As Long As It’s Controversial to Treat Autistic Kids with Respect, We Need Autism Acceptance and Appreciation

April is coming up and that means a lot more attention on autism, since April 2 is World Autism Awareness Day. I was thinking about the difference between awareness and acceptance and decided to share an example of why we need acceptance. Warning: This post will include mentioning of harm and ABA.

 

If you are a parent to an autistic kid, try treating your autistic kid with basic respect and tell people about it. Simple things like don’t put your autistic kid(s) through sensory hell, help them communicate by giving them access to AAC, assume competence, protect them from harm and that sort of stuff. Nothing fancy, just basic parenting. Then, wait for the reactions. For me, doing this leads to two kinds of reactions:

1) Some people call me a horrible parent, because how will my kid ever have a chance to learn to appear more “normal” when I don’t engage in interventions with that aim?

2) Some people think it’s great and that I’m a great parent.

Reaction number one is awful for a number of reasons, the main one being that it shows how so many people think that interventions aiming at trying to make your kid appear less autistic is an acceptable and reasonable thing to do. That’s horrible because it means that a lot of kids are being put through ABA and similar interventions that have harmed so many autistic people. Reaction number two is quite nice, because it means that there are people who think that autistic children should be brought up with respect and basic protection from parents and other adults. However, no matter how happy reaction number two makes me, something is very troublesome with both these reactions – the fact that there is a total lack of a third kind of reaction:

3) So you’re a parent who commits to basic parenting. What’s special about that?

I’m thinking about this because I’m thinking about how to deal with April and all the Autism Awareness, because I think this is a great example of why we need Autism Acceptance and Appreciation, not Awareness. Ponder this:

 

It’s controversial to treat you autistic kid with respect.

It’s controversial to protect your autistic kid from harm and teach them that they are fine, just like they are.

It’s controversial to point out their humanity.

 

I can’t see how Autism Awareness ever will be a solution to this. People are aware that autism exists, but it isn’t stopping anybody from thinking that parenting autistic kids should be about harming them with normalizing interventions. Autism Awareness is obviously not preventing schools from denying kids an education and punishing them for being autistic either. Being aware of that autism exists doesn’t seem to be doing much for autistic people.

However, Autism Acceptance has a much better chance of focusing on accepting autistic people, just as we are. Autism Appreciation has a chance to give us the right to feel good about ourselves, as the autistic people we are. With more acceptance and appreciation, maybe one day it won’t be controversial to be respectful to autistic people of all ages anymore.

 


This post is based on this twitter thread.

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Autism Professionals Hijacking My Thoughts

As a parent to an autistic kid, I read a lot about different strategies to make the world more accessible to my kid. About different ways of meeting sensory needs, create predictability and giving my kid the best possible opportunity to understand the world. To relieve stress and create recovery time. As much as possible, I read about autistic people’s experiences, needs and ways of meeting those needs, but sometimes I read something from an autism professional who isn’t autistic, or isn’t writing from an autistic point of view. And I hate it.

Not because all of it is totally bad, but because most of the times, the values permeating it are horrible. Besides from not working the way these NT autism professionals think their tools and strategies work, there’s very often an idea that the less autistic the person appear, the more they can claim success. As an autistic person myself, it hurts me badly when I have to be confronted again and again with their notions of being autistic as something bad. No matter how much they claim that they aren’t trying to cure autistic people, the idea that support or help should be something that makes autistic people seem as little autistic as possible is taken so for granted that they don’t need to spell it out. In many cases, they claim the opposite but then when they explain how their strategies and tools help, success is measured in the person appearing less autistic.

Not only is this a waste of my energy because it won’t help my kid, but it’s also a huge problem because it’s affecting my thoughts and feelings about myself. Their often incorrect ideas about autism are hijacking my thoughts and it makes it more difficult for me to understand myself and my kid.

For instance, let’s take this idea that autistic people need a huge amount of external, totally illogically constructed motivation to be able to learn something. Even when I look at tools and strategies that aren’t obviously based on this, I can sense that this notion is somewhere deep beyond what’s being claimed straightforward. No matter how much I know that this isn’t true, I get affected by it. Whenever something is too difficult for me, I start wondering if I’m actually just not motivated enough. I know that this isn’t true but having to see some misunderstandings about autism being reproduced over and over affects me. It hijacks my thoughts.

This is why I think that autism professionals (autistic or not) need to start paying way more attention to what autistic people are trying to communicate, and scrutinize your own values and understandings of autism. It’s not enough to stop doing ABA, in order to create a better world for autistic people autism professionals need to stop reproducing misunderstandings and negative values about autism.

ME/CFS Researchers Don’t Understand Autism

Content: This post includes mentioning of ABA, an autism cure and a lot of ableism.

 

 

Fellow autistic readers, I need your help.

The last couple of months, I’ve been made aware of that some researchers who are originally researching the disease ME (Myalgic Encephalomyelitis), are now interested in autism. This is very troublesome because from what I’ve read, they don’t understand autism at all and their misconceptions can turn out to harm autistic people.

A couple of days ago an article called Treating Autism and ME/CFS: Could One Drug Do Both? was published at the Open Medicine Foundation’s website, and it includes a number of troubling statements. For instance this:

ASD is not chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS) but some similarities exist. Both diseases affect cognition and sensory processing, cause problems with stimuli, cause significant social withdrawal, and are associated with increased levels of oxidative stress, reduced glutathione levels, and a Th2 immune response shift.

The rest of the article goes on as expected, with a number of biomedical facts about autism and ME, but with no further definition or accurate description of what autism really is. From what I can tell, the researcher and/or the person who wrote the article both seem to consider autism a disease defined by a number of behaviors, like mutism and social withdrawl mentioned in the quote above. There’s no sign of any awareness of how heavily autistic people have criticized this understanding of autism. There’s no recognition of all the other aspects of autism, like hyper-empathy. Autism is considered a disease and therefore something bad, and demonstration of less autistic behaviors is interpreted as improvements.

