A girl I follow in Facebook wrote against the “treatments” to “cure” autism and how they affect her, as an autistic person. She also mentioned that some well-intentioned people keep recommending her to do this or that because “it will help you.” Obviously, she doesn’t like that, and it doesn’t help her. (A translation of her post is here).
Autism doesn’t become a disability until society demands behaviors that are not natural for autistic people. That is, when we demand that they look at us in the eye while they listen to us. Or wear clothes with tags, and stop complaining about the tags bothering them. Or that they eat everything we offer them. Or that they enjoy to noisy, crowded parties.
Autistic people, like any other marginalized society suffering discrimination, are requested to explain things on behalf of their whole community over and over again. And they’re asked to “not get angry” and calmly explain why a treatment that can be fatal is not appropriate to “change” people like them. (Or that wanting to change them is not appropriate or desired, period).
Non-autistic people are supposed to be super empathic, right? Why is it, then, that we cannot believe them? We do the same with all types of people and situations. The supposed neurotypical empaths overwhelm everybody with unsolicited recommendations and easy answers we discover in ten minutes, and we want to fix in a second situations people have been living with for years. We don’t stop to think that, if we were able to discover the solution in ten minutes, they probably were able to do so as well.
People with different types of disabilities, and populations that are marginalized because of their sexual orientation, ethnicity, native language, nationality, etc., don’t have to be everyone else’s teachers. As a Latina, who is an immigrant in the US, I should not have to explain that discrimination against immigrants and especially “Mexicans” (who may be Argentines, Colombian, Salvadorians… we all look the same) upsets and scares me. A wheelchair user should not have to explain why a ramp is necessary. And an autistic person should not have to explain why they don’t want to look at others in the eye.
Many autistic people have a wonderful way to explain their feelings. There are numerous blogs, columns, articles and books available. Use them to find out what they need or want. We can read in those texts why something is frustrating, why they are scared of a given thing, why they don’t want to participate in certain activities. Don’t overwhelm the person that is trying not to think the world looks at them as defective. Or compare them with a migraine. They don’t need you to remind them they don’t fit in. They live with that knowledge.
What you can do is support them. Ask them what they need from you at that time. Thank them when they write something that helps you understand them better. Be kind and consider them as equals. Because they are.
Originally published July 29, 2018, in Spanish.