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Preview: autism: for regular people

autism: for regular people

The meaning of the title is double. I want to explain some things that I have learned about the autistic experience to my students, most of whom are not autistic. But also, autistics are not some kind of other species or extraterrestrials, but rather j

Updated: 2014-10-04T23:08:21.877-04:00


"that word"


This is not a story about autism, but it does relate.This really happened to two people I know, but many details have been changed because I don't want to single out those specific people. Instead, I want to use this story to talk about something general in society.Alex and Maria knew each other as "acquaintances", but they had not met face-to-face, although they had seen smallish low-resolution "mugshot" type photos of each other. I knew both of them face-to-face. Alex has a physical disability that is obvious if you meet him in 3-dimensional real life. One day, Maria did just that, because they happened to run into each other. Later, Maria commented to me that they had met, and said "I didn't know Alex was a cripple!" I was open-mouthed and unable to explain, at the moment, why that word shocked me so much.Now, I did do my first graduate work at a large socially- and politically-Liberal university, where we were pretty well indoctrinated in Political Correctness (more about that in another post!), but that doesn't explain the whole reason that Maria's comment left me speechless.I finally figured it out, but only after Maria had already mumbled a confused apology, changed the subject, and left for wherever she had to be. She hadn't meant anything bad by it, and she hadn't understood what was wrong.I think, maybe... it shocked me because I never saw Alex as a Cripple. And I am not going to claim that I saw Alex as "just like everyone else", because it often happens that having a disability gives a person some life experiences that are NOT just like everyone else's. These uncommon experiences, and whatever creative ways that the person deals with them, can often be part of what makes a person interesting to talk to, and can even give them more understanding of the weird stuff that happens to others. And really, above and beyond that, Alex is not "just like everyone else", mainly because he has his own personality that would have made him an interesting person anyway, regardless of being born with a physical disability.But here's the thing: when someone says "that word" about other people, there is a whole feeling that goes along with it, a feeling that just because some part of their body doesn't work (or doesn't work typically), that somehow... they don't have a life? they are less than whatever the speaker is? I can't really put into words, but you try saying that word (or better, imagine someone saying it at you) and see what it feels like.And the reality is, that Alex is a complex person with thoughts and dreams (lots of dreams), a personal philosophy, an active inner life, an active family life, cultural interests, hobbies, school, friends, pets, career plans, etc. This is not an unhappy person. Not even a resigned person. Not that you need to have all those things to be happy, but this is not a person who is living less than a full life. This is a person whose legs don't work all that great. This is a person who has some inconveniences getting around. But above all, this is a Person.And if you asked Maria did she think of Alex as a person, I am sure she would say "yes, of course!" So... why resort to the use of a word that has such "less-than-person" connotations? Probably that was the first word that sprang to mind. I submit that words like "Cripple" shouldn't be the first thing that comes to mind. It's easy to become careless with words, but when our words impact other people's identity, I think it's important to consider them.Note: There is such a thing as "Crip" Culture (see here and here for a start), which attempts to remove the stigma from a negative word by reclaiming it for those it is used against. I think it would be great if the meaning of "that word" could change in the general population to something other than "less than". Of course, it shouldn't mean "more than", either. As far as I understand it, "Crip Culture", along with the rest of the disability rights movement, is about how people with disabilities are regular people (with some particular lifestyles and experiences, hence "[...]

Autistic Pride Day 2007


I am beginning this blog today, because tomorrow, June 18th, is the 3rd(?) annual Autistic Pride Day.

Many people wonder what autism is. The media will tell you a lot of negative and frightening things about autism. Many autistic people, even those whose lives are very much different from "normal" because of autism, will tell you completely opposite things, including how being autistic actually has its advantages. I plan to spend some of the first posts debunking some common misconceptions about autism, with the help of links to autistic bloggers.

Many people wonder how a person could be "proud" of a disability. I have my own doubts around the idea of being proud of something that one has not achieved, that one was just born with (or, for that matter, being proud of something one has achieved). But in the sense of pride as the opposite of shame, I think it makes a lot of sense.

Many people wonder about the implciations of autism on things like intelligence, social interaction, ability to function as an adult, and even mental health. In this blog I will try to answer or at least discuss some past and present questions that I have heard from different people about these kinds of topics.

This is an ambitious set of goals for an intermittent blogger like me, so I think I will leave it at this, for now.

Please feel free to post questions in the comments.
Your comments will appear after I approve them, and I will try to answer, often by referencing others, usually autistic bloggers.

Oh and by the way, this year's topic is "Autistics Speak: Take time to listen!"