1) Censoring Viewpoints of Autism that Differs Your Own: The advocates of neurodiversity, who are usually consider to be “higher functioning” autistic, are often that we have no right to speak on behalf of those who are considered lower functioning autistics. It’s said that we “are not autistic enough.”
Our accusers are usually parents of these autistic children whom are considered “lower functioning;” whom are not autistic at all. Nevertheless, they believe that they and they alone should be allowed to speak on behalf of their children whom they cannot in any way relate to. I have been attack online by such parents when trying to appeal to them to give their children the benefit of the doubt, as well as when I’ve try to speak words of hope and encouragement to those parents who want to believe in their children’s potential. They seem to believe that science holds the only hope for their children in the form of a cure and that their children will live condemned lives unless a cure is found.
There are some “advocacy” organizations, researchers, educators, etc. who do not welcome the input of those whom are considered “high functioning” autistics. They have rejected offers such autistics to come and speak for free at their events in order to help them see autism from a different light. These organizations routinely show disregard to those whom are considered “high functioning” autistics by engaging in promotional activities that don’t distinguish between the capabilities of those who are considered “low functioning” and “high functioning” autistics, but instead shows all autistics as hopeless.
2) Exaggerating the Struggles of Autistics, Especially by Fundraisers: Some of the above mentioned groups raise donations by produce “educational” video in which they film autistic children having melt downs. While this is happening, have their mothers tell the world that there is nothing that they can do about it. This is grossly misleading. Although it can be slow and painful process, but the causes of these melt downs can eventually be identified. Then the parents can either avoid those situations as much as humanly possible; or employ relatively effective countermeasures when the meltdowns do occur.
If these organizations really do care about autistic children and really do want to educate the public about autism, then they might want to bring up this fact about these meltdowns in these “educational” videos. They might also want to show how many autistics, although they may struggle in many areas, have also demonstrated that they are extremely gifted others. Instead, they put all of their focus on showing the most negative view of autism possible.
One such organization has been trying to improve their image in this area by not producing any more of these video. They have even started a side project that does show a more positive side of autism. They have even pulled one of their two most objectionable videos completely off the internet, and I commend them for doing so. However…
a. …the 7 minute version of other one of their two most objectionable videos can still be downloaded off of their YouTube channel. I am reluctant to believe that they have truly changed their ways until this video is pulled as well.
b. …you will only see this more positive side in the videos produced for their side project, not on their main website or YouTube channel.
c. …they have not apologized for their previous videos which suggest that they may not actually believe that they did anything wrong. Therefore, if their new and improved image does not enable them to raise enough money, they may stop producing the more positive videos and go back to producing the objectionable ones.
3) Labels that Gage an Autistic’s Functionality as…
a. …permanent: Many autistic infants, myself included, do not always respond when adults are trying to speak to us which lead to us getting our hearing checked to see if we were born deaf. I, as is typical for many autistics, also had delays in speech development. When I was just 2 years old, my birth mother was told that she would just have to accept the fact that I would be retarded all of my life. Three years later, after I had been adopted for reasons that had nothing to do with my autism, my adoptive mother took me to be examined. She was told that I would never develop past the mental age of a 3 year old. Fortunately for me, both of my mother’s rejected these predictions. Unfortunately for other autistics, not all parents of autistics follow their leads.
As I said earlier when explaining the neurological origins of autism, our brains are constantly growing new neural-receptors. Based on this scientific fact, and the personal experiences of myself as well as other autistics, gives me reason to believe that some of the areas that autistics struggle with may self-correct to various degrees over time. In other words, just because we may be deficient in some areas of our brains early in our live does not mean that we will always be deficient.
b. …all encompassing: As I also said earlier, some parts of the autistic brain may have few neural-receptors while other parts of our brain may have more. Based on my personal observation, it seems that the autistic’s perceived level of functionality is based largely on their ability for self-expression. However, just because an autistic’s brain is low functioning in the part that controls speech language development does not mean that their brain is low functioning in all area.
