Sunday, March 02, 2008

It's Become Personal

When I first got involved in autistic rights, it was mostly an intellectual feeling of wrongness. I suspected I was autistic, and later knew for sure, but it didn't personally affect me much. Most of the contact I have with overtly anti-autism people is generally a) on the Internet, and b) initiated by me (I have plenty of contact with people who have no clue about autism, but are generally willing to take my word for it, though). The few overtly anti-autism people I've met since leaving school in grade 7 I am usually fairly able to defend myself against. They aren't that big a problem for me.
So at first, I was arguing on intellectual grounds, with little emotion. Not to say that I didn't care, I did, but in an intellectual way. The autistic people I advocated for were abstract to me.
But then I started volunteering with disabled kids. First, I participated in an ABA gymnastics program, with autistic kids and neurotypical kids. But ABA tends to keep you distant from the kids. Next, I volunteered with a program helping autistic kids train their own dogs, as assistance animals. But that didn't last long. Recently, however, I've been volunteering with a variety of disabled kids (though the program coordinator prefers to pair me with autistics) in a physical activity program.
In volunteering, I've met autistic kids. I've also seen the harm people do to them with good intentions. The worst example was twins with separation anxiety in the ABA program whose mother was used as a 'reward' (really, it was temporarily stopping a punishment). Another example, that I actually did more to help, was an autistic boy being gently restrained and redirected for hand-flapping. I certainly convinced them not to require me to do that, and I think I probably convinced them not to do it either by example.
The thing is, now it's not so intellectual. Now, I read things written by a parent of an autistic kid and imagine the parents of the kids I've met saying that. I read about murder of autistic kids and instead of just seeing a wrong, I see a child who died. I read stuff by professionals working with autistics and see the children they work with being treated in the way they advise. One professional said, in a book I read, that 'being teased is what happens when you act weird' and I imagined a young autistic bully victim hearing and believing that. (She actually said this to an autistic boy.) I read stuff by autistics who hate autism and my heart cries out with the thought that the kids I know may feel the same way.
It's still intellectual, because I still have reasoned arguments and logical conclusions. But now, it's also emotional. I realize more that real people are being actively hurt by these attitudes, and I feel intense empathy for them. To those who say 'spend time with an autistic child and their family and you will see how terrible autism is' - I have spent time with them. And rather than seeing a terrible disability, I see a terrible society.

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2 Comments:

Blogger Just Jen said...

Yup! The autistic person doesn't have the disability, society does...

6:22 AM  
Blogger Lisa b said...

wow. you are so right
we have a lot to learn as a society.

9:13 AM  

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