You Say “Disabled” Like It’s a Bad Thing (3/3)

Final post in a series on disability pride communities.

Just as people outside the Deaf and Cerebral Palsy communities imagine members would universally prefer to be “cured” in some way, they make the same erroneous assumption about the autistic community. Much of the discourse about autism from non-autistic or “allistic” people uses the language of tragedy. A rise in diagnosis is portrayed as an epidemic or tsunami. The best known organization related to autism is Autism Speaks, an organization many autistic people consider to be a hate group. Autism Speaks presents autism as a conscious malevolent force intentionally destroying happy families.

For more than a generation, the standard in autism treatment has been Applied Behavioral Analysis, a type of behavior training originally developed to cure “sissy boys” of perceived homosexuality and later repackaged as a way to make autistic children “indistinguishable from peers”. In response to social stigma against autistic people and therapies they see as abusive, autistic adults started a neurodiversity movement for people with autism, ADHD, or other divergent neurology.

Neurodiversity acceptance means understanding that each person has strengths and weaknesses, and that less common brains may hold insights out of reach of common ones. It also means recognizing that a difference is not necessarily a deficit. As Wired magazine wrote in 2013, “By autistic standards, the “normal” human brain is easily distractible, is obsessively social, and suffers from a deficit of attention to detail.”

Autistic adults formed groups such as the Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN) to promote acceptance and accommodation of autistic people.  June 18th marks Autistic Pride Day, an annual celebration of autistic diversity; artistic, athletic and academic achievement; and autistic legislative and human rights gains over the past year. Ari Ne’men, the first openly autistic White House aide said:

To me, Autistic Pride Day means solidarity with those parts of our community that have not yet had the opportunity to be proud. It means thinking about how we reach further and farther. Autistic space, community and culture should be available to all of us, early-, late- and un-diagnosed, speaking and non-speaking, with and without intellectual disability, of all races, religions, orientations, disabilities, genders and every other facet of difference. It should be available whatever your politics or views on the controversies that motivate much of our advocacy. It should be your birthright, however you communicate and experience the world.

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