Saturday, May 17, 2014

The A-Z Om Guide to So-Called Autism Acceptance: Ideas Claiming to Be Autism Acceptance and Why They Are Not

“Albus Dumbledore: Indifference and neglect often cause more damage than outright dislike.” –Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

                In today’s culture of modern day political correctness, it seems to become almost impossible to criticize anyone for prejudice, racism, sexism, and other bigotry unless it is a premeditated, front-brained notion.  What we end of with is that no one seems to want to confront the ordinary prejudices of society and individuals that help perpetuate injustice.  We hear racism doesn’t manifest in burning crosses and wearing brown shirts like it used to, but inequitable and racial practices still persist even if a lot has been done to combat that.  No one hates women; they just don’t always accept them as they would themselves.  Immigrant communities aren’t called bad outright, but just are associated with negative social and economic problems often for simply enjoying the same social status as natural-born citizens.  LGBT groups aren’t considered intrinsically bad, but just aren’t considered entitled to respect and freedom the way heterosexuals are.  None of this rhetoric wants to admit its uneven level of respect and dignity for others or to take responsibility for their current plight.  These attitudes are unfortunately seen all the time in the autism world and people, particularly the privileged, dominant ones, want cudos for how far they come without fair feedback on how far they have to go. 
                Injustice isn’t just injustice.  For many ethnic and minority groups, their plight is the consequence of historical circumstances and/or genocide, rather than the perpetuation of it.  For LGBTs, disabled people, and women, inequitable treatment did not start this decade and may not have simple, clear-cut origins, and have happened in virtually every culture and society at some point.  Civil rights struggles may not be like a movie where there is one good side and one bad side, with clear-cut villains such as Sauron or Voldemort, and obvious heroes such as Frodo and Gandalf or Harry and Dumbledore.  Oppressed view and treat different groups with the same lack of humanity that their oppressors treat them and not everyone in these struggles are as commendable as King, Mandela, or Gandhi.  If I were to view discrimination as acts committed by clansmen, brown shirts, or red guards, and fought by Gandhis, Kings, and Mandelas, I would have very little case.  The truth is that most injustice is perpetuated by people somewhere in between these two types of personas, who in any case, don’t respect other groups of people are equal in their rights, presence in society, and way of being.  The title of the article “The A-Z Om Guide” refers to two things: one is how the various strands of autism prejudice are numerous, just as are the sounds in the English alphabet, hence “A-Z.”  The other thing my title refers to is that while these various strands of prejudice may be varied, the differences on closer inspection appear meaningless, in the same way the word “Om” is believed by many Hindus to contain all the sounds of the world.  Among neurotypicals (and self-hating autistics) there are several ways of perceiving autism that, in the end, do not amount to acceptance.

“I don’t hate you.  I just wish you weren’t different from me in this respect.”

                Someone could always say to a person of a different racial/ethnic background, “It don’t hate you, the individual.  I just wish you had as light/dark/medium skin tone as me.”  Similarly, autistics hear everyday, “I don’t dislike you.  I just don’t like autism.”  In both these cases, we see the person saying these worlds has to hate dislike something about the person that cannot be changed.

“I just wish you were more like me because then your life would be better and/or easier.”

                The classic line of European colonialism that lasted for over two centuries was, “We (the Europeans) need to bring Western civilization/the word of Christ to the indigenous people so they can enjoy the benefits of modern civilization/become civilized.”  A line I have heard fed to me before as an autistic by neurotypicals is, “I think if you were neurotypical, your life would be easier/better.”  Both of these lines assume that the autistic/indigenous person is not capable of succeeding/being civilized without the European/neurotypical’s help respectively.

“I should accept/not judge you because you have to struggle against so much.”
                I’ve heard people say, when talking about the so-called Third World cultures, “I guess we’d be like them if we didn’t have what they did.”  This may sound tolerant, but instead it just says to me that if Third World cultures had what we did, they’d be just like us.  We characterize these cultures as living in mud huts, being technologically ignorant, war torn, badly governed, or uncivilized.  We don’t see big cities, laptops, cell phones, and politicians such as Nelson Mandela.  Nor do we take into account the rich traditions of food, music, art, and literature to come from these countries such as Nigerian author Chinua Achabes’ Things Fall Apart.  In the case of autism, neurotypical and other non-autistic people ignore strengths autistic people have such as superior-working memory, 3D-drawing skills, graphic recall, and perfect pitch of voice. 

“I don’t hate these people.  I just don’t think they should be allowed to do/given this.”

                I’ve heard it said by people that, “I don’t hate gay people.  I just don’t believe they should be allowed to marry.”  We also hear, “I don’t hate women.  I just don’t believe they should have a choice to abort a pregnancy.”  The latter one could potentially seem much more compelling to me than the former.  Certainly, depending on your belief in when life begins, do not want a baby to be killed.  However, this argument would be much more convincing if it weren’t for the fact that politicians and political think tanks who say this openly support bombing innocent civilians in another part of the world without a solid threat coming from the area, or to execute criminals. 
                In a similar sense more or less to both of these other examples, I’ve heard it said, “People don’t hate people with autism.  They just don’t want to see them be given the educational and medical services that will help integrate them into society for this or that reason.”  All of these views deny someone else the right to enjoy or benefit from freedom or accessibility the way they do.

