Daily Archives: June 28, 2006

Who thinks what about being autistic


In response to the NPR show, I’ve seen people (who must not have actually listened to the show), saying that it’s only auties who speak, or who are regarded as “high functioning,” who are happy with being autistic or oppose the idea of curing autism. As far as I’ve been able to tell, this isn’t the case.

There’s a lot of different opinions on curing autism, not just two, of course. And I don’t believe in the way the rest of the world divides us up into functioning levels, that is too simplistic and assumes there’s only one dimension to being autistic, it doesn’t even bear up under scrutiny. But if I were to take autistic people and how the world generally divides us, and take our opinion of being autistic, I really don’t think I’d see much correlation to the world’s false subtypes.

I’m going to post the following quotes, but with a bit of a disclaimer attached. I’ve found that aug-comm-using auties are often tokenized even within the autistic community. When we agree on a basic principle such as the way we think about being autistic, that can be used to say “See, we have those people too.” But an aug comm user would have to be pretty oblivious to hang around the autistic community for very long and believe that we are considered to be on equal footing with other autistic people. That’s one of many divisions that unfortunately still divides this community, in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. So if you see a post like this linked to as evidence that this is a wonderfully and totally inclusive community for all autistic people of all kinds, think again, we’re not, on many levels. But also think again if you hear that the “non-inclusiveness” is just that we don’t like the idea of cure and don’t understand “real autism” which is defined as autistic people who want a cure.

I’ll start the quotes with a quote from Cal Montgomery that sums up the point of this entire post in a way:

I don’t believe you can meaningfully separate autistic people into “high-” and “low-functioning” in the first place, but if you can it’s not by comparing their political opinions.

Some political opinions about autism:

I value my AUTISM above all else with which my life has been “gifted.” While I also have cerebral palsy and epilepsy and these are wonderfully special to me, and I often think being “unable to speak” is a blessing in disguise; none of these remotely match the total delight of being AUTISTIC.

I can see and hear people reacting to this by wondering “Is she serious or is she pulling our legs?” Well, wonder no more! I mean everything I have said and am about to say.


What do I see as the gifts that autism has given me? My incredible intelligence, unique insights, talent for improvisation, creativity in writing and music, wonderful memory, and awesome ability to teach and help others understand… I believe all of these are valuable “side-effects” of my AUTISM that far outweigh all of the “negatives”. I am who I am at least partly because of what I am, and that includes AUTISM and how it has gifted my life.

That was written by Sharisa Kochmeister, a woman with autism, epilepsy, and cerebral palsy. She was, until learning to type (which she now does independently), presumed to have an IQ of 10. The full text of what she said in the above presentation can be found at the Watch Our Words website.

Therefore, Autism is a friend, a comfort, a companion – albeit a rather annoying one at times, but so are all companions. It is also a protector, a buffer… And it’s who I am. Jim makes the statement that if it were possible to separate the autism from the person, and it were done, then what you would have left is not the same person you started with. In my case, it wouldn’t even be a person; it would barely be an entity, or alive without autism. i would virtually not survive. (maybe a shell… surviving; a physical body, but that would be all. There would be no being.)

Kim, a Canadian autistic woman, wrote that. She learned a non-communicative form of speech as a child under pressure and only began to use speech to communicate as an adult after using a communication device for awhile. Last I heard, she still alternated between speech and typing. The full text of what she wrote can be found at What Is Autism?

World needs retards. Yes! Retards, retards, retards! You can say it, too. Retards. Go ahead and say it. Go ahead and shout the word. Retard is who I am.

Elana Connor was, at the time of writing a short piece reclaiming and taking pride in what’s normally a nasty epithet, a girl in California who had recently begun typing. The full text of what she wrote can be found at Why Retards Are Sad In This World. That is apparently one of the first things she ever wrote.

I dreamed of being normal, the best that I could be —
But it’s awful being normal; why can’t you all see?
I’m tired of being normal — autistic’s what I am.
Why can’t we all be normal, being just as I am?

That is from I Dreamed of Being Normal, by Jeff Seeger.

I am not defective. I don’t need to be repaired. Allow me to be the person I am.

That is from I Am Not… An Autistic’s Response to Prejudice by Joel Smith, a part-time aug comm user and proud autie.

