What is Ablesplaining? (and How to Avoid It) (The Autistic Feminist Ep. 5)

Most active feminists and everyone else on the internet are all-too-familiar with the phrase, “mansplaining.” Mansplaining is defined as a man explaining something, typically to women, in a manner regarded as condescending and degrading. It’s one of the most talked about buzzwords when it comes to feminism, but there is one more buzzword that is surfacing in recent years regarding disabilities: “ablesplaining.”

Ablesplaining, much like mansplaining, is when something is explained in a patronizing manner, however, it involves an able-bodied or able-minded individual explaining something to someone with a disability in a degrading manner.

Ablesplaining is often done by people who call themselves allies, but tend to act like they know absolutely everything about disabilities even though they have not experienced what it’s like to have one themselves.

Ablesplaining is actually a lot more widespread in real life, with organizations such as Autism Speaks actively silencing autistics and most support groups focusing more on parents than actual autistics, but it’s not as talked about as mansplaining.

One of the most well-known and common examples I can think of is how a neurotypical parent with an autistic child tells another autistic that they’re issues are not as bad as their child’s issues and that they should stop complaining.

As mentioned before, neurotypicals who ablesplain really don’t know what it’s like to live with a disability, and with the scenario in mind, many people attempt to explain how a condition is supposed to work just because of their own personal experiences, which does not speak for everyone.

Ablesplaining can actually invalidate one’s experiences with a disability and can assume that there is only one way to experience a particular disability or mental disorder. That just because they know someone with that disability that means they know how everyone with that disability works. In all reality, this is not the case. Every case of disabilities, and even specific disabilities like autism and ADHD, are different for everyone. When a neurotypical makes these comments, they’re basically saying that they know nothing about the disability, and that’s just not right.

A few examples of comments that would be considered “ablesplaining” include, but are not limited to:

“You were able to walk yesterday, so you should be able to walk today.”

“My cousin has bipolar disorder and he doesn’t have the same issues you do, so you clearly don’t have it.”

“You’re too young to have arthritis.”

“But you don’t look disabled.”

“Ableism doesn’t exist.”

“Just think positive. It works for everything.”

“You’re outside. You must feel better.”

“If you lose weight, you won’t be disabled anymore.”

“Don’t let your disability define you.”

“You’re just a hypochondriac.”

These problematic phrases are not only extremely common phrases in many neurotypicals’ vocabularies but also they feel the need to say these phrases when they are not welcome or wanted.

Not only an ablesplainer passionately believes that someone’s experience with a disability is “wrong”, but also feel that the person with that disability needs to be corrected and that there’s a right and wrong way to experience a disability.

Many neurotypicals who want to be good allies are scared to walk into this territory by saying the wrong thing that could potentially pass off as “ablesplaining”, so the question is, how does one avoid ablesplaining?

It’s actually a lot simpler than most neurotypicals make it out to be. The one thing that you have to do is… listen. Yes, avoiding ablesplaining is as easy as listening to the disabled. Just like any other marginalized group out there, the disabled deserve just as much of a neurotypical respect and undivided attention as anyone else.

The average argument that most neurotypicals tend to make is that many disabled people, particularly those with social disabilities, have difficulties when it comes to speaking up for what they believe in, which gives neurotypicals an excuse to speak over them or assume that they’re right.

Like I said in my previous episode, “Does Neurodiversity Shut Out the Lower End of the Spectrum?”, limitations on social skills don’t mean that autistics are unable to communicate altogether. It just means that they need more attention when it comes to accommodations so that they are able to communicate better.

When a neurotypical interrupts or speaks over a disabled person, it gives a lot less attention to their accommodations and needs, which can limit them even more in the long run. A neurotypical that struggles with interrupting and speaking over others can start with asking themselves one question: ”How would I feel if I was in their position?”

This is a question that people on the autism spectrum and who live with other social disabilities are taught whenever the subject of interrupting others comes up, but that doesn’t mean neurotypicals are excused from this. It is a social skill and many people do have trouble with it, disabled or not.

This, however, does not mean that this is something to automatically ashamed of. It just means that you are willing to improve yourself enough to acknowledge it, and it just means that you have to make more strives in order to be a good ally. I will admit that I still have to stop and ask how would I feel if I were in someone else’s position whenever I am listening to someone who is not as privileged as I am.

In general, ablesplaining can be hurtful and upsetting, and while it’s a massive talking point within other marginalized groups as well, ablesplaining still needs to be talked about just as much as others.

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Does the Neurodiversity Movement Shut Out the Lower End of the Spectrum? (The Autistic Feminist ep. 4)

This video was originally uploaded to YouTube on December 29th, 2017.

