Clipped From Iowa City Press-Citizen

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 - April is “Autism Awareness” m onth. By now,...
April is “Autism Awareness” m onth. By now, nearly everyone has heard of autism, whether this is due to the latest estimates of autism prevalence (1in 68), any number of research efforts suggesting “causes” of autism or the latest controversy surrounding anti-vaccination parents. Autism is characterized by deficits in social communication and interaction, as well as restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests or activities. There is no singular known “cause,” and prob- a bly no singular “autism,” either. Autism is heterogeneous, complex and almost assuredly of multiple etiologies. Agrowing movement of autistic self-advocates, activists and parents of autistic children believe it is time to move past awareness campaigns and, rather, champion t he active acceptance of autistic people. We understand autism in the framework of neurodiversity, which argues that atypical neuro- l ogical development, as seen in au- t ism, is a natural, human variation r ather than a disease to be excised from humanity. Autism need not be cured, nor should we be preoccupied with winnowing out “ causes.” Our energy should be directed toward creating an inclu- s ive culture and developing resources to support autistics and t heir families. Consider how we talk about autistic people. Traditionally, using “person-first” language (i.e. “a per- s on with autism”) was considered the “right” way to refer to someone w ho has received an autism diagnosis. Proponents of person-first language argued that describing someone as “autistic” was stigma- t izing and detracted from their personhood. The new generation o f autistic self-advocates and activists have, by and large, rejected person-first language, and instead embrace identity-first language. Jim Sinclair, an autistic activist, explains in his essay “Don’t Mourn for Us”: “Autism is a way of being. It is pervasive; it colors every experience, every sensation, perception, thought, emotion, and encounter, every aspect of existence. It is n ot possible to separate the autism from the person — and if it were possible, the person you’d have left would not be the same person you started with.” Also consider the “autism as tragedy” narrative, which describes autistic children as “missing” and emphasizes the toll that t hese “burdens” take on families. Autism (and by extension autistic people) is a worst-case scenario, a bogeyman. Is it any surprise that o ne mother, interviewed for a New Y ork Times piecesaid, when justi- f ying her decision to not vaccinate her child: “Do you want to wake up one morning and the light is gone from her eyes with autism or s omething?”’ As the parent of a brilliantly lit autistic son, I can tell y ou that this is patently absurd in addition to being outrageously off ensive. Being autistic is not easy or always some kind of “gift.” The intensity of sensory input and social i nteraction, bullying, pressure to act “normal,” the lack of reliable c ommunication for many non- speaking autistics, and the sometimes comorbid anxiety, seizures, sleep difficulties and gastrointes- t inal troubles can all be, without doubt, disabling. B ut acceptance means that we consider the social model of disability in the midst of medical pathologizing. Disability has a lot t o do with man-made barriers — n ot just broken bodies in need of repair. An example: If you saw my son in a public restroom, you would likely find him hunched over, hands covering his ears, frightened and looking for an escape. He would probably seem very autistic and disabled to even the casual observer. Public restrooms are horrible places for many autistic people: automatic toilets with industrial-strength flushes, the new generation of jet-engine powered hand-dryers that often start if you s o much as walk by them — all encased in a cramped echo-chamber. This type of sensory onslaught is not just frightening; it is painful. Now, imagine a restroom with a stack of paper-towels on the sink, and a hand-dryer designed not to be triggered accidentally. When you see my son here, he will not be c owering; he will be washing and drying his hands like everyone else. He will not seem so disabled, because, in fact, he is not so dis- a bled in this bathroom. I f we accept autistic people we b elieve that, in the words of autistic activist Nick Walker, “(In) nurturing the development of Autistic individuals, the goal of parents, e ducators, therapists, etc., should be to produce healthy, thriving, A utistic people, rather than Autistic people trained to stifle their t rue selves in order to pass as ‘normal.’” Iwant my child to be proud of who he is, to never feel broken, and t o know that he really did end up on the right planet. I f you see someone different, or “weird,” maybe making unusual noises or moving in an unexpected way, remind yourself and whoever i s with you, that autistic people belong here, and are part of the end- l ess, incomprehensible and beautiful diversity of creation. Dina Bishara is an Iowa City resident. Time to champion the acceptance of autistics Dina B ishara Guest O pinion

Clipped from
  1. Iowa City Press-Citizen,
  2. 10 Apr 2015, Fri,
  3. Main Edition,
  4. Page A9

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