Today is World Autism Awareness Day, an annual day created by the UN for people with neurotypicality to talk on Twitter about how inspirational autistic kids are and how we must make sure that people like me and my friends are completely eradicated from humanity forever, and then to call autistic people rude for daring not to want to be eliminated.
For today, I was going to write (as my friend Emily had recently asked) about what it feels like to be autistic, but I discovered I’d actually written about that two years ago. And anyway, I’m too angry.
I’m angry at Jon Bartley, the co-leader of the Green Party supporting “Light it up blue”, a campaign run this day every year by the eliminationist group Autism Speaks — people who want to make sure that no-one with a neurology similar to mine will ever be born again, and who believe that if people like me are murdered by our parents, the parents deserve public sympathy because we’re so annoying.
(I am pretty annoying, but thankfully my own parents resisted the urge to murder me, because not all people with neurotypicality are completely lacking in empathy — the claim that that’s something autistic people lack is a pretty clear case of projection on the part of neurotypical pseudoscientists who themselves lack the empathy to be able to see those they have othered as fully human, but unlike them I don’t claim that that trait applies to everyone who doesn’t share my neurology).
I’m angry at William Shatner, for tweeting his own support for Autism Speaks, and then accusing autistic people who tried, politely, to point out that this wasn’t a very nice thing to do, of trolling him. Over and over again for much of the night.
But most of all, I’m annoyed at the rhetoric around today. And not just the “awareness” thing. Several other autistic people have been campaigning for “acceptance” to replace “awareness”. There’s a hashtag and everything. And as far as that goes, acceptance is better than awareness. I would rather be accepted for who I am than have people be aware of my existence as Shatner and Bartley are.
But really… “acceptance” just doesn’t cut it. “Acceptance” is what you have when something can’t be changed. The final supposed stage of grief. “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change”.
I want autism celebration. I want autism pride.
Quite simply — everything I actually like about myself stems directly from me being autistic. And while I like, or even love, a great many people with neurotypicality, an awful lot of my friends are somewhere on the spectrum, and the things I like about *them* tend to be rooted in their autism, too.
Their enthusiasm for their hobbies and their interest in telling you all sorts of fascinating things about areas of knowledge you previously wouldn’t even have believed existed. The honesty and disregard for harmful social rules. The ability to actually communicate stuff without relying on you knowing a whole load of culturally-specific shibboleths. The autistic sense of humour.
These are things to be celebrated. To be proud of. To be encouraged.
If I have any redeeming qualities as a person (and living in an ableist society for thirty-eight years has made it difficult for me to see that as anything other than a very big “if”), if I’ve made a positive contribution to the world, it’s because of my autism. It’s because I can see patterns that people with neurotypicality can’t. It’s because I have a better understanding of the way complex systems work than most people with neurotypicality do. It’s even, in some ways, precisely because I’m disabled — the coping strategies I invent for stuff have, in themselves, often allowed me to do things more inventively than people with neurotypicality would.
(An easy example would be my music — my dyspraxia (which is a comorbid thing with my autism, and which I consider functionally to be a symptom of it) prevents me from playing fast triplets, or from making certain chord shapes on the guitar. When playing keyboards, I can play fast triplet arpeggios but only going down the scale, not up. And so on. Working round these limitations has meant I’ve ended up doing things other musicians wouldn’t have.)
Asking for your awareness of my autism as a tragic, horrible, symptom would be to completely misread the effect being autistic has on me, and is functionally equivalent to the people who argued for legalising homosexuality in the sixties on the grounds that we shouldn’t punish those poor people for the horrible illness they were suffering.
But asking for *acceptance* of my autism doesn’t strike me as much better. “I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with them, mind. Some of my best friends are autistic. But you wouldn’t want your daughter to marry one, now, would you?”
I don’t want acceptance. I want respect as a minimum, and ideally celebration. I want a world that doesn’t punish autistic people for being autistic, yes, as a basic start — I want autistic people to have the same life expectancy as people with neurotypicality, rather than dying on average sixteen years younger. I want suicide to no longer be the second-biggest killer of autistic people (with no learning disabilities). I want our incidence of stress-induced heart disease — the biggest killer — to be the same as it is in people with neurotypicality. These things will only change with massive efforts on the part of a society that is completely unwilling to do anything about them (but which is entirely fine with torturing autistic children in the name of modifying their behaviour to “help them” by making them fit in, and with trying to find a “cure” that will erase our individuality and replace us with people who can fit in better — and indeed which pats itself on the back for its efforts to do these things).
But that’s really just the very first step. It’s not something to aspire to — I’m not talking about utopia there, just about my life expectancy extending past the time my mortgage has been paid off. What we should be calling for is celebration and pride.
Everything I think, do, and am is because I’m autistic. So fuck awareness, fuck acceptance, and fuck lighting it up blue on April 2. I’ll be celebrating Autistic Pride Day on June 18th instead.
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Perfect! Autism Pride is so much better. Great read, thank you
Thank you again, Mr Hickey.
As I have said before, your blog is the primary reason that I got myself diagnosed, and my life has been made thunderously better by knowing that I am on the spectrum (e.g. I’m an actor, and an understanding of the comorbid dyspraxia has been a tremendous help whenever a role requires that I dance).
So please, do kindly, continue as best you are able.
Thank you so very much for writing this, it has really challenged me & made me think. I recognise that i NEEDED to be challenged and am grateful for it.
– While thinking of myself as being, somewhat, ‘autism aware’ & certainly ‘accepting’ of, non-neuro-typicality (through having friends & a relative with aspergers, & having a physical disability & mental health issues myself has made me more aware/accepting), & thinking of myself as someone who believed that neuro-typicality was no better or worse than non-typicality (-I mean who decides on what’s “normal”/healthy anyway!?). While I felt secure in my lack of prejudice, & my compassion towards, people with autism. At the same time there has clearly been incongruence in my thinking! – Little things that reveal how (despite my protestations to the contrary) I have been blind to the fact that part of me has obviously still been thinking of autism as something akin to a disease. (- revealed in the way i just talked about having “compassion towards” “people with autism” – I mean WTF?!).
I’m sorry. That was really quite stupid of me.
Who the hell am i to have ‘compassion towards’ somebody who can remember things i cant, who can see things I’m blind to!? How shockingly arrogant & disrespectful is that?!!!!
I feel humbled and embarrassed, & so i should. I am very grateful to you for writing this it’s given me the opportunity to change the parts of my thinking that were clearly ignorant at best.
Autism & autistic people SHOULD be celebrated.
I’m already aware of the qualities I love in the autistic people i know, qualities that neuro typical people dont have, – the straightforward honesty for one. But somehow the attitude of society in general has still been present in pockets of my thinking & because it’s so pervasive I just hadnt noticed it. I also think that I’ve been influenced in my thinking by the fact that i developed an illness which makes my brain often unable to tune out unimportant sensory input. It fluctuates but when at it’s worst even the slightest sound/light/movement makes me very ill physically, it’s excruciating – which has made me think of the ‘noticing EVERYTHING’/sensory overload aspect of autism as an unpleasant experience, but the two are of course different, & just because i’d give almost anything to get rid of my disease i guess i’ve unconsciously equated the two things in some ways.
But this blog post (& your earlier 2015 ‘awareness day’ one you linked to) have led to an ‘awareness’ of a different kind. Please keep writing, it’s a privilege to be challenged in this way, I hope you’ll continue.
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