 

Recently, I read a Pacific Standard article written by Gwen Kansen entitled “I’m a High-Functioning Autistic; Here’s What the Neurodiversity Movement Gets Wrong about Autism.” In one paragraph, she mentions:

First off, many of us aren’t high-functioning enough to benefit from depathologizing autism. The neurodiversity movement doesn’t have much to say about lower-functioning autistics, who are decidedly less inspirational.

There’s a saying that autistic kids don’t grow up. And many don’t. They live in group homes, where they have to be watched like hawks so they don’t wander off and drown. They can’t talk to you. Some can’t even shower by themselves. And they certainly can’t offer nuanced opinions about a cure. Some members of the neurodiversity movement will tell you that “most” autistic people don’t want to be cured — but some studies show that over half of us have an IQ below 70.”

This, along with many other blogs and articles, has led to some speculation by critics of the neurodiversity movement about whether or not it shuts out the lower end of the spectrum altogether. But does it really?

One thing that Kansen mentions in her blog is that over half of the autistic population has an IQ below 70, and this has been disproven by John Elder Robison when he served as a member of the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee. Robison did a study that showed autistics in a variety of IQ range, and his results showed that the numbers were not too different from the general population.

Along with that,  many autistics’ intellectual disabilities are specific and are not necessarily intellectually disabled in a diagnostic sense. While many have limitations in social intelligence, the overall cognitive function for most, even for those who are nonverbal, are generally average.

This does not mean that autistics who are cognitively disabled are or should be ignored. This just means that we should recognize that autism and intellectual disabilities have different challenges with limited overlap and the neurodiversity movement advocates for a broader range of accommodations. Technology is also addressing these issues and coming up with ways to give autistics all over the spectrum better accommodations.

Another topic that’s mentioned a lot when debunking neurodiversity is the meltdowns. Many parents mention how their children attack them and smash their heads through walls.

Meltdowns are extremely common for those on the spectrum, no matter where one lands on; especially during childhood. Often, when many people see an adult on the spectrum that rarely has public meltdowns, they often assume that was also the case when they were children when more often than not, it wouldn’t be. I rarely have meltdowns in public anymore, but I can’t say that was true when I was a child. Plus, I still have them from time to time, just in private.

Many frustrations come from within, for example, many autistics get angry because they cannot do what neurotypicals do so easily, or from how they were mistreated and abused by others. This is actually where most of my meltdowns stem from. The cause of the meltdowns is not autism itself, but rather the frustration, abuse, and stigma that autistics face. The neurodiversity movement strives for societal change, which can help eliminate their triggers and end the violence overall.

When you look at these issues by themselves, you would realize that these are not neurodiversity issues at all. Neurodiversity is just recognizing that neurological differences are real and acknowledges these issues. Many neurotypicals act like autism is a result of abuse when in reality, they’re born with it. Some can be the result of genetic changes that come out of nowhere, and others can be a result of a gene being passed down from one family member to another.

Those on the spectrum who do have intellectual disabilities and more common meltdowns do want to be heard, accepted, and helped just as much as those on the higher end of the spectrum; and the neurodiversity movement takes steps forward to give them a voice, no matter how they communicate.

Person First vs. Identity First Language (The Autistic Feminist ep. 3)

This week on The Autistic Feminist, we talk about person first language versus identity first language. Before we get into the nitty gritty, we would need a basic understanding of what person first and identity first language is.

Person first language is a type of linguistic prescription that emphasizes on the person, not the disability. It normally means well, but what many people don’t realize that it boils the disability down to just one tiny aspect of that person. Person-first language means well because it’s supposed to represent the shift away from outdated terms such as “handicapped” or the r-word. For instance, the Education for All Handicapped Children Act, which was passed in 1975 to mandate the inclusion of disabled children in public schools, was changed to the Individuals with Disabilities Act in 1990, the same year the ADA was passed. The media tends to predominantly use person-first language, and it started when the ADA tried to help promote the change to person-first language.

Identity first language, on the other hand, says that the disability is part of who you are, and impacts who you are. It shows that you would not be you without the disability. A growing number of disabled people today prefer identity-first language, although there are still many individuals who prefer person-first language.

Which you should and shouldn’t use varies from person to person, and it really just boils down to personal preference, but from what I explained, your safest bet is to use identity first language, at least until the specific person you’re talking to says otherwise.

Using person-first language tends to view disabilities more as a disease or a serious condition that’s in need of treatment, rather than a disability that is ingrained in one’s personality. In a way, it implies a degree of shame or negativity in one’s disability.

The Disability Cultural Center at Syracuse University says “The basic reason behind members of these groups’ dislike for the application of people-first language to themselves is that they consider their disabilities to be inseparable parts of who they are.” They embrace the terms autistic, deaf, blind, or disabled as their personal identity.

