Wednesday, April 4, 2012

"The Problem with Autism Acceptance:" A Response

I posted this response to a blog entry about "the problem with acceptance."

Acceptance goes way beyond whether someone has "manners" or not. Non-autistics certainly are lacking in so-called manners, in their own ways. Autistic “lack of manners” is no reason to throw away the entire concept of acceptance.  To focus on manners or rude behavior is to narrow the focus too much. The lack of acceptance that Autism Acceptance Day and Month, and other acceptance initiatives, tries to correct, is the lack of acceptance of Autistic people and autism in general, including trying to “normalize” us, “cure” us, make us into “typical” people neurologically. Media and fundraising organizations that demonize us, speak of us only in terms of “disorder,” are doing a great disservice to children and adults who are Autistic.

Autism is not limited or defined by “Autistic bad behavior” any more than it is limited or defined by Autistic “good” or socially acceptable to the non-Autistic majority, behavior. What acceptance does is teach others, including my child (who is sometimes rude and also sometimes more compassionate than most adults), to embrace and cherish differences. This by no means precludes learning some commonly-held etiquette, if possible. (Some Autistic people will not be able to learn all the current versions of manners, but are still to be valued as human beings.) Temple Grandin’s oft-quoted “I was raised in the 50s and 60s when manners were drilled into us” is very simplistic. I was born in 1959 and was raised in the 60s. Whether or not manners (the manners that were popular then) were drilled into us begs the question. Many of us did not learn the “manners,” and some of us could not comprehend them, and then there's always the age-old phenomenon of kids and teens and young adults of all neurologies testing the "manners" their parents wish they had. Grandin’s comment often seems to be an indictment of today’s parenting and today’s parents. Distance breeds nostalgia. I know my friends and I, all of whose parents “drilled” manners into us, were hardly the well-behaved little angels that Grandin’s comment implies. We were kids. We were learning, each at their own pace, each with whatever challenges our disabilities, or our non-disabilities, presented. That quote sounds like the all-too-familiar “He needs some discipline!” comment by unknowledgeable people when they see an Autistic kid being overloaded by a sensory trigger. As a parent, an Autistic parent, I will always want acceptance for my child, even as he is learning how to navigate the world. I want this for all children, and for adults on the spectrum. This longing, and demand for, acceptance does not mean that people have to “put up with” behaviors that are harmful to them. It does mean that non-harmful characteristics, such as stimming, or non-typical ways of learning, should be supported so that the person can grow up to be the best possible Autistic person, ultimately on their own terms. Non-harmful behavior that is merely inconvenient or not typical in aspect, that’s what acceptance suggests that people take a look at, to see if they can grow a bit and make some room in their own lives for something that does not fit their preconceived notions of “normal.”  Hand-flapping (without someone trying to coerce us out of it), needing to wear headphones without being teased, attempts to communicate even if one person’s style seems “rude” because they have difficulties with social interactions, all these make up true acceptance for all people.

An earlier post, on "the problem with awareness:" I agree that there is a continuum from awareness to understanding to acceptance. One need not dwell forever at the "awareness" phase, but actively seek out understanding. Then, one needs to move on to acceptance.

1 comment:

  1. I posted a comment in the problem with acceptance post. That's not acceptance.


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