This post was originally published on Geeky Science Mom’s Tumblr at http://geekysciencemom.tumblr.com/post/49239514004/autism-positivity-flash-blog-2013, and is reprinted here with permission from the author.
What does the word “positive” mean? Doing a Google search, you find that as an adjective, “positive” means, “consisting in or characterized by the presence or possession of features or qualities rather than their absence.” As a noun, “positive” means, “a good, affirmative, or constructive quality or attribute: ‘translate your weakness into positives’.”
April 30, 2013, marks the second Autism Positivity Flash Blog. Last year hundreds of bloggers came together in a show of support and solidarity in response to an anonymous person’s Google search “I wish I didn’t have Aspergers”. I have come across posts made by autistic people stating that they want to be “cured”. Why is this? Why do these people want to have their neurology “cured” leaving them to be someone else entirely? Is it really them wanting to be “cured” or is it the negative views that society has about having Autism that makes these people want to be “cured”?
These questions got me thinking about The Clark Doll Experiment that was done in the 1939. (See The Clark Doll Experiment for more information) The Clark Doll Experiment was an experiment done by Dr. Kenneth Clark and his wife Mamie. They asked black children to choose between a black doll and a white doll. The dolls were the same except for their skin color, but most thought the white doll was nicer. In the experiment, Clark showed black children, who were between the ages of six and nine two dolls, one white and one black, and then asked these questions in this order:
“Show me the doll that you like best or that you’d like to play with,”
“Show me the doll that is the ‘nice’ doll,”
“Show me the doll that looks ‘bad’,”
“Give me the doll that looks like a white child,”
“Give me the doll that looks like a colored child,”
“Give me the doll that looks like a Negro child,”
“Give me the doll that looks like you.”
“Negro” and “colored” were both common words for blacks before the 1960s.
By the time the last question was reached, most black children had picked the black doll as the “bad” one. In 1950 the test was done again, 44% said the white doll looked like them. In past tests, however, many children would refuse to pick either doll or just start crying and run away. In 2005, Kiri Davis repeated the experiment in Harlem as part of her short film, “A Girl Like Me”. She asked 21 children and 71% told her that the white doll was the “nice” one. It is not a huge sample size, but it was still shocking to see how many still chose the white doll 66 years after the first experiment was conducted.
Why did these children feel that the black doll was bad and the white doll was the nice one? Societal views about black people shaped how these children saw what the dolls represented. In one of my post graduate courses, we were discussing the differences between being an extrovert and an introvert. One group loudly proclaimed that being an extrovert was better. They claimed that you had more fun and you were a better person if you were an extrovert. To them it was a better way to live. I grew up being pushed into being an extrovert, I hated it. It wasn’t who I was, but the idea that I was somehow less of a person because I was an introvert still crept into my mind. This idea of being “less” was much more powerful in the children in The Clark Doll Experiment. At the time of this particular course I did not know I was autistic, but I had found myself leaning more toward being an introvert.
In protest of the group’s declaration, I raised my hand and proclaimed that this type of thinking was wrong. Being an extrovert doesn’t make you better and being an introvert doesn’t mean there is something wrong with you. Being an extrovert or being an introvert only means that you experience the world in different ways.
The negative ways society has seen black people have made the children in The Clark Doll Experiment see themselves as “bad”. People are being taught that being an introvert is “weird” and “wrong” and no fun. People with Autism are being taught that they need to be “cured”, because they are “weird” or “bad”. This is a societal thing. People aren’t born feeling “bad”, they are taught that they are “bad” for some reason or another.
There is so much negative language out there about Autism being ”evil”, being a “sickness”, so much language pertaining to autistic people being “less”. There are so many people out there who don’t see a person for how they truly are. They instead see them as how they want them to be, and when that person can’t meet these expectations, that person is made to feel wrong. As an autistic person, I know personally how this would make you feel broken and no good. No wonder there are autistic people declaring that they want a “cure”.
In the beginning of this blog I stated various meanings of the word “positive”. I would like to focus on the adjective meaning, “consisting in or characterized by the presence or possession of features or qualities rather than their absence.” So much of Autism is defined by the absence of qualities instead of the presence of qualities. What is the positive side of having Autism?
According to Tony Attwood, there are a number of positive qualities of having Autism. In May, the DSM-V is coming out and the labels for Aspergers and PDD-NOS have been removed. Everyone on the Autism Spectrum will be labeled as having Autism Spectrum Disorder or ASD. The list of positive traits, which were originally listed by Tony Attwood for people who have Aspergers, can now be applied to people who have ASD. The list can be found here – The Discovery of “Aspie” Criteria.
Taking the words used in The Clark Doll Experiment, having Autism is not “bad” and being a person without Autism doesn’t make you “nice”. Having Autism just makes you different. It doesn’t mean you are “less”, it doesn’t mean you are broken, what it does mean is that you see the world in a different way. There is nothing wrong with that. The world needs people who can perceive the world in different ways. These are our Steve Jobs, our Albert Einsteins, and our Nikola Teslas. These different types of thinkers are the world’s problem solvers. They need to be accepted for the positive qualities that they have and not thought of in terms of the qualities they lack. The conversation needs to change. This is the only way autistic people will be able to see themselves in a positive light.
“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” – Albert Einstein
(Image found at 30daysofautism.wordpress.com)