Let us say that an autistic is low functioning in the areas of their brain that controls speech/language, but the parts of their brain that enable them to absorb knowledge and to type is unaffected. Once this autistic is taught how to type, they will be just a capable of self-expression as anyone else. If this autistic is able to get a job where he/she spends all day typing, they will be just capable of supporting themselves as anyone else. Such an autistic might be able to live a live with little or no professional or governmental assistance.
These two facts are the basis of my personal opposition to referring to autism as a “spectrum.” Whatever benefit that the professionals may get out of using this terminology in their professional settings, I personally believe that the “spectrum” concept does more harm than good to autistics in a real world setting. As I’ve already mentioned, many parents of those children whom are labeled as “low functioning” are condemning their children as lost causes because they think that the term is all encompassing.
I do not care how many professionals tell me that the professional community knows that this term should not be
interpreted in this manner. The fact is; the parents of these children are not getting the message. Nor are most of the organizations that seek to “educate” the public about autism. Most of the autistic community, many of whom are actually considered “high functioning,” does not seem to be getting the message either. They have had their
weakness shoved down their throats their entire lives and therefore cannot grasp the concept that they could have
relevant strengths and gifts.
4) Definitions of Autism that Only Professionals Can Understand and Use: If an autistic cannot understand their autism, they will never be able to effectively self-advocate so others understand them. Furthermore, if parents cannot understand their child’s autism, then they have no hope for their child’s future. In addition, if teachers cannot understand their student’s autism, then they will not be able to effectively educate them. I have no problem with the professionals having the deepest and most complex discussions about autism amongst themselves. However, the autism community needs them to explain autism to use in a manner that is as understandable as it is relevant to our real world situations.
5) Using absolute stereotypes to define autism: The prototypical autistic DOES NOT exist. One autistic might have few receptors in one part of their brain while another has fewer in a different part. Furthermore, one autistic may have extra receptors in one part of their brain while another has extra in a different part. Therefore, no autistic is going to exhibit every outward manifestation on any list.
Some autistics have tried to counter these negative stereotypes with ones that are positive. One of these attributes, autistics do not judge others, I know for a fact is false. They may be more accepting of others whom have various disabilities or would be deemed as being “counter establishment.” However, I hear very harsh judgments coming from many autistic self-advocates towards neurotypicals, parents, teachers, authority figures, authoritative figures, civil authority, law enforcement, political parties and viewpoints, religion, etc. In fact, there is a group of autistics at a monthly autistic group that I attend that I refer to as the “God Hater” faction. They will bit off the heads of any Christian who make any reference to our religious viewpoints during the meeting, even when it’s meant as something positive someone consider who is struggling. However, one of them often makes references to those “who have make believe/imaginary friends.”
Another problem with these positive stereotypes is that some of them would suggest that autistics are morally superior to neurotypical. This would include the notions that autistics are less judgmental, more honest, difficulty in being devious, etc. Such notions are guaranteed to create offense with many neurotypicals.
The AAC does not believe that the solution to erroneous negative stereotypes is equally erroneous positive
stereotypes. Instead, we believe that the solution is that autistics are first and foremost human beings. All autistics, and all other human beings for that matter, are unique. However, there are certain common needs and desires that all humans share. Although autistics may have unique challenges while trying to fulfill those needs and desire, that does not mean that we do not have them.
6) Defining Autism Solely by its Negative Manifestations: Autism is often diagnosed through behavioral analysis where the expert focuses on what are referred to as symptoms of what is considered a disorder. However, not all of the manifestations of autism are negative and many autistics demonstrate that they are highly gifted in one or more areas. I know undiagnosed autistics who cannot see that their autistic struggles as autism because they do not meet all of the stereotypical struggles that autistics should have. Some have done such a good job of developing and utilizing their gifts that it is inconceivable that they could have something that is considered a learning disability.
Furthermore, defining autism solely by its negative manifestations only gives you limited insight into what is needed to manage it. Not only does it not give you full insight in this area, but it also gives you no insight as to how to take maximum advantage of the autistic’s strengths. In addition, it will not provide you with any hope that many of the areas that the autistic struggles with may self-correct in time. Therefore, THE ONLY WAY THAT YOU WILL GET ALL THE INSIGHT THAT YOU NEED ABOUT AUTISM IS TO DEFINE IT BY ITS NEUROLOGICAL ROOTS!
