As many of you know, April is Autism Awareness month. One of our local community members has launched a raffle to donate to Autism Society of Greater Akron, which is a worthy cause. The problem is that this man has stated that he is raising money to “fight autism”.
Autism is not a disease to be cured or wiped out; autistic people do not need to be fixed. Jodie Hare, a member of the autism community, has defined autism as “a neurotype that exists as a result of natural biological variation.” The CDC defines autism as “a developmental disability caused by differences in the brain”. Autism will not ruin your life or your child’s life. Autism is not terrifying and dangerous, it will not kill you like cancer. Autism is a spectrum, meaning there are various symptoms, behaviours, etc. that vary from person to person, even within the same biological family.
For example, I am autistic, my son is autistic, and my nephew is autistic. All three of us are completely different people with different sensory needs, distinct learning styles, and wildly opposite personalities. I was always labeled “weird” by kids in my peer group, my parents called me the “black sheep”, and I struggled with relationships of all kinds from day one. Conversely, my son is outgoing, has lots of friends, and I doubt anyone calls him “weird”. My nephew on the other hand is incredibly introverted, lacks age-appropriate social skills, and as a youngster had lots of sensory needs. All three of us have high IQs, but only two of us were non-verbal until school age. All three of us have deficits and sufficiencies. As the saying goes, if you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one kind of autistic person. That is how a spectrum works.
Saying that autism is something to be fought is incredibly offensive to autistic people. We don’t need to be cured; we need to be accepted. We need people to be made aware of the differences, the variations, and most importantly the similarities. I bet you didn’t even know I was autistic, and you’ve met me at school functions, you’ve worked with me at local businesses, and you’ve known me for years. I didn’t even have a name for what I struggled with my entire life until I started exploring an autism diagnosis for my son. I was ignorant to the spectrum, having little more than “Rain Man” to form my knowledge of the condition.
If you truly wish to fight, fight for change, fight for rights for autistic people. Fight for law enforcement who are properly trained on how to interact with autistic people rather than shooting them dead*. Fight to end ableist behaviors and language that denigrates and insults autistic people. Fight for education for school staff and teachers so that they can recognize the difference between a tantrum and a meltdown. Fight for equality, but don’t fight autism, because autism and autistic people are not your enemy.
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