But we just want to help people like you.

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.

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┬ásymptom. 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.

What I’ve been up to. (Read: dissertating, protesting)

I wake up every morning wanting to blog. And then I don’t — mostly because being ABD (i.e., being in dissertation mode) has required a rather lengthy adjustment process. I like dissertating, so far anyway. But it’s life-consuming.

Our local ASAN chapter protested Autism Speaks earlier this week. I created the following YouTube video, which documents the story.

Protesting Autism Speaks

A delayed post on my end, but I have my candidacy exams as an excuse. (I’ve completed the written portion, and I move onto the oral this Thursday, yikes.)

On October 11, I helped to lead an ASAN protest against the Autism Speaks walk at Ohio State’s campus. As I now have the benefit of being three weeks removed from the protest — as well as reading/hearing/seeing reports of other ASAN-led protests across the country — I feel a sense of accomplishment. I’d certainly never organized a protest before — and I’d only attended my first protest this past June, which was a disability rights protest against Ohio’s proposal to cut funding for community supports (and Ohio’s proposal to increase funding for nursing homes, ack). In June, I took notes about chanting and marching, and the chorus of Our homes, not nursing homes! is still present in my brain. (We were loud. And we were quickly hoarse.)

I suppose, on some level, I feel perpetually frustrated here at Ohio State. Our protest didn’t receive media coverage, which was a disappointment — though, to be honest, I’m not the sort of person who likes to be noticed, per se. (I’m not media material. I’m quiet-and-behind-the-scenes material.) But I also suppose the good news is that, really, Columbus’s Walk Now for Autism hardly received any media coverage itself. There was a quick spot on NBC4 (which was to be expected, given that one of their anchors has an autistic son and the station itself co-sponsored the walk), as well as a photo slideshow on The Dispatch website (the Columbus newspaper). Though my search for pro-Autism Speaks media coverage wasn’t entirely exhaustive, I doubt there was any other coverage (at least any other coverage of note). I taped all the news shows that evening, and no one else mentioned the walk. NBC4 seemed to monopolize it.

But back to the frustration: On campus, Autism Speaks seems to be everywhere. And it’s partly a matter of manpower and resources — they’ve got more than we do. By far. And our university president keeps uncritically singing their praises (to the point where we’ve drafted a petition and plan on standing on a street corner and asking passersby for signatures). I tire of seeing their flyers daily — flyers that variously portray autism as an epidemic, a puzzle, a burden on taxpayers, a fate worse than a combination of fatal situations. And I grow even angrier when I see flyers that read Got questions about autism? We’ve got answers!

Dear god. My colleagues, students, and professors might go to these people for answers?

I also love (not) how some of their past campus fundraisers have included things like Mary Kay parties, sorority cookouts at midnight, or shop-a-thons. Their events sound so autistic-unfriendly that, if it weren’t so egregious, I’d find it utterly hilarious.

I’ll end this post with photos. Several of these photos have circulated the blogosphere by now, so I’ll try and post those that weren’t featured (that I know of) in other blogs. The protest was very successful: nineteen people braved the throngs of “puzzled” walkers. We endured angry honks, middle fingers, haughty walking mothers, and entitled white men yelling, “You’re a bunch of f—ing idiots!” But we also had productive conversations with parents, and we were even thanked by autistic people who had been dragged to the walk.

This is me holding a sign reading Autism Speaks does not speak for me
This is me holding a sign reading “Autism Speaks does not speak for me”
Tim Jensen holds an orange sign that reads “Nothing about us without us”; Chris Lindemann holds flyers; Kate Comer holds a sign that reads “Diverse NOT Diseased”; and Jonathan Buehl holds a yellow sign that reads “Nothing about us without us”
Jonathan Buehl; Brenda Brueggemann with a sign that reads “Disability Rights”; me with a sign that reads “I can speak 4 myself”; Jason Smith with a sign that reads “First class autistic, second class citizen”; Justin Rooney with a sign that reads “Nothing about us without us”