This is why many autistics, including myself, get very frustrated when people attribute attributes to us that we do not believe we have just because some list says so. I do not have a problem with those who would use such lists as a means of starting dialog with me about how my autism affects me personally. However, I find using such lists as an alternative to allowing me to speak for myself to be offensive.
7) Assuming that Different Equals Disability: It is true that when we autistics are asked to do something that ties into a part of our brain that does not function at as high of a level as a neurotypical, we are indeed “handicapped.” However, when we are asked to do something which ties into a part of our brain that functions at a level higher than a neurotypical, we make them look “handicapped.”
The best example of this is autistics being viewed as having “obsessive compulsive disorder.” The basis for this is because we may pursue what few interests that we may have to what is considered excessive lengths. The fact that we often become experts on these subjects is disregarded because many of them are trivial in nature. Many would consider my ability to recite the winners and losers of every Super bowl ever played as an example of me having excessive compulsive disorder because there is no practical use for that knowledge. However, that which gives me the ability to memorize such trivial information has also allowed me to memorize large amounts of knowledge about autism in a relatively short amount of time.
Therefore, the problem is not that autistics are so narrowly focused on what few interests that they may have. It is that this ability to have such a high level of focus is not being utilized in a manner that will help the autistic to reach his/her fullest potential.
8) Equating “Normalization” to a “Cure” for Autism: Some people seem to try dealing with autism as if it is a behavioral issue. If they can recondition the autistic so they stop acting in a manner that is considered “abnormal,” annoying, embarrassing, etc.; then the autistic has been “cured.” The problem is that autism is not a behavioral issue; it is NEUROLOGICAL at its core. Even if you can recondition the autistic’s behavior, they are still going to have same neurological challenges that they had before they were reconditioned. All methodologies that do not recognize this are at best short term solutions that could have severe long term consequences.
9) Using Abusive Methods of Behavioral Modification: Article IX of the Arizona State Constitution protects anyone with any type of disability from abuse. Many states provide no such protection. Some allow the use of electric shock as a “tool” for behavioral modification for those with disabilities, including autistics. Let me see if I have go this straight, you are going to “help” someone whose atypical neurology causes them to be hypersensitive to simulation by subjecting them to enough electrical current to create enough discomfort in order to effect behavioral change. Is that not like trying to put a fire with gasoline?
I find it interesting that so many object to the use of electric shock on terrorist suspects because it is considered inhumane, but seem to have no problem using this on children whom have been accused of nothing worst then annoying their adult “caregiver.” I personally object to the notion that we autistics seem to be considered by some to be a lower form of life than those whom want nothing more than to kill as many infidels as possible. I am in no way implying that all Muslims are terrorists, nor that all terror suspects are guilty. I’m only pointing out the double standard that those who are accused of terrorism in higher regard then defenseless autistics.
10) Using Medication as a First of Resort: I was the head of a children’s puppet troop at Word of Grace Church in Mesa, AZ. Two years later, I noticed that several members of my former troop were involved in the church’s children’s choir. One of them was in third grade when I last saw her. As I watched, I noticed that one of the girls who were two years younger than her had caught up to her in height. Then it occurred to me, she had not grown an inch in the two years since I last saw her. When I saw her mother after the service, I asked her what had happened. She said that the girl had some behavioral issues in the fourth grade and that her teacher, concluding that she had ADHD, said that she needed to be put on Ritalin.
When her mom told me this, I recalled that she had no behavioral nor hyperactivity issues when she was in my troop. The second thing I recalled, her mother was about to be remarried at that the previous time I saw them. Remarriage is known to be a major stressor for children because it brings a lot of uncertainty into their fragile world. I was upset, not at the mother who trusted her daughter’s teacher and doctors, but at the teacher and doctors for being so quick to put the girl on medication that they never considered the possibility of alternative explanations.