Sunday, September 18, 2016

The Face of The Willingness to Understand and The Face of Fear in One Day

Yesterday was the day where I had crossed paths with both an eagerness to understand and to share ideas with, and also a day in which I bumped into one of the most supreme forms of absurdity, ignorance, and fear.

To the individuals that exchanged the former with me: thank you, thank you so, so very much for listening to what I had to say, as well as for sharing with me some of the present actions that you are taking in your lives in order to make this World a much, much better place for autistic people.  I cannot commend you enough for making my heart surge beyond the constraints of the crown of my head, and for reminding me that there are, indeed, great people in the community that are in fact more than willing to learn about concepts that they previously have never been formally introduced to.

As for the latter individual: though I did not verbalize it to you, I feel that my body language should have conveyed more than enough the fact that as soon as you expressed sentiments of people like myself being "vaccine-damaged," that I was hurt and uncomfortable with you in my presence. My rapid speech in response to your attempt to call me "high-functioning" as a compliment, my rapid speech detailing the fact that I do not consider myself "high-functioning" and that I do not believe in functioning labels for a myriad of reasons should have signaled to you the fact that I was, to be frank, extremely distressed with the fact that you would essentially slander an entire group of people-- in this instance, autistic people-- as being the "bad results" that the young man whose words are mentioned in this link so-succinctly states that those who think vaccines are the cause of autism believe.

Latter individual, it is apparent that you are unfamiliar with the work of many autistic self-advocates and activists who do not want to radically alter their existence with a cure for their autism.  I hope that, as being in the top leadership position of a local nonprofit autism organization, that you would be willing to listen and potentially, to shift your paradigm as so many have done.  I know this, myself.  Before I had learned about neurodiversity, the neurodiversity movement, and the neurodiversity paradigm, I used to loathe myself.  I would blame many of my failures on the fact that I was autistic, that I was inherently "inferior" socially and sensorially because I was autistic, my intelligence not enough to compensate for this inferiority.  I used to perceive one of my nonspeaking cousins as lesser to me, not be able to relate to him due to differences that, in retrospect, were highly-insignificant qualifiers in empathizing with and relating to another human being.

Then, I read the words of so many amazing autistic activists, some of them more like myself, who possess highly-articulate verbal abilities, some of them more like my cousin, who are entirely nonspeaking and were dismissed as "intellectually-incompetent" before learning to communicate via other means, to people who are more like your son, who I unfortunately did not have the privilege of meeting yesterday, and who you described as being somewhere in-between.  

I hope that, as so many have done, you are more than willing to listen and to learn.  I would gladly introduce you to the concept of neurodiversity itself, the neurodiversity paradigm, the neurodiversity and the broader disability rights movements, that is, if you are ready and willing to listen to I, an autistic person, voice her thoughts and perceptions unto you.  Had my anxiety not been particularly aggressive in the moment, I would have told you, "I am not a mistake.  Your son is not a mistake.  My cousin is not a mistake.  No human being is a mistake." 

Because that is what anti-vaccine language inevitably is to us autistic people: hurtful, stigmatizing, and excluding.  As this August 2016 study shows, autistic children in particular are persistent victims of murder-suicide-- and I hold a firm conviction that negative rhetoric about autism, including that of its long-debunked link to vaccinations, contributes largely to it.

 The stigma and the fear against autism and against autistic people cannot end if the myth that we are victims of a vast, petrifying conspiracy to rob children of their futures still plagues the Earth.  Neurodiversity, as this 2014 post by Jess Wilson of Diary of a Mom states, does not mean "giving up."  In fact, it means quite the opposite: to see autistic people as full-fledged human beings with a diverse plethora of needs, wants, likes, and dislikes as any other

I am not a mistake.  Your son is not a mistake.  My cousins, my acquaintances, my friends, we are not mistakes.  

We are women, we are men, we are human beings.  Beautiful, whole, and complete autistic men and women-- human beings.