Saturday, April 13, 2013

On "Suffering from Autism".

We hear these words a lot. I am not an autistic person, or an aspie, because that is not considered politically correct, person first language. The "correct" way to refer to me is apparently to say that I am a person who suffer froms autism/Asperger's syndrome. Well, newsflash: that so called correct terminology is very offensive to me, whereas referring to me as an autistic person or an aspie is not, just as referring to me as a woman is not offensive. It is a simple, descriptive statement. I am a person with female parts and identity, also I am a person with Asperger's. Not offensive, merely factual.

Why is the "suffering from autism" phraseology so aversive?

Autism is a pervasive developmental disorder. "Pervasive" means that our entire personality and identity is affected/colored by autism. Autism is an integral part of who I am, just as being female, artistic, introverted, etc is an integral part of who I am. If the curebies had their way and managed to "cure" me of autism, the person I am would no longer be here. I wouldn't be me anymore, I'd be a complete stranger. Saying that I suffer from autism is just as offensive as saying that I suffer from femaleness. Now, it is true that there are disadvantages to being female, particularly in a culture in which gender equality is still not yet a reality. However, no woman wants to be referred to as "a person suffering from female gender"- they are less offended by being referred to as a woman, or better yet, simply as a person, period. The same is true for me.

Here are some things related to autism that autistics/aspies do suffer from.

  • Depression- is pretty much endemic among us. I think it is safe to say that if you were to erase depression from any autistic person's world, their improvement would be impressive- without touching the autism at all. Depression kills an awful lot of us, and it sucks the life, ambition and hope out of our lives. It can be accurately and fairly stated that we do suffer from depression.
  • Bullying. If you find an autistic person who hasn't been bullied throughout their life, please let me know. Probably they will have been raised in a bubble. Bullies torment us from early childhood on, into adulthood, taking advantage of our naivete and making school- which could be our ticket to success in life- a living hell rather than a place of learning and growth.
  • PTSD. Many of us have been abused: by parents, adult authority figures, bullies, spouses and partners, strangers....we tend to lack the ability to detect danger until it's too late to run away. Many of of have been sexually abused or raped, and physical abuse by parents against autistic children is also common. Combine the abuse with a mind that replays everything unpleasant and whose wiring is already set to be easily stressed, and you have PTSD + autism, not an easy combination to live with or deal with.
  • Anxiety: That brain that constantly replays everything traumatic, with a hairtrigger amygdala? Anxiety central! When you see autistic people stimming (rocking, making funny movements with their hands, squiting their eyes, and other things that look funny to you), it is because they are stressed and anxious. Stims are a coping mechanism.
  • Stress. I hate to say it this way but, when normal people talk about stress....they have no. idea. what we live with and have to cope with every day. The world is tailored for neurotypical people and as a result, it's very stressful to us, even without all the bullies, loud people, people who misunderstand and or treat you like you're stupid, etc. Imagine heavy metal music turned up to full volume, in 3-d physical reality, spinning and swarming all around you while you're trying to go through your day. That's what it's like for me to be in a crowd of people or at Wal-Mart. Life is overwhelming. Everything is so loud, so bright, so smelly, so fast, so demanding, so right! now!, so flashy and busy. Normal people seem to have systems that are dulled to subtlety and delicacy, so they inflict their need for extreme sensory experiences onto us all. It's fairly awful.
  • Discrimination. Despite what everyone says, it is legal to discriminate against us at work, etc. All they have to do is claim that you are unable to do the job, regardless of whether or not this is actually true. It is also fully legal to screen us out in the first place by the use of questionnaires designed to select only hyper-social sheeple who will follow orders mindlessly. For example, Starbucks and Walmart both use these questionnaires as part of their job application process. If you answer "disagree" to a statement like "I love to be around people and find social interactions energizing.", you will not get hired, despite experience and competence at the job. It doesn't matter if you can put on your customer service mask and do the job just as well as the natural socialite- you will never even get an interview, because you answered that question honestly. They only way to get past the questionnaire is to lie, and of course, they can fire you at any time if you lied on any part of the application, even if you can bring yourself to lie about such stuff, which I am unable to do.
  • Poverty. It's hard to get a job, hard to keep a job, hard to get on disability, hard to win divorce/custody battles in court. I have seen people on the autism spectrum who were not poor, but they seem to be the exception rather than the rule. Poverty increases stress, anxiety and depression, feeding the cycle of true suffering.

I've probably forgotten a few things that should have been on that list, but my point is that none of the above items have to be associated with autism, and several of them are external; i.e. could be changed by normal people if they cared as much as they claim to. If as much focus were put into preventing discrimination and bullying as is being directed towards a mythical cure, our lives would improve. Even better, we'd still be ourselves, we could express our potential, and the world woudl be a better place for everyone, not just us, because things like discrimination and bullying hurt everyone.

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