“We don’t deny these people their rights because we hate them.  It’s just a financial/economic issue.”

                I’ve heard people say that, “This society doesn’t look down on, devalue, or hate autistic people.  They just don’t want to pay higher taxes needed to give them the same social advantages.”  This logic has also been used to argue against desegregation of America, equal health coverage for homosexuals, and the decolonization of the Philippines.  It essentially implies that autistics/ethnic minorities/LGBTs/indigenous people are not as important as a fraction of the earnings of middle class Americans.  Currently the average American makes $60,000 per year, while the average amount of dollars each tax payer pays to fight the War on Poverty is $34.  Middle class Americans, particularly white conservative ones, complain about being bled dry by the War on Poverty.  In the meantime, the average American taxpayer pays $870 dollars in taxes to provide for corporate subsidies.  World powers from America to Britain to China argue against greater freedom and equality for their ethnic and religious minorities saying it is not cost effective.  In fact, government studies indicate that every dollar spent on people with special needs as children save $17 spent on them later in life.  South African archbishop and social activist Desmond Tutu once said, “When will governments learn that freedom is much cheaper than oppression.”

“I don’t hate these people.  I just don’t like how they cause all these problems for us.”

                This is commonly said about migrants to the United States, particularly ones from the Latin countries, most often in reference to taking jobs and services from natural-born Americans.  The “they took our jobs” mantra implies three things: (1 That these jobs belong to natural-born Americans, 2) That is as immigrants/Latin Americans that they are taking jobs, and 3) That these migrants being given jobs makes employment opportunity scarcer for natural-born citizens.  (1 and (2 In the six years that I’ve been in college, both junior college and university life, I see natural-born workers, many but not all white, texting, web-surfing, talking on their phones while many of the international and ESL student workers go out of their way to help me with whatever issue I come to them with.  Shouldn’t people be given jobs based on their hard-work and loyalty to their company, rather than their nationality or ethnicity, and (3 economists have pointed out for decades that migrants come to the U.S. willing to work for less pay and harder work, and both of these in turn save and make companies money, which actually opens up jobs because it grows companies.  Meanwhile, equal health coverage for homosexuals is criticized on the grounds that it would cost society more money.  This sort of thinking doesn’t explain why homosexuals are denied benefits while others such redheads, left-handed people, and Asians are not.  
                In the case of inclusive education for autistic people, parents of typical children have said they worry it will cause their students to get less attention from teachers.  In fact, studies have indicated that disabled students in inclusive classroom settings develop better social skills, school performances, and self-confidence that would actually require them to need less attention from teachers, while typical children in inclusive classrooms learn better leadership, problem-solving skills, and empathy that allow them to work more on their own without a teacher’s help.

“I don’t hate these people.  I love this one celebrity who is from that group.”

                We hear, “I have nothing wrong with gay people.  I love movies with Neil Patrick Harris.”  Temple Grandin, in my opinion, has become Neil Patrick Harris for autistic people.  The fact that you have appreciated something they have done does not mean you respect them as equal human beings.  Liking a celebrity from a particular group does not mean that one believes that group is entitled to the same rights and benefits from society.  Comparing autistic people to John Wayne, Michael Jackson, or Kurt Cobain just ignores each autistic person as an individual.

“I must be like you because I’m acting/feeling this unpleasant/inappropriate way.”

                Individuals with bipolar disorder will often hear their non-bipolar peers say, “I’ve been feeling awful.  I must be bipolar.”  People with AD/HD hear their peers who can’t pay attention say they must have their condition.  I’ve heard people who were stressed over getting their house remodeled or starting a new job say, “Oh, that’s my autism acting up.”  All these words depend on stereotypical oversimplified notions of these conditions lack the understanding societies need to accommodate them.  It would be like me saying, “I must be neurotypical because I can’t just ask a girl out without droning on endlessly about our school work.” 

“Underneath your so-called differences, you are just like me.”

                This kind of rhetoric is frequently said towards transgender individuals, whose parents say, “I still love you, but you’ll always be my son/daughter to me.”  A common autistic variant of this rhetoric is, “Underneath your autism, there is a completely normal child.”  Neither of these ideas accommodates to accept these people knowing who they really are.  Both of them suppress the individual’s own identity, which in turn, makes it harder for the world to accommodate for their differences. 

“I don’t hate these people.  I just don’t like how they do certain things.”

                This “keep it in the bedroom” rhetoric is heard all the time in the autism world.  People say, “I just don’t like how autistic people flap their hands/speak in monotone/lack eye contact.”  To accept someone, you do not need to like everything they do.  You just need to respect that they have every right to do these things without changing them, just as I can accept neurotypical’s right to talk about trivial things such as weather, or not know how to make operable a railway system or develop the Silicon Valley.  I don’t say, “I accept neurotypicals, but…”  To me, “but” means that there is something to compensate for lack of prejudice, which in the end is not accepting at all.  Acceptance means no ifs and/or buts.  If you see autism organizations that put forward any of these ideas when talking about autism acceptance, be aware.  Acceptance means accepting autistic people as individuals who are equal in way of being, rights, permanent belonging, and importance to society. 

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