The Autistic Self Advocacy Network explains that most autistic advocates prefer identity-first terminology. Autistic blogger and activist Lydia Brown said in a blog post reposted on the ASAN website as a language guide: “In the autism community, many self-advocates and their allies prefer terminology such as ‘Autistic,’ ‘Autistic person,’ or ‘Autistic individual’ because we understand autism as an inherent part of an individual’s identity — the same way one refers to ‘Muslims,’ ‘African-Americans,’ ‘Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgender/Queer,’ ‘Chinese,’ ‘gifted,’ ‘athletic,’ or ‘Jewish.’”

Brown also explains the component of the terminology with this statement: “When we say ‘Autistic person,’ we recognize, affirm, and validate an individual’s identity as an Autistic person. We recognize the value and worth of that individual as an Autistic person — that being Autistic is not a condition absolutely irreconcilable with regarding people as inherently valuable and worth something. We affirm the individual’s potential to grow and mature, to overcome challenges and disability, and to live a meaningful life as an Autistic. Ultimately, we are accepting that the individual is different from non-Autistic people–and that that’s not a tragedy, and we are showing that we are not afraid or ashamed to recognize that difference.”

One two-panel comic created by Over Explaining Autistic explains the difference between the two very well. The first panel is an image of person first language, with a person walking a dog saying “Come on, Autism, time for a walk.” Autism being the dog’s name, implying that they’re a person with Autism. The second panel is an image of a person with the neurodiversity logo on their body, implying that they’re an autistic person. That comic was probably the best explanation of the difference between person first and identity first language I could find. It shows a basic understanding of how person-first language wouldn’t make sense to anyone who prefers identity-first language.

How Autism is Different in Girls (The Autistic Feminist ep. 2)

This week on The Autistic Feminist, we talk about why autism is different in girls and how it influences them being underdiagnosed.

Everyone knows that every person on the spectrum is different, so why is it that many girls are left undiagnosed or are not diagnosed until they are older?

The misconception that there are no girls on the spectrum can be traced back to the 1940’s when Hans Asperger mentions that there are no girls affected by autism in Autistic Psychopathy in Childhood. Since the studies he made were on boys, there’s a bit of a bias in the diagnoses. The diagnostic criteria involve social and communication difficulties, and repetitive, inflexible behavior patterns. This data was derived almost entirely from studies of boys, and many girls have different symptoms.

Most girls on the spectrum don’t get diagnosed until a later age, and the girls who did get diagnosed at an earlier age tend to have more severe symptoms. Because of this, many people mistake the symptoms for other disorders such as ADHD or anxiety disorder.

A 2013 study has shown how autistic girls develop compared to autistic boys, and it showed that autistic girls tend to be more on-par with neurotypical boys the same age as them as far as social development goes. Neurotypical boys tend to be socially behind than neurotypical girls. Because of this, girls on the spectrum tend to be better at masking their symptoms. They often mimic and imitate their peers in social behavior, and this is why many girls often get the “but you don’t look autistic” when they come out.

Girls who have undiagnosed autism often develop self-esteem issues because they don’t know where their issues are coming from. When many girls get diagnosed late, often when they’re in their 20’s and 30’s, they actually get relieved because many questions are answered.

Boys and girls also play differently from each other. Many studies have shown that autistic girls tend to have less repetitive behaviors than boys do, and also tend to have interests that are more similar to that of other girls than of autistic boys. For girls, it’s not really the interests that are necessarily considered atypical, but rather the intensity of those interests. For example, a girl on the spectrum can be interested in animals or Disney movies but would be more intense than that of neurotypical girls.

This is probably one of the many reasons why the so-called “model” of autism should be eliminated since the gender bias is pretty obvious due to the diagnostic criteria being based on stereotypes.

“The Autistic Feminist”: Coming to WordPress and YouTube June 9th

Hey, guys! It’s Nikki! And did you know that I’m starting a new blog in June? Yes! I am starting a new blog! But I know what y’all are asking yourselves right now.

Nikki, what is this blog? And what will it be about? And why haven’t you done anything with your pathetic life yet?

I can’t answer that last question, but I can answer the former two for you.

This new blog is going to be called The Autistic Feminist, and it will be a fun little blog that will educate y’all about the neurodiversity branch of feminism from an actual autistic and will be published every fourth Friday.

But wait, you may be asking yourself. Will there be any other ways to access this blog other than as a blog?

I’m glad you asked that because The Autistic Feminist will also be a YouTube series!!

Yes, I am planning on making this both a YouTube series and a blog to educate the masses about a subject so near and dear to my heart.

Well, you better prepare yourselves, because the first “Autistic Feminist” blog is going to be published on June 9th!