By Monkey Pliers
As you may or may not already know, April is Autism Acceptance Month. This is the response of many Autistics to the declaration, made by neurotypicals, of Autism Awareness Month. Why? Because, as the idea’s first promulgators pointed out, awareness is not enough. You can know a thing exists and still lack any appreciable understanding of it. The concern has been that, although the awareness campaign has put autism more towards the forefront of people’s minds, it has not only failed to provide anything better than stereotypes and fear mongering, it has actually left real, living Autistics out – out of the discussion and out of the view of the public. Autism Acceptance Month promotes opportunities for us to speak for ourselves, telling others who we really are and what our lives are really like.
But what does it mean for us to “speak” when a lot of us are intermittently or regularly either nonvocally verbal or nonverbal – and when using vocalized words can be so challenging in many ways for those of us who have varying degrees of ability to utilize it? Furthermore, if our condition is as the organizations who’ve purported to speak for us have claimed, what could we possibly have to say anyway? Why would we want to be in the public eye? Isn’t it more seemly, if the images of us traditionally presented to the general population are accurate, for us to stay hidden, where no one can see us suffer? If we are to be paraded about, shouldn’t it be for the “greater good” of using us to show how important it is to prevent any more of us from being born?
If the folks with the money and the big names are to be believed, we’re best off hunkering down or lurking around in shame, waiting for a magical cure to restore us to life. And that’s exactly what gives people a feeling of dread when they or their loved ones are handed a diagnosis. But that’s not really how it is. Granted, there are aspects of autism that aren’t fun, such as overwhelm and misunderstanding. Other health issues that frequently occur alongside autism also have aspects that are less than pleasant, to say the least (though it should be noted these conditions should never be confused with autism itself). But a great deal of what’s challenging about autism is the combination of the attitudes of others and the resulting lack of flexibility and accommodation we would need in order to participate in all aspects of society, to whatever extent we would choose, just as anyone else would do. There’s no dignity in hiding. On the other hand, there’s great dignity in going out into the world without being ashamed to be seen and known for who you really are.
As part of Autism Acceptance Month, the final day, April 30, has been set aside for the past three years for the Autism Positivity Day Flash Blog. The idea is to flood search engine results for terms such as “Autism” and “Autistic” with blog entries providing a more whole, real life based perspective on autism, so people searching for answers don’t have to keep wading through visions of misery designed only as fundraising tools for those big name organizations that present us so badly, without any concern for how that affects us or any regard for our opinions on the matter. It’s our time to speak for ourselves and be heard.
So, back to the questions above: What does it mean for us to speak, and what do we have to say? This is everyone’s chance to find out. Go check out the hub of all this activity, at the Autism Positivity Day Flash Blog, and you’ll see many examples answering both questions in different ways. What they have in common is that they’re all from us, the real, live Autistics you’ve been wondering about… and maybe a bunch from parents, too – the kind who’ve clued in about us and have their own positive things to say about us. Yes, they’re out there, and their level and nature of participation this year remains to be seen. This year’s theme is intended to highlight the variety of ways in which we speak. My contribution, which includes both this blog entry and the graphic at the end of it, is all about how different we are.
But this is not just about our diversity. It’s about having a positive attitude about autism and Autistics. So, you might ask, what’s so positive about this writing and the graphic to follow? I would argue it’s the expression and celebration of diversity itself. I’ve long seen differences amongst the living beings and natural features of the earth as a great strength and vital necessity. We weren’t meant to be completely alike, and you can’t force us to be, no matter how hard you try. We are all drawn from our own unique mix of possibilities. Where we overlap with one individual, we diverge from another. What we have in common with that person we find is different from what we saw in the first with which we made our comparison. And so it goes, as we make our way, delighting in both what we share and what we newly discover in ourselves and each other – if we are wise.
With all that having been said, I now present my visual representation of the great variety to be found within the Autistic community – my own unique contribution in celebration of this day. It began with the idea that the Autism Spectrum might best be represented by a graphic equalizer, rather than a single line. I then expanded that idea to show how various individuals on the spectrum could potentially perceive themselves with regard to both their autism itself and the way it fits into their lives and the things they care about. It’s with some irony that I note, after so much protestation that we need to put real, living people before the public, my having created five imaginary people to represent the reality of actual Autistics’ lives. But, then, that’s often the way of creative expression. In any case, enjoy!