As I'm sure many of you are aware, next month is Autism Awareness Month. As such, I'm bracing myself for the flurry of Autism-related posts flooding my social media feeds over the next 60 days or so. In the past, I've been fortunate enough to be surrounded by people who have been very supportive of Neurodiversity and not thought less of me for having Aspergers. Sure, I've come across ableist comments (which as you can imagine I have quickly crushed), but in general, I've always been able to look at April and consider it “Neurodiversity Month” because of the positive humans I seem to have surrounded myself with.
Except it isn't Neurodiversity Month. Not really.
I came to this realization a few nights ago while talking to my friend, fellow Aspergian, and fellow Neurodiversity blogger Steph Diorio on Facebook (check out her awesome blog here at http://aspergersillustrated.blogspot.ca/). She had shared a video about how best to support the Aspies in one's life during a hard month such as April. It brought up the very real fact that Autism Awareness Month isn't about us; its an ableist attempt to talk about cures and eradication of the 'awful tragedy' that is Autism. Frankly, its insulting, and not long after watching this video, I experienced all of this myself first hand. I had to interview my aunt for my book, and while I gained lots of useful information, I also experienced ableist condescension in the process. During my conversation with her, she implied that I was too stubborn and immature for my age, commented on how far I had come and how well I had done (while conveniently leaving out “for someone with Aspergers”), and asked if I shouldn't maybe seek professional help to assist me in managing my “disorder” in adulthood. Nevermind the fact that I'm employed, have a social life, and have earned three university degrees. Needless to say, I was livid, and my temper flared. It took all my strength to keep it contained within until I followed the obligatory social protocols and promptly left her house.
The funny thing about this experience though, is that while yes, I was and am angry, it also led me to remember exactly why I bother with all of this Neurodiversity stuff to begin with. You see, in a way, organizations like Autism Speaks and people with attitudes like those expressed by my aunt are only symptoms of a larger problem; institutionalized ableism and discrimination against those deemed “disordered” by the rest of society. Until society itself changes its attitudes, we will always have ableist discrimination against those on the Autism Spectrum and anyone else who dares to be different from the norm. People like my aunt are part of the problem, and they are the very reason why I started this blog, why I'm writing my book and why myself and countless others continue to care about changing all of this. As with feminism's battle against patriarchy, however, opposing people individually would be akin to cutting off a tentacle, when what we need to do is take down the whole evil boss monster. (+1000 XP if we do!)
So this is why I fight. I fight to make the world a better place for those who are neurodivergent. I fight to end institutionalized ableism against those who are different. I fight to challenge the pathologizing of personality types and the medical model of psychiatry. I fight for those who are nonverbal and cannot fight for themselves. Most importantly, I fight for the right (for myself and others) to exist free of condescension, pity, judgment, and loathing by those who refuse to see our common humanity.
And until we have truly accomplished our goals and banished all of those things in favour of building a more compassionate world? I'm not, nor will I be, to quote the Dixie Chicks, “ready to make nice.”
As always, yours in diversity,