Autistic Appreciation

Jillian Enright

Autistic Appreciation

We’re well aware of autism, we need to start appreciating Autistic People

April is autism “awareness” month

Except the most well-known group which claims to support and advocate for autistics and their families actually perpetuates myths, stereotypes, and philosophies based in eugenics.

This group earns a significant amount of media attention during the campaign — ironically, a hell of a lot more awareness than Actually Autistic people receive.

The campaign shares similarities with the Bell Lets Talk campaign in its virtue signalling, but is much more insidious because of this organization’s focus on autism as a tragedy, one that “robs” parents of their child.

So the awareness of autism advances in the wrong direction, in a direction that continues to harm many autistic individuals, and the autistic community at large.

This organization promotes Applied Behavioural Analysis (ABA) therapy, a form of conversion therapy for autistics, one that tries to “train” autistic children into behaving as neurotypical as possible. A therapy that is considered abusive by many of us, one that has harmed and traumatized innumerable autistics.

Eugenics

Nearly one year ago, Juliette L. Dunn wrote about the deceptions of this particular organization, I highly recommend reading their piece as well.

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), negative eugenics is a process directed toward preventing reproduction by individuals with traits that are considered to be “undesirable”.

“The eugenic position is groundless and scientifically naive, in that many conditions associated with disability or disorders, such as syndromes that increase risk of intellectual disability, are inherited recessively and occur unpredictably.” — American Psychological Association

That particular group — they who shall not be named — use a puzzle piece to represent autism, perhaps insinuating we are broken and needing to be fixed, we are mysterious, or somehow incomplete as people.

In fact, the first use of the puzzle piece was in 1963. Gerald Gasson, a non-autistic parent and board member for the National Autistic Society in London created a logo for the organization which consisted of a puzzle piece along with the image of a crying child.

A crying child.

Because apparently, we’re all so very sad to have autism… or something?

As Heilker and Yergeau wrote:

Puzzle pieces … symbolize so much of what is wrong with popular autism discourse — representing autistic people as puzzling, mysterious, less-than-human entities who are “short a few cognitive pieces,” who are utterly self-contained, disconnected, and [who] need to “fit in.” — Heilker & Yergeau

Hence, you will not see any puzzle pieces in my articles (except satirically), social media pages, or anywhere else for that matter.

Who defines “undesirable”?

I’m not the first to point out (but it bears repeating), homosexuality was considered “undesirable” and labelled a mental “disorder” in the diagnostic and statistical manual (DSM) right up until it was removed in 1973.

That’s only 49 years ago.

Of course, having something removed from the DSM doesn’t automatically create equity or equal treatment, the LGBTQIA+ community is still marginalized, oppressed, and mistreated today.

Even more recently, being transgender was in the DSM up until 2013, only nine years ago!

The fifth edition of the DSM (DSM-V) now includes gender dysphoria as a diagnosis. Rather than labelling a transgender person as disordered, the criteria focuses on whether the person experiences distress due to the incongruence between their outward presentation and gender identity.

Of course, when discussing the subjective concept of “desirable”, one can’t forget about racism. Interracial marriage was not allowed in Canada until 1930, just 22 years ago. The last segregated school in Canada was not closed until 1965, only 57 years ago.

When speaking of racism in Canada, some of our most shameful and heartbreaking histories surrounds residential schools. Indigenous children were torn from their families and communities, denied the right to speak their language or practice their culture, and many were abused or killed.

When people talk about residential schools, they seem to think these existed in some deep, dark past.

They couldn’t be more wrong.

There are many people still alive today who were subjected to the horror of residential schools in Canada, and even more of their children and descendants are still alive and have experienced the harms and pain of intergenerational trauma.

There were over 130 residential schools operated in Canada. The first one opened in 1831. Many began to close in the 1970s and 1980s, but the last residential school in Canada wasn’t closed until 1996.

1996 was only 26 years ago. Twenty-six. Most, if not all, of readers here were likely alive in 1996. There is much more to cover on this subject, but of course, I’ve digressed from the original topic to illustrate a point.

Whether something — or someone — is desirable, or certain traits are considered desirable, are all entirely subjective. The people in power, and the choices that benefit them personally and politically, are what primarily influence these ideas.

Back to the puzzle piece

Many Autistic scholars and activists have worked to take back our own advocacy and messaging from those neurotypicals who choose to speak over us and not listen to autistic voices.

Most notably, Jim Sinclair’s essay “Don’t Mourn For Us”, which he presented in 1993 at the International Conference on Autism in Toronto. Sinclair wrote his essay primarily addressed to neurotypical parents who lamented the hardships of having an autistic child, urging them to stop bemoaning their children’s “deficits”.

