In many respects, I think the subject heading says it all.
I hear this a lot lately, primarily from undergraduate students who find autistic advocacy reprehensible and/or incomprehensible. In fact, at our protest this fall, someone actually came up to us and said, “If you can self-advocate, then you’re not autistic.” Way to disempower much?
Here is the wonderfully circular logic that has come to constitute much of my advocacy life lately:
Me: What you’re doing is hurtful.
Them: But we just want to help people like you.
Me: You’re not helping. Please stop.
Them: But we just want to help people like you.
Me: But you’re not helping.
Them: BUT WE JUST WANT TO HELP PEOPLE LIKE YOU!!
I’ve spent the past few months trying to devise smart-ass responses to this statement.
- But I just want to torture people like you.
- Oh! Yes! Of course! I’m sorry! I forgot that this was all about you!
- *cuing echolalia* BUT WE JUST WANT TO HELP PEOPLE LIKE YOU!!
And herein lies the frustration: Advocacy isn’t advocacy if it’s merely a synonym for self-interest. If the people you’re claiming to serve are objecting to your help, are telling you that you’re being hurtful… shouldn’t that give you pause?
I have no reason to be grateful for your hurtfulness. I shouldn’t have to grovel because you’re wearing a t-shirt with a puzzle piece on it, or because you’re raising funds to prevent people like me from existing. I shouldn’t have to look you in the eye, tear up, and utter an inflected “thanks” because it makes you feel good about yourself.
My lack of gratefulness isn’t an autism symptom. My lack of gratefulness doesn’t mean that I’m not disabled. My lack of gratefulness isn’t impoliteness, smugness, self-centeredness, theory of mindlessness, or some other bad-sounding, mega-autism, amorphous blob thing. I shouldn’t have to wake up feeling grateful every morning, as though gratefulness is some sort of requisite pre-condition for being developmentally disabled.
Would you feel grateful for people who want to “eradicate” people like you?
Would you feel grateful for people who refer to you and your loved ones as an “epidemic,” as a “global public health crisis,” as a “disease” more prevalent than “pediatric AIDS, cancer, and diabetes combined”? Would you feel grateful for people who make a career out of representing you and others like you as creatures of pity, contagion, and fear?
Would you feel grateful for people who ask you, in front of large crowds, how old you were when you were toilet-trained? How you manage to have sex? How you wake up every morning knowing that you are you?
Would you feel grateful for people who call your parents “heroes” because they didn’t put you up for adoption?
Would you feel grateful for people who start up college groups that patronize you? Groups that claim to be your “voice,” yet never even consult you? Groups that devise activities meant “for” you or your “benefit,” yet in their very design exclude you and people like you? Make-up parties, gala balls, sorority cookouts, sensory unfriendly films, massive and crowded walks — boisterous, clamorous, noisy events, events advertised to help you, all the while raising funds to get rid of you?
Would you feel grateful for people who claim you don’t exist, merely because you’re over 21? Because you’re a woman? Because you claim to have a sexual orientation?
Would you feel grateful for people who disprove of, and ardently protest, your decision to have children? Would you feel grateful for people who work to revise custody laws so that people like you can’t single-parent or adopt?
Would you feel grateful for people who call you mysterious, puzzling, special, and heroic — because you’re you? (And, of course, being you isn’t something they’d wish on anyone.)
Would you feel grateful for people who regularly describe your body language, ways of gesturing, and ways of interacting as disturbing, inappropriate, deviant, clinical, and abnormal? Would you feel grateful for people who tell you that the way you think, act, know, and sense are all wrong?
Would you feel grateful for people who segregate you from your classmates, people who claim that who you are as a person will have detrimental effects on your peers’ intellectual development?
Would you feel grateful for people who tell you that you’re an “exception” and therefore nothing you say even matters? Would you feel grateful for people who question your diagnosis simply because you disagree with them?
Would you — should you — feel grateful for people who constantly tell you how ungrateful you are?
Would you feel grateful for these people? Seriously? Truly? Because, if that’s the case, perhaps I can teach you how to flex your ungrateful mind muscles.
In other news: I’m back, after a small hiatus. Academic life has been a bit hectic (understatement) these past few months.