The Lack of (Realistic) Representations of Autism in the Media (The Autistic Feminist Episode 7)

As a media junkie myself, seeing the proper representation of minority groups is extremely important to me, and we have gotten so much better in recent years with movies like Coco and The Black Panther coming out this past year.

While we are making so much amazing progress recently, there are still a few minority groups that are still trying to get their foot in the door with representation, and autistics are one of them.

The most well-known autistic character in the media is Ray Babbitt, Dustin Hoffman’s character in Rain Man, and like I said in the previous “Autistic Feminist” episode, if the first thing someone mentions to you is Rain Man, dump their ass because they’re not worth your time.

But in all seriousness, Ray Babbitt is also a savant, and since he’s the first character that comes to mind whenever people think of autistic characters in the media, it does give others a pretty skewed perception of the autism spectrum.

In recent years, we have been getting more characters that are canonically on the autism spectrum, but most of them are within the same box of diagnostic criteria that people tend to expect when they think about the autism spectrum.

The first recent example I can think of is Sam Gardner, the protagonist of the Netflix series, Atypical. He’s an 18-year-old boy with a fixed interest and struggles to learn about the social nuances of dating.

Another character that fits this criterion very well is Dr Shaun Murphy, the protagonist of the ABC series, The Good Doctor. He is a surgical resident, and like Ray Babbitt, he also has savant syndrome, but his abilities include a photographic memory and the ability to note small details and changes.

Both of these portrayals fit the textbook definition of autism perfectly, but in a way, they miss the mark on the reality of autism for a lot of people. Most people would think “that sounds awesome! More people will have a better understanding of how autism works in those who are on the spectrum!” Well, yes and no. Now, obviously, both of these shows were made with an older audience in mind that knows better, but what about the portrayals in children’s media?

The representation of autism and other marginalized groups plays a bigger role in children’s media than any other target audience because children are still at the stage in their lives where they are still learning about the world around them, and many of them don’t have the best understanding of autism, which leaves them confused whenever they meet a child to acts or does things differently from them.

In late summer/early fall of 2015, an episode of Girl Meets World aired on Disney Channel discussing the topic of autism and is revealed at the end of the episode that Isadora Smackle, the rival-turned-love interest of Farkle Minkus, was diagnosed with autism at age five.

While this does play a big part in the inclusion of autistic characters in tween and younger teen media, especially since that tends to be the age where girls are obsessed with fitting in, there’s still a little bit that’s missing.

In the show, Smackle shows lots of similarities to Sam Gardner and Dr Murphy, that is she also fits into the diagnostic criteria for autism spectrum disorders. She doesn’t like physical affection, struggles with emotions and empathy, and is obsessed with science.

While this can give the show’s target audience a better understanding as to why that kid in their class doesn’t like being hugged or why they’re obsessed with that one specific thing, this is only scraping the surface of understanding what autism actually is.

For instance, I was diagnosed when I was still in middle school, and at the time, most people did not believe me when I would talk about being autistic because I have high empathy, thrive off of physical contact, and I’m much more interested in things like theatre, music, dance, cosplay, and activism than I am with math or science.

The thing is that when people think about autistic characters, they tend to envision someone like the aforementioned four characters, and I do understand that since there aren’t that many autistic characters portrayed in the mainstream media, so many people tend to think these characters are an accurate representation of all of us.

While I am extremely happy to see that there are more autistic characters, especially autistic women since they are so underdiagnosed that seeing any representation of them in the mainstream media is nearly impossible, I still would love to see more diversity in how these characters are portrayed. While it is common for many autistics to not be too fond of physical affection, many other autistics love it, and while many autistics do have a special interest in a STEM field, many other autistics have a special interest in fashion, the arts like theatre or music, or the humanities like literature or history.

I know I would love to one day see an autistic character in the mainstream media who loves physical contact, spends a lot of her time engaged in literature or theatre, loves to get lost into deep, emotional conversations with others, and is super adept with sarcasm.

I am super happy that there are more autistic characters being portrayed on the small screen, but I am also somewhat disappointed that it’s always the same traits over and over again. The best autistic characters would not be a set of diagnostic criteria, they would be as diverse and different as the real-life autistic community is.

