*Featured image is by Landon Bryce of ThAutcast: Aspergers and Autism Community*
If Landon objects to my using the image he published on his Facebook page then I will of course take it down. The reason I used it is because, when I saw it this afternoon, it perfectly summed up what I had been thinking when planning this blog post. “Autistic people are everything that other people are (and also autistic)”
Some context first. Last week there was a flash blog using the writing prompt, “autistic people should”, organized by Alyssa from Yes, That Too. You can find all the blog posts from those who contributed here. It was arranged because, when you type “autistic people should” into Google search, the auto-complete feature suggests some pretty horrific options. In response, autistic adults decided to share how they would complete that phrase and it was an extremely successful event. Successful enough that it caught the attention of Google, who are working to eliminate search results that constitute hate speech.
Alyssa had also planned another flash blog for today using the writing prompt “autistic people are” and decided that, even with the positive response from Google to the first flash blog, that this one would go ahead as planned. You can find the aggregated posts here.
I had planned on joining last week's flash blog but then Owen got very sick and it just didn't happen. When thinking over what I would write this week, I found myself continually coming back to the phrase “autistic people are people”, which is why I loved Landon's graphic the moment I saw it. It also seemed a tad presumptous for me to write about what autistic people are, when I'm not, you know, autistic.
“Autistic people are people” would have made for a pretty short blog post however and I'm nothing if not verbose. So last night I got to thinking – what assumptions do we all make about neurotypical people that, in general, we don't seem to think apply to autistic people? Four things immediately jumped out at me. I'm sure there are a lot more but these are ones that I find myself hearing most often, especially from parents of newly diagnosed autistic children. So, throwing caution to the wind I am going to categorically state the following:
Autistic people are…
- able to communicate. It's my fervent belief that whilst everyone may not be able to speak, absolutely everyone is able to communicate. We need to ensure that assistive technology (AT) is available, appropriately funded and that AT support is provided by qualified individuals.
- capable of learning new skills. Autism is a developmental disability, not developmental stasis. Like all of us, autistic people can and do learn new skills all the time, they just may not learn at the same rate or in the exact same way as allistic people.
- employable. With appropriate accommodations in place I see no reason why autistic people should not be allowed to leverage their strengths in order to generate an income. To the extent that autistic people are unemployed in my opinion that's a function of the decisions we make as a society and our overall perception of what is valuable, not a function of autistic people's autism.
- able to lead happy, fulfilling lives. We all need support in order to be happy. No man is an island as John Donne famously put it. Autistic people are exactly the same as neurotypical people in this regard, but the nature of the supports they need are just different, not necessarily less. (Apologies to Temple Grandin).
My autistic people are…
I see Oliver and Owen daily. My partner's son I see every other week when he and his sister spend time with their Dad. The three autistic people that are a huge part of my life are adorable, funny, cute, exasperating, affectionate, stubborn and smart. They love cartoons, trains, YouTube and iPads. In other words, they're 7 year-old boys (and also autistic).