Sinclair told parents not to mourn for Autistics:

You didn’t lose a child to autism. You lost a child because the child you waited for never came into existence… We are alive. We are real. And we’re here waiting for you… We need you. We need your understanding.”— Jim Sinclair

Not long after, Judy Singer coined the term “neurodiversity” in her 1998 thesis, “Odd People In”.

Judy Singer has also been and continues to be, an important advocate for the rights of neurodiverse individuals, particularly the autistic community.

“Neurodiversity is a political term to argue for the importance of including all neurotypes for a thriving human society.” — Judy Singer

My small contribution

I’ve been playing around with different iterations of symbols representing the neurodiversity movement, the neurodiversity paradigm, and the Autistic Acceptance movement. I’ve taken this one step further, and have begun referring to it as Autistic Appreciation.

Autistic individuals deserve to be appreciated for our unique qualities, for our strengths, and for our humanness. We deserve to be accepted and appreciated for exactly who we are.

Rather than increasing “awareness” of autism traits (which those who pathologize this neurotype refer to as “symptoms”), I propose we increase awareness and appreciation for the many Autistic Assets that exist.

I’m no artist, but I created my own Autistic Appreciation symbol, which is the feature image for this article.

To be clear, I certainly did not come up with the concept of using an infinity symbol, nor a butterfly. Jim Sinclair is credited as the first person to use the infinity symbol to represent the autism-rights movement in the 1980s.

Many have used the butterfly to represent ADHD, although it’s difficult to credit one person for coming up with the concept. While searching, I came across a really cool symbol created by Emma, aka “ADHD Grrrl”, which combined both the infinity symbol and butterfly.

Biodiversity

Judy Singer, Jim Sinclair, and many other important autistic advocates have pointed out the necessity and benefits of diversity in nature, including human biology.

“…just as conserving biodiversity is necessary for a sustainable, flourishing planet, so respecting neurodiversity is necessary for a sustainable, flourishing human society.” — Judy Singer

This is what prompted me to combine the planet earth with the colourful brain, to signify the coming together of biodiversity and neurodiversity. The vivid colours represent the variation and diversity, as well as creativity, within the neurodiverse community.

When April comes, please do not share images of puzzle pieces on social media. Please do not make your profile blue for “autism awareness”, and for the love of humanity, please do not donate one cent to Autism Speaks.

Instead of sharing the anti-Autistic message of a corporation that harms us, lift up the voices of Actually Autistic people. Listen to and share autistic stories, create awareness that amazing autistic people exist, and our lives are not tragedies.

Increase autism acceptance and appreciation, rather than perpetuating the message that we are broken, incomplete, or indecipherable. We’re actually not that difficult to understand if people would bloody listen to us.

© Jillian Enright, Neurodiversity MB

Related Stories

ADHD And Autistic Assets

The “Gold Standard” for Autistic Children

The Significance Of The Neurodiversity Movement

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References

Drescher J. (2015). Out of DSM: Depathologizing Homosexuality. Behavioral sciences (Basel, Switzerland), 5(4), 565–575. https://doi.org/10.3390/bs5040565

Gernsbacher, M. A., Raimond, A. R., Stevenson, J. L., Boston, J. S., & Harp, B. (2018). Do puzzle pieces and autism puzzle piece logos evoke negative associations?. Autism : the international journal of research and practice, 22(2), 118–125. https://doi.org/10.1177/1362361317727125

Heilker, P., & Yergeau, M. (2011). Autism and Rhetoric. College English, 73(5), 485–497. http://www.jstor.org/stable/23052337

Kapp, S. (2020). Autistic Community and the Neurodiversity Movement: Stories from the frontline. Palgrave Macmillan. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-13-8437-0

Pripas-Kapit S. (2020). Historicizing Jim Sinclair’s “Don’t Mourn for Us”: A Cultural and Intellectual History of Neurodiversity’s First Manifesto. In: Kapp S. (eds). Autistic Community and the Neurodiversity Movement. Palgrave Macmillan. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-13-8437-0_2

Sinclair, J. (2012). Don’t Mourn for Us.

Singer, J. (1998). Odd People In: The Birth of Community Amongst People on the “Autistic Spectrum”: a personal exploration of a New Social Movement based on Neurological Diversity. [Honours thesis]. University of Technology.

Zucker K.J. (2015). The DSM-5 Diagnostic Criteria for Gender Dysphoria. In: Trombetta C., Liguori G., Bertolotto M. (eds). Management of Gender Dysphoria. Springer. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-88-470-5696-1_4

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Neurodivergent. 20+ years social work and psychology experience. I write about mental health, neurodiversity, advocacy, education, and parenting. Founder of Neurodiversity MB. CYW, BA Psychology.

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