be different.  And I didn’t realize how important these lessons were until I was officially diagnosed with autism.

When everybody else was trying to feel sorry for me, I thought back to my childhood and to Kermit the Frog.  I figured being autistic was kind of like being green.   “When autistic is all there is to be it could make you wonder why.  But why wonder?  Why wonder?  I am autistic, and it’ll do fine.  It’s beautiful!  And I think it’s what I want to be.”

And then I thought of the episode of The Muppet Show where Gonzo thinks Madeline Kahn wants to marry him and then finds out that she doesn’t.  Gonzo starts to sing “Wishing Song” where he sings about all of the things he wishes he had and wishes he was somebody else.  Although Madeline doesn’t want to marry Gonzo, she tells him that she’s glad that he is who he is.  Then he finishes his song with all of the things that he does and that he is happy to be himself.  Being different is okay.
I decided to disclose my autism because I like myself the way I am.  I grew up in a time when being different wasn’t a bad thing.  I spent the first 34 years of my life being considered normal and not autistic.  The diagnosis didn’t change anything about my life.  Autism isn’t a disease.  It can’t be cured.  As a society, we would find it morally reprehensible if we tried to cure homosexuality or to say that any naturally occurring ethnicity we would find undesirable needs to be prevented and cured of their undesirable traits.  It’s the same thing with autism.  Think about it and look at human history.  Being autistic doesn’t make me less of a human being.  It means that sometimes I see things differently, interpret the world differently, think differently, and question what society accepts as the truth because they fear questioning it would make them an outcast.

One of the advantages of not caring what society thinks of me is that I can openly state my Christian beliefs.  I have a simple faith that humans were made in God’s image, and even in our fallen state, we retain an element of our Creator.  God does not make mistakes.  Autism is not a defect or an imperfection.  It’s the way I’m supposed to be.  It doesn’t mean autism will make my life easy.  Sometimes we are created different for a purpose.  There are times I question what I am supposed to do with my life or wish I was at a different place in my life.  At the end of the day, though, I am happy with who I am.  And I am happy with no other purpose in life than to tell other autistic people that it is okay to be your autistic self.  At the end of the day, you have to go home and live with yourself.  I’ve always found it is much easier to live with myself when I am true to myself instead of trying to conform to somebody else’s opinion of what I should be.


This post is a reprint. The original can be found here at Jack Gunthridge's blog:  Autism Acceptance

Belonging



Belonging

Accepted
Embraced
Heard
I found my place

Accepted
Embraced
Heard
The joy of being me

The joy of being part of a community
That sees me

Accepted
Embraced
Heard
Despite the predictions of a lesser life

Accepted
Embraced
Heard
By friends who value me
Friends who value the whole me

Accepted
Embraced
Heard
My friends and I are the same

No judgment
 - Only trust
You can count on me
No games
 - Only truth
We are who we are

Accepted
Embraced
Heard
The joy of belonging

My community accepts me
It propels me forward
High expectations
Embraced
Heard

My life is worthy
My words have purpose
Heard and embraced
My community grows

Acceptance
I am heard
Embraced
By my diverse community

I belong
I thrive
Joy

Accepted
Embraced
Heard
Respected
Valued

Belonging

Happiness




Copyright 2013 by Amy Sequenzia

Achieving Autistic Potential

*Note: Some of the posts this year are not exactly about autism acceptance but show such an accepting attitude toward autism that they are being included. This post on achieving Autistic potential discusses schooling and the importance of learning in Autistic-specific ways.

Achieving Autistic Potential

I am endlessly fascinated by the lack of mainstream awareness of the potential of autistics. I work with families who think their Aspie child will not be able to go to university, hold down a job or a relationship. I meet autistic children who are not seen to have the potential to read or type because they are currently non oral.

I am not an anomaly. I am not atypical for an Aspie, and I work, have just submitted my PhD, have a long term partner, helped raise a child, run a business etc most of the Aspies that I know in person or online have degrees, have had or are in long term relationships, have had or do have successful careers. I know autistics studying part time at university and doing volunteer work, I know non oral autistic adults who write prose far better than I could ever hope to. Why, I wonder, are these autistic potentials not shared in the wider world outside of our autistic community?


