Sunday, 22 March 2015

Five reasons saying autism isn't a disability is a dick move

Autism isn't a disability!  It's a difference!

How often have you heard that?  It's one of the recurring themes in discussion about ASD, along with person-first language policing and arguments about vaccines/red cordial/smart phones/mobile phone towers/gluten/whatever we're arguing about today.

I think I understand where they're coming from.  They're trying to make a point about how people on the spectrum are as varied and valuable as everybody else even though we're different and society wasn't set up with our needs in mind.  And that's a noble ideal.  It's kind of the point of the social model of disability.

But phrasing it as "autism isn't a disability" throws serious shade on a lot of people on the spectrum, and is kind of a dick move despite the good intentions.

and maybe that's OK

Here are five reasons why:

It's so far from the truth it'll discredit the point you're trying to make

If your own ASD (or your child's,partner's, friend's, or your neighbour's babysitter's niece's), isn't a disability, good for you.  That's awesome.  Go on with your good self.

But for a lot of people, ASD is genuinely disabling.  The degree of disability will vary enormously, as will the form it takes - they don't call it a spectrum for nothing - but disability is still a part of the picture.

Autism's not a weird, rare, unknown disorder anymore.  Most people know something about it.  Hell, most people know someone on the spectrum.  A fair chunk of the lay public already has some sort of handle on the sort of challenges ASD brings, even if it's a stereotypical kid-centric view.  So if someone says "it's not a disability", the listener is going to think "well, that contradicts my lived experience/the family next door/what I heard on the news last night, so this person obviously doesn't know what they're talking about". 

And that's a fair point, because...

You have no idea whether or not another person is disabled

Whether a person has disability is a matter for them, their health care providers and support team, and in some circumstances their family or wider network.  The opinions of some random person on the internet or in a supermarket are not relevant.  Not only do you not have the experience, training or skills to make that call, it's none of your damn business.

So, you don't get to make a call on whether or not ASD is a disability, and issue a sweeping statement defining the disabledness of other people.  None of us have the One True Experience of being on the spectrum.


Which brings us to...

You're implying those who are disabled fail at ASD

Not everyone on the spectrum has wikkid mad skillz.  We don't all have high IQs, or we might have high IQs but be unable to apply them due to shenanigans with sensory processing, language, executive function or other things that one needs to get by.  Relatively few of us are savants. 

And you know what?  We still deserve to exist.  We don't have to have some mindblowing splinter skills to offset the inconvenience of our existence, or some amazing gift to offer the world by way of an apology for our difference.

Some people on the spectrum are disabled.  That doesn't mean they're Doing Autism Wrong.

You're making life harder for people on the spectrum who need support

You know who'd love to hear all about how ASD isn't a disability?  People who are looking for a reason to not employ us, not include us, not educate us, to withhold the accommodations and consideration we need to be contributing members of society.  Maybe even the service providers who are stretched to their limit and need to make a decision about which cases they turn away today.

If you don't need support, consider yourself lucky because there are a lot of people on the spectrum who really do, and a lot who aren't getting it or who have to fight for it every step of the way.  Why make their lives more difficult, by giving ammunition to those with a vested interest in not helping?


Your ableism is showing

How'd this idea even start?  Why are some people on the spectrum so keen to point out it's not a disability?  Is it because they see disability as something lesser, shameful, unpleasant, something they'd like to distance themselves from?

There is still a big, big stigma around disability, especially developmental and cognitive disabilities.  But saying "we're not like those people!" isn't going to break it down, it's just going to reinforce the idea that being one of 'those people' is a bad thing.

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Disabled women are more likely to experience domestic violence


Today is International Women's Day.  It'd be nice to bust out a long, deep, meaningful post about the experience of being a woman on the autism spectrum, but I'm a weepy mess of post cyclone stress and exhaustion, so this will be short.  But not sweet.

Women with disability are at more risk of domestic violence than the general female population.  Women with intellectual disability are at even higher risk than women with other forms of disability.

We need to talk about this.  And we need to end it.

Domestic violence awareness meme from the South African Salvation Army. Click here or the image to view the original


There are many, many potential reasons why disabled women are more at risk of abuse at the hands of their partners, and why they may not be able to leave their abuser.  Many of those reasons are related to wider disability issues relating to access to services and employment, and the way our society thinks of and treats our disabled citizens.

She may be dependent on her partner for physical care, transport, social support, or other things she can't do for herself due to her disability.  There may be no service available to provide that care if she leaves.  She's also more likely to be economically dependent on her partner because she can't work, can't find work, or can only work at reduced capacity due to her disability. 

A big part of domestic violence is isolating the victim from her family, friends and support network.  (Sorry #notallmen, but 95% of Australian domestic violence victims are female, and 90% of perpetrators male.)  People on the spectrum often already have a weak, fragmented or nonexistent support network, so destroying it is all the easier.

She may be unable to detect subtle forms of abuse like emotional manipulation due to her social limitations.  She may also recognise the behaviour as unhealthy and wrong, but since the general theme of everything people on the spectrum are told about interacting with others is that we're always wrong, she second-guesses her judgement.

She probably has a lifetime's worth of conditioning that she's a worthless, shameful, inconvenient burden who should be grateful that anyone would have her, and that she doesn't deserve any better.

The issue of women on the spectrum's vulnerability to domestic violence is a very, very serious one, but one that receives very little attention.  The public discourse around the autism spectrum revolves heavily around children.  When adults are talked about it's seldom in the context of intimate relationships, unless it's about how hard it is to be NT with a partner on the spectrum, or how amazing and inspirational it is that a person on the spectrum could have a relationship at all.

Links, resources and things to read:

Double The Odds: an older but excellent piece from Women with Disabilities Australia
HURT: domestic and family violence
Domestic, family and sexual violence in Australia: an overview of the issues (link takes you to the section specific to women with disability)
Information and resources for people with disability experiencing domestic violence
Another page of resources
Women with disability at high risk of domestic violence
People with Disability Australia and Domestic Violence NSW are working to improve domestic violence services to people with disability.