The scores indicated that the children’s social interactions, language, and restricted and/or repetitive behaviors all improved.

Further on in the article, we have parents to autistic children being interviewed about how horrible they find their children’s autism. The parent perspective is of the usual tragedy kind that tends to be standard from Autism Parents, but no actually autistic person is being interviewed in the article.

This is bad. Terribly bad. I fear that the researcher’s misconception about autism and lack of awareness of that historically, attempts to “cure” autistic people have turned into so much harm and will lead to us being harmed again. There are so many testemonies out there of how ABA, the therapy that is still widely used in attempts to teach autistic people to behave less autistic, gives people PTSD. Behaving more like allistic people doesn’t make autistic people less autistic, our brains are still wired the way they are. What it does mean is that autistic people spend a horrible amount of energy trying to fit in and be approved, instead of punished.

I’m devastated by this. I’m autistic and I have ME. I want to be cured from ME but I want to continue to be autistic, because I don’t want to change my personality. For a number of reasons, I’m drained and have very little energy at the moment. I can’t fight this on my own. Those of you who want to protest, please do.

Open Letter To Autism Parents

This post includes mentioning of ABA, puzzle pieces and functioning lables

 

 

Dear Autism Parents,

We need to talk again. At least I want to talk to you.

Just like you, I’m a parent of an autistic kid. Yes, you probably prefer “child with autism”, but for once, let’s not focus on that. Let’s focus on autistic minds, and what your neurotypical perspectives do to all autistic people around you.

I’m a parent of an autistic kid, and I’m autistic myself. This means that every time you express how angry or sad you are about what you think that autism is doing to you, you don’t only assign blame to your child, you also tell all autistic people of all ages around you that you blame people like us. That you blame the way we react to food and noisy environments, how we process information and how we express ourselves, for causing you discomfort and pain.

You are entitled to your feelings, and so am I, and therefore I will tell you how I feel about your behavior.

Just like many of you, I sometimes seek out other parents of autistic children in an effort to give my kid the best life i could possibly imagine. I might try to work with you to advocate for more accessible schools and healthcare, because just like you, I don’t want my kid to get PTSD just from going to school. However, I’ve realized that I’m not welcome in your world. When you talk about how autism has destroyed your life, you make it very clear that you are blaming autistic people, instead of focusing on ableist structures.

What’s even worse is that you center neurotypical, allistic and ableist views and make me feel ashamed for the way I communicate. I know that you are doing this because you are suffering from knowing that your kid is suffering (not necessarily from autism though, but likely from ableism), but I urge you to think of this: When you are promoting ableist ideas, you are making life worse for your kid and all autistic people. It doesn’t matter how great your intentions are – when you call the need for accessibility “special needs”, when you use functioning lables and when you spread puzzle pieces and refer to autistic people as “mysteries to solve” – you dehumanize us. Dehumanization feeds ableism. We will never have an accessible society that respects autistic people as long as we are dehumanized.

But you know what? There’s another option. You have an autistic child, but you don’t have to see autism as a disaster. It’s totally possible for you to direct you anger and grief to the ableism that’s making life hell for your kid. Because you know – autism isn’t a disaster, ableism is.

I know that it’s hard. Just like you I have been fed all those ableist ideas about autism from healthcare professionals. Just like you I was told that I have to put my kid through ABA, “otherwise he could never grow up”. I’ve had doctors, nurses, psychologists and social workers telling me all those lies about how meltdowns are just a way to avoid demands, that my kid has to be taught not to stim and that putting in a lot of time on behavioral therapies is necessary if I want to give my kid any chance of ever having a good life. But the thing is, none of that is true. You have the option of looking beyond ableist ideas and start paying attention to what autistic people are trying to tell you.

If you decide to start paying attention to what autistic people are saying, you will learn that our lives have meanings. That we connect with each other, we have meaningful relationships and we are able to experience joy and happiness. You will also learn that we are harmed and hurt by an ableist world trying to normalize us, and that will probably not be a pleasant reading to you. When you read about all the violence and abuse we experience, remember that you can be a part of putting an end to it. By refusing the ableist ideas that a lot of healthcare professionals are promoting, and instead listening to autistic people to learn about autism, you can make a difference.

It’s your choice.

Sincerely

the uninspirational

 

I’m Your Alien

I will never forget the first time I met with a nurse at a clinic for autistic children. Six months earlier my child had been diagnosed  as autistic and a referral letter was sent to this clinic. Now we were finally here, me and my partner. My expectations weren’t that high but I knew they had occupational therapists and I was hoping that they could help us make the preschool our kid attended more accessible. We had a fairly good cooperation with the teachers but it was hard work to do on our own, and I thought that getting some help to increase accessibility and support would improve my kid’s health by decreasing his stress level.

One of the first things that the nurse told us was “These children rely heavily on motivation to learn new skills”.

I froze. I couldn’t pinpoint exactly why but there was something in this sentence that made me highly uncomfortable. Obviously a part of it was the motivation thing, since it’s a central part of ABA and that wasn’t something we wanted, but there was something more that made me react. There was something in how this nurse talked about autistic kids. “These children…” they were the Others. They were not a part of us.

During the rest of our meeting she talked about autistic kids in the same way, creating a distance between us parents and our autistic kid. At this point I wasn’t clear about that I was autistic, but I had my suspicions. I couldn’t articulate it but I was very uncomfortable and somewhere in my head a thought kept repeating itself: You are talking about me. These kids you are talking about like aliens, I’m one of them. I’m one those people you don’t consider a complete human being.