More than this, I question why some of us experience more anxiety or less confidence than others. Minimising anxiety and maximising confidence seem to be key components of achieving autistic potential. I was brought up to believe I could have any career I wanted, I was expected to go to university. When other people put me down or said I could not achieve something, I presumed they were stupid, because I believed in my own competence. I believed in myself because my parents and teachers believed in me. Yes, I admit, I am one of those academic nerdy people, loved learning at school etc etc. But before you think, well my student or child could not achieve anything, pause a moment and reflect:


- Autistic adults who are non oral can read and type, writing powerful and emotive poetry, stories and non-fiction
- Autistic who were non oral until they started school have gone on to lecture at university, write books, make lots of money
- Aspie adults who lacked interest in many aspects of school and focused on their strengths and interests go on to develop incredible skills in their areas of interest, many of which enable these adults to pursue careers in these areas
- Stroppy Aspie girls can grow into strong secure Aspie women, gaming fanatic Aspie boys can grow into computer programmers who make more money in a week than many people many in a year.


Our autistic potential exists because we naturally want to spend time doing things we are interested in. This is often described as obsessing or fixating, but if that interest turns into a career is that obsession healthy or unhealthy? Our autistic potential also exists because of our natural attention to detail and desire to perfect the things that we choose to do. Perfectionism can be a curse, but the drive behind it can propel us into success. 

Our autistic potential is hindered when we lack self belief or others lack belief in us. It upsets me everytime someone presumes that autistics lack potential. But even more crucially our potential can be blocked by anxiety and sensory overload. It is not possible to learn and grow if you are constantly stressed and anxious, or spending all your energy trying to deal with sensory overload.

I wore headphones all through university, at school my classrooms were quiet and I could learn. Some classrooms I visit now are so vibrant, busy and full of children collaboratively discussing their work that I need to leave within an hour. I have a choice, an autistic student may not… How are they supposed to learn, to develop their autistic potential when they are overloaded by the vibrancy and busyness of their classroom? As a result these autistic children do not appear to make progress and/or exhibit challenging behaviours. Often, these very same children will read incessantly at home, but struggle to read basic books at school.

Aspie kids have another barrier to achieving their potential. They, I included, often refuse(d) to do school tasks they perceive as pointless/boring/way too easy. Their teachers often think the students are not working because they don’t know what to do or how to do it, when in fact they are too bored to do it! Many many Aspie kids and adults have an innate arrogance about their intelligence which they may or may not share with others (both of which have drawbacks). Because of this arrogance they often do not feel it is worthwhile doing things that are not interesting or challenging. These are the children making and selling computer games or jewellery or studying archeology age 8-10, but doing very little at school. One of the reasons I loved school so much was that I was given work at my own level, so maths and Latin 3-5 years above my age, but English the same as my peers. I was also allowed to do a special interest project every term in my primary years. In high school I would spend hours and hours at home on my art projects and five minutes on all my homework combined. Introducing new skills and topics via special interests gets around this issue and pitching work too hard not too easy is more likely to engage an Aspie child. Setting practical rather than written assignments may work for aspies and autistics who struggle to write. 

But mostly, he most important facilitator or the achievement of autistic potential is having a belief in the competence and potential of autistic kids. Sharing stories of autistic adults and the range of abilities and careers they have will normalise the idea of working. Teaching strategies to succeed in whatever area facilitates success. No-one needs to talk to be intelligent, it is others who need to learn to listen to unspoken words. No-one needs good facial recognition to be able to learn calculus. What we need is to be interested and engaged. Good teachers and kind parents can drive the achievement of autistic potential by using topics that interest their autistic students and presentation methods that engage these students. Universities and employers can continue to facilitate autistics achieving their potential by being clear about their expectations, saying what they mean, meaning what they say and having low sensory environments. This minimises our anxiety and sensory inputs so that we can work hard, using our innate drive to learn, do, master things and achieve.

