Susan's Blog

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Are you an Ableist?

A propos to my blog post yesterday on the perceived divisions between autism parents and autistics themselves, I want to share with you an excellent post from an autistic woman, Lydia Brown, about how it feels to be told there’s something wrong with you, and how inaccurate and “ableist” it is to think that way. I am new to the term Ableist, but the way I interpret it is to be someone who wishes to force “normalcy” on others, someone who does not value people as whole, regardless of what their body does or does not do. Ableism in society is all about the mindset that autism is something people “suffer” from, or that it is a disease, a tragedy, less-than. Ableism values only verbal communication, and defines people’s functioning levels along those lines.

One thing I don’t know about is where does cognitive delay come in here? Nat would be labeled “low functioning” because he tests below normal IQ levels. But when you see all that he can do, even with limited verbal vocabulary, you can see how IQ tests are what limit us, and add to Ableism.

I don’t agree with all that Lydia says here, such as how she believes social skills therapy is for the purpose of making the autistic “indistinguishable from his peers.” I think there is a place for such therapy and that suppressing autistic (or perhaps co-morbid) behaviors is beneficial at times, and that fitting in also has its advantages. I think being able to speak verbally has its advantages, just as being great at math or a foreign language does. We should all be trying to develop and expand our skills, especially to meet the demands of the world.

At the same time, however, we should be fighting for other manifestations of expression to be recognized and valued. We must keep fighting for better understanding of who we — all of us — are, and not what we are not.

Lydia is very careful to emphasize that therapies and education and supports are absolutely needed for autistics, but the focus should not be about fixing, but rather, developing skills and expanding lives — the way any education should be.

3 comments

I suppose we live in an ableist society and cannot feel guilty about wanting our kids to be valued as they are. The struggle is that the vast majority of people in our society are lightyears from understanding this mentality. I want my daughter to be able to communicate and until the world is a place that she can navigate with her current language abilities, I feel that she is very vulnerable. My greatest wish for her is that she be happy and safe. I will accept her, stim with her, celebrate her, but I don’t know how to make the rest of the world see the beauty in her being that I do.

— added by Jody on Tuesday, January 3, 2012 at 12:16 pm

For me it’s easy to slip into the “fixing” mode and one day I stopped and wrote to myself recently, “what an ass am I?!?!” That’s said in a yoda-ish way but it’s like a turnaround upon one’s self. The self-analysis is pretty key to my son’s happiness. I seem to be forcing the language aspect but he wants to communicate (as shown by his frustration) but he can’t find the words. It’s my job to help him with that; like helping a neurotypical kid (kid with neurotypicalism?) 🙂 with his or her homework.

— added by steph on Tuesday, January 3, 2012 at 12:30 pm

Note: two readers pointed out an error I had made in quoting Lydia. I’ve since corrected the error, and therefore I removed the subsequent comments referring to the error.

— added by Susan Senator on Tuesday, January 3, 2012 at 5:42 pm

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