What also makes me disappointed is the lack of representation of nonverbal autistics in the mainstream media. While looking through the representations of autism in the mainstream media I was able to find, I couldn’t find any that was nonverbal.

Approximately 33% of people diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder are nonverbal. That’s higher than the percentage of people diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder that are women, which is approximately 20%. However, we are still getting more representations of women on the autism spectrum than nonverbal autistics.

While 33% is still less than half of the people diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder, nonverbal autistics still make up a third of the current autistic community, and the lack of representation can lead to a lot of assumptions not only about nonverbal autistics but the autism community in general.

Even autistics of colour and LGBTQ+ autistics are not getting as much representation as their white cisgendered counterparts. Not only women have a harder time being diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder than men, but people of colour also have a harder time being diagnosed as well, so proper representation can show others that they do exist.

The LGBTQ+ community can also benefit from a character who is both queer and autistic since many people tend to believe that the autistics in the LGBTQ+ community don’t know what they’re talking about or are going through a phase.

I will say that we are making progress, with Sesame Street introducing Julia in an ebook three years ago and then on the show last year. She has limited speech and loves art, and is implied in the clip that yes, each autistic experiences autism differently. And knowing how Sesame Street is not one to shy away from more serious topics that children need to be taught about early on, this is a great start.

Power Rangers has also made a few strides when portraying Billy Cranston as an autistic of colour in the 2017 movie. And knowing that autistics of colour will more likely be shoved under the rug than their white counterparts, this is also a massive stride.

Writers tend to rely on a checklist of certain “autistic traits” when it comes to writing these types of characters rather than seeking out updated information or diversity, which would explain why it’s so hard to believe that I love makeup and social media and am also autistic.

There’s an old saying that goes “if you met one autistic person, you met one autistic person,” and most people tend to throw that out the window. I hope that one day the mainstream media would keep the pace.

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7 Myths About Autism Debunked

There have been so many myths about autism that I can potentially make a part 2 for a future episode of this. Some of them don’t get on my nerves as much and some just make me wince every time someone says anything about them. So, without further ado, here are seven myths about autism debunked. Like I said before, there are a lot more; I may make a part 2 of this in the near future.

Number 7: Autistics do not have empathy.

I, along with many other people, have heard this one way too many times, it annoys me every time I hear it, and it has been proven false so many times. But to reiterate what pretty much everyone else has said, it has been proven that autistics have a very high empathy. Autistics can actually be compassionate and care deeply about others, and just because many autistics have processing issues and trouble reading social cues does not mean that they are heartless creatures that don’t care about others.

Number 6: Autistics do not like socializing.

Like the last one, this one is mostly based off of assumptions. Autistics actually do want friends, they just have trouble approaching people and starting conversations. Because it takes a much bigger effort for autistics to make friends than neurotypicals, they tend to be seen as shy or quiet, and since many have difficulty making small talk, many people tend to assume that they’re not interested. Underneath, autistics can be very friendly and can be extremely friendly and loyal to people who understand them.

Number 5A: Autistics are savants.

Here’s a question for all autistics out there. Have you ever told someone that you were autistic, and they respond with: “Oh, you mean like Rainman?” If yes, dump that person’s ass because they’re not worth your time.

Autism is a spectrum disorder, so while many people on the spectrum have above-average IQs, the characteristics of autistics vary from person to person.

Number 5B: Autistics are intellectually disabled.

I put both of these as two parts of #5 because they pretty much fall under the same category.

Many people tend to assume that there is no middle ground when it comes to the autism spectrum and that they’re either geniuses or they are intellectually disabled, but nothing in between. Like I said before, autism is a spectrum disorder, and while not every autistic is particularly a genius, autism brings just as many exceptional abilities as it does limitations. Many of those on the spectrum tend to excel in a particular area of interest, such as math, science, art, or music.

Number 4: Autism is a curable disease.

It has been proven many times that it is impossible to cure autism, and nobody can “catch” autism from someone else. Autism is a developmental disability that one is born with and is with them lifelong. There are interventions that help autistics learn skills that they wouldn’t otherwise have, but an exact cure is entirely impossible and autism is here to stay.

Number 3: Autism is a mental illness.