White Polo Shirts, Autistic Eyes


MuAApic
Multiracial boy sitting on brown leather chair 

wearing a white polo shirt with the words "stand

against restraints, seclusion, and bullying by 

teachers"

About a week was I looking for a recent picture of my son stimming as my annual contribution to Paula Durbin-Westby's Autism Acceptance Year site, and came across one of my favorite recent photos of my son. I decided that this would be his official Autism Acceptance Month photo this year. But why I made this decision requires the story of how he came to be the proud owner of what I believe is the only white polo shirt with the provocative words "Stand Against Restraint, Seclusion, and Bullying by Teachers" manufactured anywhere, to date.  That slogan was emblazoned on t shirts and is now part of the history of the protests brought to the very door of the Judge Rotenberg Center in the course of a valiant war to release one of the few tapes of sustained torture that survived the purging of evidence related to charges brought against the center over  the many years of its existence. So here is the story.
Mustafa was one of the first customers to order a t shirt created by autistic activist Lydia Brown, for those of us who were families fighting against maltreatment of autistic children in school placements of all kinds. By this time Emily Holcomb was safe and Chris Baker's petition letter was being passed through all internet social networking channels. No one knew that  Cheryl McCollins would come down like the wrath of the Lord on the JRC in court and request the court release the video of the 30 hours of torture her son Andre suffered at the hands of staff be released to the media. Everyone got their new t shirts and were happy. Problem was,  once the shirt was on him, Mu would not take his off. As happens with some children, he liked the shirt and wanted that shirt on every day. Of course it began to fade from frequent washing. And there was no guarantee that he would like a new identical t shirt as much. More importantly, he needed to dress more formally for some of the places we were going and that t shirt was too casual. I posed the problem to Lydia and asked if she could do me a favor that might make both Mu and I happy.  The result is the white polo shirt in the photo above. Even though the writing beautifully stitched on the right breast area makes special needs service professionals wince, they regularly compliment him on the how great the white shirt looks against his dark tan complexion.

The magnitude of what this photograph means to me becomes clear when it is realized that although Mu did not choose to stop whistling while I was taking the photo, he did look right at the camera. He is, by nature, someone who does not look directly at anyone, so when he does it means you have been given a gift. This is also the first photo in which he is beginning to look like the man he will become. And that small sign of a different operating system, his autistic eyes, look for a brief instant directly into mine. If you have spent any time around autistic adults and they grace you with those eyes you will recognize the eyes of your children and catch your breath. The feeling is one of finding a long lost cousin of your child at a family reunion. You see the eyes, even in complete strangers, and you don't have to ask. Even when they don't say "I am autistic", you know.

 It came to me recently that one of the many reasons I care so much for all of these activists, and all those autistic children and adults they fight for,  is because they have, regardless of color, my son's eyes.  When they are able to look directly at me for an instant, it is a gift and a surprise, and at that instant I remember my son and how much we love him.  I "see" my autistic son is growing up.

The Awareness I Want to See

I want to see us move on from the past and move into “I didn’t mourn for you.” To me, that will be true autism awareness.

I’ve heard the argument that people need to mourn when they find out their child is autistic. I get it. I even get the argument about how they mourn for their own lost dreams when they realize they child they have is not the child they though they have.

But, you know what? We don’t have to have mourning at all.

I look at the LGBT community. 20 years ago, it would be pretty darn common for a parent to be sad, mourn, maybe even be angry when their child said, “Mom, dad, I’m gay.” The best, most pro-gay parent groups at the time talked about the need to give yourself (as a parent) time to adjust to who your child is, and that it’s okay to feel sadness. That it’s a real, authentic feeling.

Nobody doubts the sincerity of their feelings. But that didn’t make it right. While I applaud people who’s views about homosexuality have changed after a family member came out – and am genuinely glad they now accept their child – the reality is that before their views changed, they saw homosexuality in a negative way, not a neutral and certainly not a positive way. It took something very powerful – the love for their child – to help them overcome their own prejudice.

