Sunday, 24 February 2013

Autistic people should...

Autistic People Should is a flashblogging project, aimed at changing some of the rather alarming autofill suggestions that Google currently supplies if you type that phrase into the search box.  It's potentially a reflection of a wider negative perception of autism throughout the zeitgeist, which is worrying and rather sad.

I'm a little late to the party because my executive functioning is a bit bung at the moment, but here are my contributions:

Autistic people should be central to the discussion of what autism is: I have seen neurotypical "experts" argue that we aren't reliable sources of information on autism because our supposed reduced self-awareness and communciation skills makes us unreliable witnesses.  This is nonsense - everybody is the world's foremost authority on what's it's like to live inside their own body - and this argument is condescending, othering and infantilising.  I've lost count of how many autistic people have pointed out we don't lack empathy, we just express it differently or struggle to express it at all.  But "lacks empathy" is still one of the key stereotypes surrounding autism, right up there with savant skills and being played by Dustin Hoffman.

Autistic people should get the same respect and accomodations as any other person with disabilities: I like to think we've moved past the point where a person using a wheelchair would be told to plan their career around places they're physically able to access, or a guide dog user around workplaces that allow animals.  But I was told, only last year, that if I can't handle the noise levels in a newsroom I shouldn't be working there.

In some workplaces "disability access" really just means "wheelchair toilets".  If your needs can't be met with an off-the-shelf solution, preferably installed one weekend by a tradesman and never mentioned again, they're written off as too hard.  Disability access isn't about wanting special treatment, it's about wanting the same treatment - a workplace where you can do your job without being in constant pain.

Autistic people should be heard: A big chunk of the public discussion about autism is dominated by people who aren't autistic - experts, parents of children, doctors, specialists.  There should be a place for autistic voices in that discussion as well.  But as an autistic blogger, I've been told to shut up many times.  Sometimes it's parents of autistic children arguing that I don't 'speak for their child' even though I've never spoken or claimed to speak for anyone but myself.  Sometimes it's other autistic people, either arguing that I'm too high fuctioning and 'not autistic enough', or that I'm too low functioning and just make things complicated, that I 'do autism wrong'.

There's room at the table for all of us.  The 'table' is a theoretical concept rather than an actual table, so it's not as though we can only fit so many chairs around it.  There's room for everyone's voices.