Like I said with #4, autism is a developmental disability that affects a person throughout their life. People tend to think that autism is a mental illness because it’s listed under the DSM-5 manual, which is the official doctor’s handbook for mental illnesses. People also tend to think that autism is a mental illness because many people on the autism spectrum have other mental illnesses they are diagnosed with, and people tend to label them all under the autism spectrum. However, mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive disorder don’t necessarily go with autism, and the most you can say is that the stress autism brings puts them at greater risks of developing mental illnesses.

Number 2: Only boys are on the autism spectrum.

Currently, four times as many boys are diagnosed with autism as girls, and because of this, many people assume that autism is strictly a boy’s disability. As I said in a previous episode, this is not true. The diagnostic bias is often a result of girls presenting autism differently than boys do, and because of that, doctors tend to miss the symptoms in girls. However, whether or not there would still be more boys on the spectrum than girls if everyone who was currently undiagnosed was diagnosed is still an ongoing question.

And Number 1: Autism is caused by vaccines.

This one is still ongoing for some reason even though so many people have debunked this one. This myth is persisting because of a timing issue since most parents vaccinate their children when they’re two years old, and that’s the age when the symptoms of autism become more visible.

It’s pretty easy to assume that one is caused by the other, but several scientific studies have proven that vaccines do not cause autism, and doctors advise parents to vaccinate their children because mumps, measles, polio, and rubella can be very dangerous.

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.

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.

Why Neurodiversity is Important to Feminism (The Autistic Feminist #1)

This week on The Autistic Feminist, we talk about the reason this series was created in the first place: why neurodiversity is important to feminism.

Anyone who is an active feminist knows how the old saying goes: “if you don’t fight for all women, you fight for no women.” But for one reason or another, many neurodivergent and disabled women are not getting too much attention.

Most of the time, many can be unaware of this fact, so I can’t really look down upon these people. The least I can do is educate them about it.

The official definition of “neurodiversity” is the range of differences in individual brain function and behavioral traits, regarded as part of a normal variation in the human population. It’s mostly used within the context of autism spectrum disorders. So, basically, neurodiversity fights for those whose brains don’t function “normally” in society.

A good chunk of mainstream society considers autism a disease, but the neurodiversity movement pushes the fact that we’re not “broken” or “diseased,” we just need help sometimes, some more than others. Many people also think that disability rights are not a social justice issue since disabilities have been associated with the medical field for the longest time, but it actually has a lot more to do with social justice than most people think.

As you all know, feminism is about equality and justice for women, and many women out there are disabled or neurodivergent, so if we exclude them, we’re missing a massive part of the population, just like if we excluded women of color and LGBTQ women.

The neurodiversity movement can be a way to challenge the stereotypes that feminists have been challenging for decades. The most common example is how many girls on the autism spectrum tend to go undiagnosed for years because most girls tend to not show the “stereotypical symptoms.” I wasn’t diagnosed until I was in 8th grade for those exact reasons.

Feminism is about choice, and the neurodiversity movement has the same principles as far as the wiring of the brain goes.

Many people tend to not bring up the neurodiversity movement when talking about human rights because there are a lot of common misconceptions about it, such as not viewing autism as a disability. The neurodiversity movement actually doesn’t say that our lives are amazing. Our lives can be difficult, and out difficulties vary depending on the person, but that doesn’t mean that there’s anything wrong with us. Plus, fighting for disability rights means fighting for better accommodations to lead a more successful life. Believe it or not, needing help and deserving basic human rights are not mutually exclusive.

Neurodiversity doesn’t just cover autism spectrum disorders. The term “neurodivergent” was coined to give a broader definition that did not center autism spectrum disorders. Neurodiversity can also cover other disorders such as OCD, ADHD, schizophrenia, and many other mental disorders that doesn’t have a “normal” wiring of the brain.

With that, when we exclude neurodivergent women from feminism, we’re excluding more than half the women that need to be fought for.

“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!

An Open Letter to Autism Speaks

I am here to tell you that what you are doing may seem “helpful to autistics” to you and your supporters, but what you are doing is really damaging. Many of the ads and videos produced for you depict harmful stereotypes that can increase the stigma of Autism in the long run. But before I dissect you as a “charity” (and I use that word very lightly), allow me to introduce myself and why I write this.