Now, I’m not saying these people are horrible people for having once held prejudiced views. They have changed, after all. And that’s admirable. But at the same time, wouldn’t it be even better to not have been prejudiced in the first place? We can’t necessarily help our upbringing and our ignorance, and, yes, how we respond when confronted with new information is what truly matters. But at the same time, do you not think a gay child (who hasn’t yet come out) is going to feel more comfortable coming out in a family where the parents have already shown acceptance of gay people rather than in one that it will take a process for the parents to grapple with their past prejudice? Of course it’s better to have the acceptance early, not just late.

Likewise, it’s possible for a parent to not be crushed when they find out their child has an autism diagnosis. It’s possible for them to say, “This is part of who my child is” and move on, without tears and pain and fear. And I think focusing so much on the need for some to mourn (which, obviously, is legitimate) keeps us from seeing what the world could look like. The world could be a place where “your child is autistic” doesn’t sound like a death sentence or a painful disease.

As an autistic adult who likes who he is, I’ve found I now have to add a disclaimer: Yes, of course, I’m not saying you should like seizures, aggression, pain, or anything else like that. But of course those things aren’t autism either. And before you make assumptions about me and my life, disabilities I do or don’t have, I challenge you to consider your assumptions. I’m not saying I’m just like your kid, but at the same time, don’t expect me to be happy when you say, “but if you were like my kid, you’d hate autism.”

I’m just wanting “your child has autism” to be seen as what it is: another insight into the makeup of your child. Alone, that statement doesn’t tell you much about the child. It doesn’t tell you if they will have an easy or hard life, if she’ll excel in academics or her career, if she’ll get married or have kids, or even if your family will be able to do A, B, or C – whatever A, B, and C are. It’s possible to not go through months of mourning for that child you thought you had.

Now, maybe you need to go through that. That’s fine, and it’s certainly better to go through it and come out the other side with a positive view of autism than for you to simply hold onto that view. But wouldn’t it be nice to just skip the mourning completely, and continue to celebrate the child you already have? That’s the vision I have. A vision where no autistic child has the experience of bringing devastation to their parents just for having a name for the type of person they are.

That’s the world I want to live in. That is autism awareness and acceptance.

This post is a reprint. The original is here:  The Awareness I Want to See. Read more about Joel's blog here: http://evilautie.org/about-this-blog/

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Assume Good Intentions: Autism Acceptance Month 2013

By kind permission of E at The Third Glance, I am reposting

Assume Good Intentions: Autism Acceptance Month 2013

Author’s Note: A similar version of this post was published here last year on April 3rd, 2012. This one has similar elements, but is not the same post.

It’s almost April. Last year, April, I was about 4 months deep into the blogosphere, trying to find my voice. I was connecting with bloggers for the first time, and learning how to navigate yet another social situation that I was unfamiliar with, and I was trying to figure out my place in the blogosphere. This year, I’ve been around for a little longer. I’ve seen nasty things, been the victim of nasty things, and seen just how easy it is to set off a chain reaction of anger and hate over a tiny little error, and how polarizing that can be. But I’ve also seen some amazing things. I’ve seen people band together to share messages of love and acceptance. I’ve seen some incredible projects, like last year’s Autism Positivity Flash Blog (which will happen again on April 30th of this year, details TBA), and Autism Shines, and the Autistic People Should and Autistic People Are flash blogs (among many, many others), that have had ignited real changes in the way that people within the autism community and outside of it think about autism.

And so, with that said, I have been around here long enough to know that April is a time when tensions run high and the autism community tends to fracture. Emotions and opinions intensify to a breaking point. It’s human nature, I think. With more awareness comes more visibility and more voices striving to be heard. And April is a time of high visibility. April is a time when people read and judge, often without context, and we are more likely to get caught up in a wave of support for one group or hate for another. When emotions run high, divides between different groups within the community shift to become deep schisms. April is an interesting month. Love it or hate it, it comes every year, and there are a number of forces in place that keep it coming.

