Wednesday, June 6, 2012

I'm Autistic: Let's Talk About It.

This is actually exactly how you should broach this topic.  Electricity and all.

In my last semester at Ball State I underwent evaluation from the school's educational psychology clinic.  The week I graduated, I received the results of that evaluation, and ended up with a diagnosis of three disorders: Asperger's syndrome, dsythymic disorder, and general anxiety disorder.

I haven't mentioned it here or anywhere else online until now.  Partly this is because I've yet to compile resources on autism spectrum disorders for this blog, as I've done with asexuality, feminism, and all the other subjects near to my heart.  Partly it's because I'm just now getting into the autistic community myself, and I've been preoccupied with graduating college and job hunting and everything else.  But I've also been avoiding the subject because, as with the time I was hesitant to bring up asexuality, I've been worried about the reaction.

It's not that I'm worried about mockery; I've grown accustomed to that after being the resident freak from kindergarten to high school, and the monster of a roommate I was freed from upon graduation was kind enough to introduce me to the special brand of torment that non-neurotypical people face. (Among other things, I was told I was faking for attention and asked when I'd find out for sure if I had "Ass Burgers.")  Anyway, I don't believe any friend or relative who follows this blog would treat me that way, and those are the only readers whose opinions would sting.

There is another type of response that I've been dreading, however, and it's one that's completely well-intentioned.

There is a tendency, when presented with a disabled/non-heteronormative/otherwise unusual individual, to idealize accomplishments that would be perfectly normal for anyone else.  What wouldn't register on someone's radar with an "ordinary person," such as being in a loud environment without having a meltdown, or dressing in a way that matches one's gender identity, or holding down a job, suddenly becomes brave and inspiring.  Actions that would be expected of anyone else are things that these societal outliers should be proud of and praised for.  And the things that set these individuals apart or cause them difficulty are viewed as things that should be pitied, or studied so they can be cured.

This treatment is well-meaning, and I'm sure that those who engage in it have their hearts in the right place.

That doesn't mean it isn't bullshit.

I am disabled.  I don't want pity, and I don't want actions that were normal before I was diagnosed to suddenly become inspiring after the fact.  Putting me up on a pedestal or holding me to separate standards because of AS is akin to telling me that I'm especially pure because I'm asexual.  My sexuality and my disorder are things I was born with.  I'm not brave for living the life I've been given.

This doesn't mean that I never want to receive compliments, or that I'll never do things worthy of recognition.  But I want my achievements to be judged on their own merits, not regarded separately because of my circumstances.  If I were to write a best-selling novel, I would want congratulations to be for writing a good and successful book, not for overcoming a disability.  If I ever become a role model, great.  But I don't want to be held up as an example only to those on the spectrum.

Please don't take this as a moratorium on the discussion of Asperger's with me. I have no issue discussing my developmental disorder, just as I have no issue discussing my sexuality.  Believe me when I say that it's far more uncomfortable avoiding the subject than it is talking about it.  There's a reason Bruce Banner was closer to Tony Stark ("Hey, you're a giant green rage monster, let's talk about it") than Captain America ("I don't care about your condition; I don't care about it so much that I'm deliberately avoiding the subject") in The Avengers.

And now that my obligatory comic book reference is out of the way, there are a couple of issues on the topic of language I'd like to bring up before I wrap up this post.  I plan to discuss language and autism in depth later on, or at least link to resources that do the same, but for the moment: please don't refer to me as "high-functioning."

I understand the use of the term "high-functioning," but outside of a medical setting, its implications are pretty unpleasant.  All too often, "high-functioning autistic" is shorthand for "acts like a normal person," as if autistics only have value when they can mask the symptoms of their disorder and blend in.  I can communicate orally and make eye contact frequently and I don't flap my hands.  That doesn't make me better or more healthy than someone who struggles with those things.

On a similar note, there are autism research organizations that talk about "fighting" and "curing" autism, which I find extremely uncomfortable.  My AS is as much a part of me as my love of writing or my hair color.  The idea of eliminating autism spectrum disorders is essentially the idea of eliminating the people who have them.  I don't want a world without us; I want a world in which society accommodates and understands us,  and helps us to thrive in a mostly neurotypical world without trying to exterminate what we are.  So please don't send me links to Autism Speaks or talk to me about raising awareness so a cure can be found.

Actually, just don't do any of these things, and we'll get along fine:

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