It's Time to Take Back April! Autism Acceptance Day and Month. 2017: Two events- April 16-30, going on NOW at https://www.facebook.com/events/791509497664189/, and first half of the month event here: and https://www.facebook.com/events/228087247600054/ ACCEPTANCE, not "tolerance," not "I accept you but not your autism."
Today's interview is with Joel Smith. Joel blogs at http://evilautie.org/ and has been an Autistic activist and advocate for many years.
Joel is 30-something, an autistic adult who loves the diversity of
the autistic world, challenging prejudice, and spending time with his wife.
What is your
life like as an Autistic person?
the same as any other person. And different than any other person (just
as they differ from each other). It's a pretty quiet life compared to
some. My wife and I have a dog, an Italian Greyhound. Our dog loves
our company and treats us like we're the most important people on earth when we
come home, but at the same time, she doesn't particularly care about
other people or animals. She's content to be with just a couple of people
all of her time, but she also misses those people greatly when they aren't
around. I think a lot of autistic people are the same - we want
companionship, love, friendship, but we may seek out a few deep relationships
and don't have much use for tons of acquaintances Certainly,
you won't find me at the bar or a loud party, nor would you even when I was in
college - those types of things just don't make sense to me. I'd much
rather spend an evening with a close friend or my wife.
What is the
most difficult about being Autistic, for you?
I don't know.
I think I have a pretty easy life compared to many (autistic or
non-autistic) at this point in my life - my needs are basically met, I have
people I love around me, and I've found a good professional niche. I'd
say the difficult part today is dealing with medical professionals for my own
needs. How do you convince a doctor that "I am in pain"
actually means "I am in pain"? I haven't figured out how to do
up, my life was much more difficult. At some points, I couldn't handle
the tasks of preparing my own meals and making sure I ate. That wasn't good.
But that wasn't anywhere as close to as bad as my childhood. Having
periods without any friends and being the target for every bully (or, probably
more correctly, every criminal intent on assault and battery in my
school) is even worse. I truly believe it's a miracle from God that I'm
alive today - that I made it through my childhood without killing myself.
So I would
say the worst thing - bar none - is abuse. Nobody should go through what
I went through. Yet kids still do, and I still hear people say "it
is better now" when it isn't, at least not for some kids. I wasn't
believed when I was a kid, and I see the same thing for kids today. I hope
anyone dealing with that can see in my life and others that it may get better
someday - I'm glad I survived, it was worth it. But it didn't feel like
that then, and someone who hasn't experienced the incredible abuse that too
many of us experience can't possibly understand why it is so hard to hang onto
Joel, I am very glad you made it, and, yes, many Autistic chlildren still suffer this kind of abuse, sadly. It is a sobering thought, which makes me want to put in a bit of (visual) blank space before jumping right into the next question. [I have entered ten (10) lines of blank space right here.]
What is the
most joyful, fun, exciting thing about being
I don't know
if it has anything directly to do with my autism or not, but I love being with
people I love. I also love - always have - seeing the world, whether
that's a mountain 5 miles away (I did say my life is good now!) or a country on
the other side of the planet. But probably the autism-related aspect is
the freedom I've given myself - in part because I know my brain is wired
differently than a lot of other peoples' - to be myself, to pursue my dreams
and goals, and to do this in a way others might not.
How has the
Autism Acceptance Day/Month effort over the past three years affected you
personally? If you were not aware of it until recently, what meaning does
Autism Acceptance Day/Month have to you now?
Autistic Pride Day from years ago, and how some people felt that to have pride
in who they were, that they had to somehow prove they were superior or better
than neurotypicals. It was not joyful, it was sad. Not everyone did
this, but it was common enough that I had trouble feeling very proud on
Autistic Pride Day. Today, it feels like the movement is, by large, more
accepting of diversity - including neurotypicality. I like the focus on
the need for acceptance rather than pride, I think that focuses us on what is
important. Not superiority, but simply the right to participate in the
ironic really since much of what I write on Evil Autie (http://evilautie.org/) and my
defunct "This Way of Life" blog was criticized for being anti-parent
or anti-neurotypical. That's why I adopted the "evil" moniker -
I still have no idea why people sometimes see my writing that way, but I
figured I might as well embrace it and try to make something good out of it.
I don't think I'm really evil, but my words are so often misinterpreted
that I got known as "that angry guy" or anti-parent or anti-neurotypical.
Yes, there are things I get angry about, but ironically one of them is
autistic feelings of superiority over others. I find that just as
offensive as any other egotistical behavior from any other group! So I'm
thrilled that the focus is on autism acceptance now - something we desperately
What is one
thing about acceptance that would make a difference in the world?
The person who is living a hell in real life, whether it's incredibly
cruel abuse at school or a completely horrible living situation, that person
needs real, tangible, believable hope that there is a possibility of things
being better one day. They need to hear from people who have been through
what they are living, who can give a bit of hope. Part of this is working
to make sure that this hope is realistic, that there is something for people to
hope for, something that can actually occur. When you're abused, it's
hard to see the good possibilities that really do exist for your future, but
it's even harder to see the ones that don't yet exist. So we need to
change that. We need to make it easier to see possibilities by making
more possibilities exist.
My wife is
also autistic. It's wonderful to share my ife with someone who shares
this part of me, who can understand me in this way - and it's wonderful to be
able that I'm able to do the same for her.
Joel, thank you so much for this interview. I, too, think that hope is of critical importance. These interviews might provide some of that hope for readers of this blog.