I am an autistic college student who was diagnosed at age 14. I grew up in a cliquey, shallow, and judgmental town where I was scared to be myself for a good chunk of my life. Even my own mother would tell me to stop doing certain things because “the other children would think I was weird.” Grant you, this was long before my diagnosis and she didn’t know, so I really don’t blame her entirely, but it still left me confused because I was told to hide parts of who I was just to impress the other children. This has stuck with me throughout most of my high school years; I was scared to even talk to someone for the first time unless they approached me first. This feeling stuck with me until the beginning of college, where I was able to find the right people and open up more. I am writing because there are many people out there who believe that you are doing “good” for the autistic community when in all reality, you are doing the complete opposite.

I’ll start with the obvious thing about you that everyone points you: that you seek a cure for autism. Your mission statement is “We are dedicated to funding global biomedical research into the causes, prevention, treatments, and a possible cure for autism.” First off, it is impossible to cure autism. It is a neurological disorder that is ingrained in one’s personality, not a life-threatening disease. Attempting to cure it would be erasing part of who they are. Second of all, that cure that you are so desperately trying to find would be forced to young children, and most autistics do not want to be cured. If a cure was possible, it should be considered a choice for that child later in their life when he/she/they are able to make decisions for themselves, not for the parent or caretaker of that child.

Now for the second most obvious thing about you that people bring up: the fact that you do not have a single autistic member on your board. When advocating for autism acceptance, it is critical that autistic people are heard in the process. Everyone can agree that men making decisions about women’s rights is an outrage to everyone with at least some common sense, but for some reason, neurotypicals making decisions about disability rights is not met with that much outrage. Many people would argue that “autistics aren’t capable of making their own decisions, so how would anyone think that they are capable of making decisions about their own rights?” All I can say about this is how dare you believe that every autistic is clumped in the same category. How dare you believe that every autistic person is the same.

Which brings me to my final and favorite point, how you reenforce degrading and stigmatizing stereotypes about autistic people. One of the biggest misconceptions about autism is that it’s a visible disorder. As someone who has gotten comments from people saying that I’m “not disabled enough” to talk about this topic, I can say that it’s not. What you need to realize is that autism is not a one-size-fits-all disorder. The only thing that every autistic person has in common is that they all want to be accepted and deserve the same rights as neurotypicals. Like the saying goes, “if you met one person with autism, you met one person with autism,” but you seem to throw that out the window. Your two short films, “I am Autism” and “Autism Every Day” (links below) say those stereotypes are true in order to make people believe that autism is a disease, and that is absolutely disgusting and stigmatizing. You have the nerve to defend a mother who contemplated murdering her autistic daughter and committing suicide while her daughter was still in the room within earshot. I had to stop watching the video because of that due to how disgusted I was after hearing that.These kinds of messages can severely lower one’s self-esteem and can cause internalized ableism, which is difficult for a child with any kind of disability unlearn.

Skip to 6:10 to see the most horrifying part.

Many people have asked me if I want to be cured. If you asked me this when I was still in high school, I would’ve said yes. I would’ve said that more people would’ve wanted to be around me and would’ve invited me to outings, and wouldn’t have been as easily manipulated if I wasn’t autistic. I did have friends that I would talk to in school during rehearsals, but never really hung out with anyone outside of school. I attempted suicide shortly after my diagnosis in eighth grade and was generally unhappy. But if you asked me today, I would say no. I may still have trouble respecting other people’s boundaries, my bullshit signal may still not be as good as most people’s, and I may still have the tendency to be upset over petty and trivial things, but I soon realize that my best qualities in me are because of my autism. My love for theatre, film, art, and music (the former two pictured below) wouldn’t exist, I wouldn’t be friends with any of the people I’m friends with today (in fact, they would probably think I’m a bitch), and most importantly, I wouldn’t be me.

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Photo courtesy of MSU Players

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Photo courtesy of Inclusion Films and Marblejam Kids

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Photo courtesy of MSU Players

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Photo courtesy of MK Productions

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Photo courtesy of Tom Russo Photography

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Photo courtesy of MSU Players

I have potential, and I can accomplish great things. I have the ability to change the world, and I will not let bigoted organizations like you silence me or bring me down. My disability does not reflect my true abilities. To quote a one act play by a close friend of mine, “We are here. We are not less than. We are real. We are people. We struggle to perceive the world just like you do, although our struggles are different. But we are here. We are strong. We are here.”