Autism Awareness/Acceptance Month was recently concluded and it’s been a year since I wrote my last post because not only did I became more busy with my work but I also grew more cynical in my views compared to my mindset when I was introduced to the Autism community. I’m cynical in a way that it crept through me that my life will be better for me if I just can become a neurotypical and the notion of Autistics living as their happy selves in society is just plain unicorn sh*t. But I found it unfair when I arrived with the thought that although other disability communities are enjoying accessibility options to some extent such as braille books for blinds and wheelchairs and ramps for those with impaired mobility, Autistics are not provided with any options.
You may rebut my argument by saying that there are therapies available that enable Autistics to access and navigate their environment. But at the end of the day, it’s the Autistics who are working their asses off to adapt whereas it should be society that they are living in that must adapt. Testament to this is the incessant promotion of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) by parents and professionals alike.
ABA as we know is a kind of behavioral psychology and its aim was to extinguish “autistic behaviors” and make the patients of this therapy indistinguishable from their peers or in short, to turn them into Neurotypical. It looks good on paper and I cannot even deny it as there are numerous sources supporting it as an effective treatment for main autism traits. ABA even became the “go to” or in some cases the gold standard in autism treatment that it became synonymous with “therapy for autism”. Unfortunately most people did overlook the fact that ABA is not a cure for autism. It is just in fact an elaborate tool that teaches Autistics to survive the nuances of the neurotypical world.
What I mean with survive is that we are just barely hanging together. Yes, thanks to ABA, some of us are living the “normal” life now: enjoying the company of our superficial friendships, holding down a job with ill-intentioned coworkers talking on our backs while pretending something that we are not. But does this so called professionals and parents even bother to ask us once if we are really happy with this pretend game? I guess no. Instead, we are subtly taught the illusion of happiness.
Happiness where we will please other people in expense of our own welfare. Happiness where we are denied doing actions hardwired into our brains such as flapping when we are just simply happy, avoiding eye contact, discussing special interests, throwing a meltdown and the like. Ironically these people who imposes this happiness (unconsciously or not) also “calls” for the acceptance of those in spectrum. But they can’t see that there is a fine line between acceptance and survival.
Acceptance is providing us the accessibility to enable us to contribute in a society without the fear of being harassed just by being ourselves. Survival on the other hand is going through living hell by denying ourselves our needs and pretending that we don’t need them. Those who failed to survive are written off as “low functioning” and a lost cause. Subsequently, these individuals are treated as mere objects to pity on. Yet some people still think that they are doing us a favor for our acceptance when they do these countless ABAs and other compliance trainings that attempt to normalize us. This sends a harmful message to us that acceptance towards us is conditional, that we can be only accepted if we can be nearly neurotypical.
But I think it’s about time that we should divert ourselves from this wasteful mindset and strive for a community that will accommodate us, work towards our advantage and genuinely accept us. Gone are the days of “Survival of the Fittest” where the only ones who can thrive in the environment are the one who can adapt. Society evolved so much to the point that it can contour its environments for each members’ liking and I believe Autistics are no exception.
A must read for anyone that who thinks that a person can “beat” his/her autism. I’m sorry to burst your bubble, but no thing such as “cure” really exists.
I have had a lot of reaction in the past few days to that New York Times Magazine article concerning “The Kids Who Beat Autism.” Here’s about all I have left.
The parents, the teachers, the therapists and researchers without a clue who are celebrating “recovery” because they have, in their heads, defined autism as a fixed set of permanent inabilities—
-Are not the people doing the work of passing, and are not going to be the ones to find out first-hand just how long it isn’t actually sustainable.
-Are not the people who get told we’re too articulate to be autistic but have to ration our hours of speech per day.
-Are not the developmentally disabled women who suffer a sexual abuse rate of over 90%, no thanks to the compliance training that teaches that allowing others to control our bodies is desirable behavior.
-Are not the…
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First of all, sorry for my bad English as I grew up in a country where it is only a secondary language. In addition, kindly inform me if I made any errors as this is my first blog post. By the way, let’s begin.
Umm? What is it anyway? Is it the act of moving toward or something?
Regarding the last question asked, it is a yes but in this article its context will just be a little different.
As defined in sociology, passing is the ability of a person to be regarded as a member of social groups other than his or her own. More commonly passing is used in racial groups. Take an Asian man with western features for example as he passes as a Caucasian in order for himself to be assimilated in a white dominated society. This can also be applied to those who belong in disability groups especially disabilities that are not immediately apparent. Autism happens to belong in this group.
In the autism community, social groups can be divided between neurotypical and autistics. Neurotypical, an amalgamation of the word neurologically and typical are the ones who are not simply in the autism spectrum. Commonly, neurotypical and autistic traits have differences that somewhat make it difficult for them to communicate, understand and as well cooperate with each other as their traits are somewhat antithesis to each other.
Nevertheless, it is not totally impossible for the two groups to coexist but just being in the 1 percent of the world population, autistics are obviously outnumbered by neurotypicals. Obviously, neurotypicals virtually rule us and obviously we are living in a neurotypicalesque society. Everyone are just expected to follow neurotypical rules, autistic or not. Noncompliance means privilege denied. That’s why passing for some individuals (including me) comes into play.
To make it easier on my part, I would want this to explain through an analogy between operating systems and neurology. This may sound vague and technically naïve to tech savvies but imagine this. Our neurology are represented as an operating system and neurotypicals are the Windows while the autistics are the Linuxes.
While the operating systems share something in common such as managing hardware and software resources, there are fundamental differences in the way how they accept parameters and process things. For example, each operating system can only run its own executable (or program in a layman’s term) and not vice versa. Since Windows operating systems far outnumber Linux, it seemingly became a standard operating systems for the end-users. This somewhat implies that those using Linux are left in the dark if they don’t follow the “de-facto standard”.
In order for the users to deem their Linux operating system useful, they should at least install an emulator or compatibility layer to run this “For Windows only” programs. This would do, at least for some time.
That Linux may run that Windows program but at the end of day it may just crash. Because it boils down to the mere fact that it’s a Linux running a program not designed for itself. It may put up a good show at first but deep within its processes, it was suffering as it needs to wrestle with overheads, incompatibilities, and processes meant for the original operating system. Eventually errors will mount one unto another, that the Linux installed with an emulator will come to a breaking point.
This explains how autistics feel when they are passing as neurotypicals. Our brains are wired differently that it is why we eventually deteriorate when we are forced to conform to neurotypical’s action. Making eye contact, engaging in small talks, resisting the urge to self-stimulate and to polite laugh even if the joke doesn’t make any sense doesn’t mean that we overcame already our challenges. In fact, we are not only challenged but we are also damaging ourselves in the process by doing these actions that are the opposite of those hardcode into our brains. We may put up a neurotypical façade but not for long. Back at our homes, we revert back to our true autistic selves and ponder how we can muster the energy to put the neurotypical mask properly for the very next day.
I personally want to break away from this deception but it is easier said than done when people around me will regard me as inferior or an inspiration porn. I will also not come out with my diagnosis where a community treats anyone with disabilities as a charity case.
To conclude this, I’d rather hold myself for now and box myself in an uncomfortable persona and keep my neurotypical privileges (even if I’m not) than risk myself being treated as a lesser human.
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