All people are real, in the deepest sense of that word. That means that there is no such thing as a non-human human. But if you look around this room, you will see people who look at least non-standard. And that is where the problem begins. We live in a country where image is kind of a reality more real than reality. My main answer to that is: I don’t need surgery to make me real any more than a beautiful woman “really” needs her eyelids sewn back. The fact that I think I do and she thinks she does is more fairy tale than real. Eagerness to be like others didn’t make Pinocchio real — it turned him into a donkey! And eagerness by parents to cure autism or retardation or compulsiveness will not drive great distances toward the final solution to the actual problem. Because the person who believes “I will be real when I am normal,” will always be almost a person, but will never make it all the way.

That is by Eugene Marcus, who uses facilitated communication. The article is On Almost Becoming a Person.

When Doug Biklen was recruiting authors for his anthology, Autism and the Myth of the Person Alone, he said of Lucy Blackman:

Blackman […] is hardly any more accommodating to what she perceives as my interest in how-to strategies. “’How to’ for what?” she asks. When I requested that she write about her experiences with autism so that others might benefit from her analysis, she told me she found it annoying to be approached about such matters and not about her ideas on non-autism-related topics. She felt my agenda assumed she might be “wanting to be normal.” She does not. Blackman reminds me that my agenda might not be her agenda, and that if someone feels it valuable for her to be heard, she would rather discuss her “pure intellectual thought.” She is not about to unveil a series of “remedies” or “practices.”

He did convince Blackman to write for his book, and this is part of what she said in it:

If I were to say anything about autism, it would be how fascinating it is. The idea that autism is fascinating is more that it is what I hope for the future, that my kind of thought processes are seen as possibilities for the next genetic shift in Homo Sapiens, not that it is a progression but that further down the track the slight changes in individuals scattered among the population is a slight difference in problem solving. Unbelievably those of us who have greater difficulties may be nature’s experiments, and you can’t expect evolution to get it right every time.

Recently, Estee wrote a blog post called My Visits with Larry Bissonnette and Jonathan Lerman. Both are artists who are also autistic. Here is her account of part of her conversation with Larry Bissonnette (another co-author of Autism and the Myth of the Person Alone), who communicates by typing:

Larry is what you call classic autistic. So I ask him outright, “Do you want to be cured of your autism?”

“People who think your disability is a sickness need to be cured of their ignorant attitudes.”

I smile, he smiles, we high-five. We have a moment of understanding and his sense of humor becomes so apparent.

I started with a quote by Cal Montgomery (who speaks using a keyboard and is heavily involved in the cross-disability movement), so I’ll end with one from the same article, Defining Autistic Lives, which was a review of Autism Is a World.

But where Rubin appears to believe that the problem is that autism limits her ability to function in the world, I believe that the problem is that the world is set up for neurotypical nondisabled people. I believe that the problem is that most people take for granted the way the world is. I believe that the problem is that they identify “defects” in individual autistic people, that they presume that these defects are somehow medical in nature, and then, having diagnosed autistic people’s failure to manage in the world as an individual medical problem that happens to show up in a whole lot of us, they conclude that medical professionals should be curing — or at least controlling — us. And having made that conclusion, they continue to accept or support ways of living that shut us out.

Again, these are obviously not the only opinions of people who use augmentative communication, but it would be silly (one would think) to assume that all people who fall into any particular category have the same opinions about everything. (I’m not saying that everyone’s equally right, just that everyone has varied opinions.) And these are not saying there are no rifts in the autistic community and that we’re one big happy utopian family, because we’re not.

But it is evidence that our opinions about being autistic (or as some put it “having autism”), and our deemed “functioning level” (which is often, for some reason, very speech-dependent), are not particularly correlated. People who do not believe in cure and/or find some value in being autistic are represented in the whole autistic “spectrum” as far as anyone knows (this includes people who had no means of communicating about it for a long time), and so are people who do believe in cure or do not find value in being autistic. So it’s about time people quit making ridiculous comments about “If you were one of those people who couldn’t talk, you would not believe what you believe.” Our differing beliefs come from our differing worldviews, not our “functioning level” in the eyes of non-autistic people.