Now this is the Internet. And for some reason, on the internet, some people turn into the same people they are when they are driving super aggressively. Anonymously, they feel they can say or do whatever they want, no matter who it hurts.. But most people aren’t like that. Most people have good intentions. If a parent is on the internet, it is most likely that they love and care about their child and are trying to help them however they can. And if an Autistic individual is on the web, they are likely there to advocate either for themselves or for others, and to have a discussion. (Of course, this is not true for everyone, but for a vast majority it is, and thus, the assumption should be that they are reasonable people.)

And so when you’re on the internet, and someone says something that offends you, rather than jumping on them immediately, take a deep breath, count to ten, and try to assume good intentions. The person may have said or done something that offended you. But chances are, when they said it, they didn’t think to themselves “I’m going to write this essay and publish it because I think it will piss off a lot of people in the Autism Community. I’m hoping to have a major argument and get nasty comments and cause a mess.” – While this is sometimes true, it really isn’t the nature of most of what goes on*. Rather, it’s far more likely their thought process was something along the lines of: “this is something that I think might resonate with some people. I want to help.” 

Unfortunately, most of the time, when there’s an offending essay, article, or anything else, we pounce, attack, and get very angry. We rally our friends against the person, and attempt to shut them down completely. I think its human nature, but I don’t think that it is the right reaction. In some situations, it probably is, but people are so much more open to learning and communicating when something is brought up kindly.

In light of this, I have a simple rule that I live by, and it seems to work out pretty well.

Assume Good Intentions. (And treat others the way that you want to be treated)

Now while saying something that offends someone is really not very nice, we have all been guilty of an “open mouth, insert foot” moment (or two or many). Sometimes we say something that is offensive to someone. I recently wrote about this in my post When an Autistic Person makes a Social Error. I’m not perfect, and really, I’m pretty confident no one else is either. We’ve all said and done things that have offended others, usually completely accidentally, coming from a place of ignorance, not a place of hate. 

Unfortunately, once the offense is out there, it can’t be un-done. Offense is offense. I simply contend that there are multiple ways to respond. If you say or do something that offended someone, would you rather have them scream in your face about how much of an awful person you are, while dissecting everything you’ve said to prove that you are a terrible human being? Or would you rather they told you, calmly, what was offensive to them and why? Which scenario are you more likely want apologize? Which response makes you more likely to broaden the way you think? Even if you disagree completely with the person’s viewpoint, agreeing to disagree, while maintaining a respectful dialogue is progress. Exchanging verbal blows simply alienates and deepens divides, which is exactly the last thing we want.

And after all, it is about to be April. Like many people out there in the Autism Community, my hope is that this April, there will be increased dialogue and increased acceptance of autistic people. It’s easy to get angry. It’s easy to respond with hate. But hate begets hate, and it is rarely the right answer. This April, as we strive to spread the message of Autism Acceptance, I hope that we can dig deeper into the roots of why we want autism acceptance. We want it, because we believe that every human being, regardless of neurology, is worthy of personhood, of being treated with respect, dignity, kindness, and understanding. And if we want that level of acceptance for ourselves and/or our loved ones, we have to live it ourselves. So please, this April, spread autism acceptance. And while doing so, assume good intentions, and make it commonplace to give everyone else what we so want: the rights to personhood, respect, dignity, and kindness.

“If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. … We need not wait to see what others do.” –Gandhi**
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*There are some very awesome autistic advocates who regularly publish “controversial” posts that are designed to make allistic parents question their motives or actions. These posts are not what I am referring to. I am more referring to posts by parents looking for help managing certain situations with their autistic kids, etc.

**I was going to end this with the “Be the change you wish to see in the world” quote commonly attributed to Gandhi. However, I went to find out whether he actually said it – something I do when I’m going to cite anything (thank you academia), and since I know a lot of these inspirational quotes attributed to people weren’t actually said by them, and I found that we have no record of him actually saying this. http://www.compassionatespirit.com/Be-the-Change.htm. Further investigation turned up this: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/30/opinion/falser-words-were-never-spoken.html. And so, while I believe that this saying effectively embodies what I am trying to say, I cannot attribute it to Gandhi. The quote I have used is attributed to Gandhi in the NYTimes article, however a source is not cited, so I haven’t attributed that to him either. That doesn’t diminish the power or sentiment behind it, however.