20 November 2011

But I'm Not Ableist

(Trigger warning -- Use of the r-word and quotes of potentially triggering statements.)

You say, "But I'm not ableist."


When I wrote a short story during which an Autistic girl was picked up from school by her Autistic uncle, and I was told, "That would never happen. No one would let a man with Asperger's pick up their daughter."

When I suggested that someone I knew might be Autistic, and then mentioned that he had a girlfriend, and I was told, "He can't really be on the spectrum; I don't believe that. He drives, has a girlfriend."

When an Autistic person offered an opinion on a medical issue and was told, "You should know that people with your condition can't and never will go into the medical field."

This is what ableism looks like.

"You don't look Autistic."

Because apparently Autistic people have to fit your preconceptions of what it means to "look Autistic." But we are each individuals and may or may not fit those preconceptions.

"But you can talk... You're not really Autistic."

Because apparently talking and being Autistic cannot go together. But some of us can talk and some us cannot, and some of us who can talk choose not to.

"I couldn't tell that you're Autistic."

Because apparently Autistic people can never pass for normal. But we have been conditioned by society -- your society -- to believe that it is our job to appear as non-Autistic as possible (and some of us have gotten quite good at passing.)

"But you seem normal though."

Because apparently the standard for humanity is normality. But what is normality? It's defined by the people in the room around you. And who would want to be "normal" anyway?

"But you're really smart."

Because apparently being Autistic and being intelligent cannot go together without being a savant. But a pair of studies(1,2) show that intelligence is consistently underestimated in Autistic people of all diagnoses and ages, and we already knew that many Autistic people have average or above average intelligence.

"You're just saying that as an excuse for poor social skills."

Because apparently it's not possible for me to actually have challenges in social situations that aren't simply rudeness or manipulating other people. But there is a vast difference between people who refuse to interact positively with others and people who cannot navigate the social world of non-Autistics.

This is what ableism looks like.

Ableism is when Autistic people are told that flapping or rocking in public looks bad and abnormal and is a behavior problem.

Ableism is when Autistic people are unable to pass job interviews because making eye contact and small talk is more important than demonstrating ability to do the job.

Ableism is when Autistic people are relegated to institutions because of a community's unwillingness to integrate disabled and differently-abled people into their neighborhood.

Ableism is when Autistic people cannot disclose their diagnosis without facing prejudice and bigotry -- such as accusations of "making excuses," being "socially retarded," or being spoken to in a "baby voice."

Ableism is when Autistic people are unable to participate in the policy-making process when decisions that affect Autistic people are made with full rights and consideration as the non-Autistic people present because we're deemed "not competent" or unable to speak about the needs of other Autistic people.

Ableism is when Autistic people who can speak or are adults are accused of diagnosing themselves over the internet as if we are truly incapable of understanding ourselves.

Ableism is when Autistic people who can speak are dismissed as self-advocates under the false impression that no non-speaking Autistic people can self-advocate. (They can, and many do.)

Ableism is when Autistic people are prevented from accessing fully inclusive classrooms on the basis of lacking the intellectual or emotional maturity to be present with non-disabled peers.

Ableism is when Autistic people are told by non-Autistic advocates and professionals what to call themselves or how to refer to their disability, even if in direct contradiction to their stated wishes. (3)

Ableism is when Autistic people are told to "get over" their sensory issues because the non-Autistic people around them aren't bothered by the same things, and so the Autistics shouldn't be either.

Ableism is when Autistic people are told that they can't participate in certain activities or groups or clubs or events because their presence could be disruptive to the non-Autistic people there.

Ableism is when Autistic people are presumed guilty when suspected of crimes because of different behavior, mannerisms, or speech -- or because of a small number of highly-publicized cases involving Autistic people charged with or convicted of crimes.

Ableism is when Autistic people who can't speak are presumed retarded, ineducable, and incapable of accomplishing anything meaningful in life.

Ableism is when Autistic people accompanied by an aide are not addressed directly, but spoken to "through" their aides as if they are unable to express themselves.

Ableism is when Autistic people are considered exceptional for doing things like writing, singing, or playing sports, when we are perfectly capable of many seemingly-normal activities.

Ableism is when Autistic people are not taken seriously as advocates for themselves or other Autistic people because of their disability.

This is what ableism looks like.

And still you say, "But I'm not ableist."


Where possible, I've uploaded PDF documents for viewing through Google with great appreciation to PLoS ONE.

(1) Dawson M, Soulières I, Gernsbacher M A, Mottron L (2007). The Level and Nature of Autistic Intelligence. Psychological Science, 18(8), 657-662.

(2) Soulières I, Dawson M, Gernsbacher MA, Mottron L (2011). The Level and Nature of Autistic Intelligence II: What about Asperger Syndrome? PLoS ONE, 6(9): e25372. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0025372

(3) Sinclair, Jim. Why I dislike "person first" Language. 1999.

1 comment:

  1. And there it is.That brick wall I hit. My old enemy. Bigotry. It is right there, in the resentment of two agency heads that someone would actually consider having a legitimate group containing two autistic adults review training materials and give their input. It was too much. They have other experts that can do better. Fifty years old and I'll never see a world without that taint of bigotry.
    Even with one typo, it says it all. The question is, now what will I do to get what I want and gain their support and understanding.


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