I Am Not A Disease

I was having a discussion on a Think Progress article about vaccine truthers and autism (there is a post coming about the anti-vaxx movement; I just have to marshal enough patience to write logically and not just keymash in sheer rage). The upshot of the article was very good. It suggested that if people are looking for causes of autism, they might do better to look at environmental factors instead of ranting about vaccines.

However, I took issue with some of the article’s terminology. The last sentence of the article reads, “That could have a tangible public health impact, rather than allowing conspiracy theories to overshadow the complicated issues at play when it comes to this disease.”

That word.


Autism is, by dictionary definition, a disease. That’s true. The Oxford English Dictionary identifies a disease as “a disorder of structure or function in a human, animal, or plant, esp. one that produces specific signs or symptoms or that affects a specific location and is not simply a direct result of physical injury.” Autism fits that definition if you accept the word “disorder”, which I will for the purpose of this argument.

However, as another commenter on the article stated very eloquently, we have to look at the social implications of the word “disease.” Let’s be honest with ourselves – when laymen use that word, they use it in a layman’s context. As something negative. As something to be eradicated. And when someone is described as “diseased”, they are no longer part of society. They are lepers. It’s okay to dehumanize the diseased, because in most cases, they wind up locked away, or dead, or in other ways no longer part of society.

The text of a Facebook-powered comment from a Think Progress article.

The text of a Facebook-powered comment from a Think Progress article which reads in part: “Gaslighting (that’s the SJW term) or strawmanning or autism’splaning (adopting another SJW term).”

And yet, when us “diseased” try to advocate for ourselves, we get charming replies like the one to the left. For those of you who don’t know, being accused of “‘splaining” something (I think it originally showed up in the lexicon as “mansplaining”, but I’ve also seen “whitesplaning” and “ablesplaining”) means that you are explaining something to someone who already knows in a condescending manner. The thing is, you can’t really do it if you’re not part of a majority. A person of color can’t “color-splain” anything to a Caucasian person; that would imply that the person of color held the position of societal power, and unfortunately, that’s not how it is. For this person to accuse me of “autist-splaning” took my breath away, because it’s blatantly disingenuous and just plain illogical, in addition to being rude.

It also, I admit, bothered me to be called a SJW (Social Justice Warrior). Social Justice Warriors are, frankly, insensitive jerks; they populate more of Tumblr and other social networks than I want to think about. The ones I’ve encountered have hair-trigger tempers, ready to jump down your throat the nanosecond you use a wrong term. I don’t want to do that, though I do want to educate. I’ve been made to feel like complete crap by SJWs too many time to want to do that to anyone. But at the same time, if someone’s going to get defensive the minute anyone even remotely tries to correct them, what the hell are you supposed to do?

If you read the entire thread of that article, I freely admit that I could’ve been more eloquent. Less ad hominem. (I’d rather be that than an SJW!) But my points are valid: Kristin Cavallari and Jenny McCarthy are hateful and dangerous, spreading misinformation about the effects of vaccinations and propagating the idea that it’s better to die from an easily preventable disease than be autistic. Autistics deserve respect and dignity; we are not diseased, and we are not some kind of plague.

The text of a Facebook-powered comment from a Think Progress article.

The text of a Facebook-powered comment from a Think Progress article which reads in part, “I’m sure you were treated badly by people. Get over it – it is part of our human culture to isolate those that are different.”

And then, of course, there’s the enlightened soul who posted this comment. “Get over it”? Really? In 2014? I should just “accept” that it’s human nature to treat the different like crap? I’m sure that’d be so much easier for people like this privileged fuckstick; he wouldn’t have to see anyone outside his comfort zone then. It’s people like this who make me want to be loud and annoying just to irritate him. If anything good comes out of this kind of ignorance, though, it does show me what I’m up against.

I’m not a disease and I’m going to make you see it.



  1. “I would like for my son to be able to communicate with us in more than two-word sentences.”

    Argh. It’s not about their child. It’s about them. See the “with us” in that phrase there? I’m reading that as, “Maybe he’s communicating, but when he’s not doing it with us, I’m not going to be satisfied. I want him to communicate with ME. Not because that will make HIM feel better, because I’m not mentioning his feelings anywhere in this statement. But because it will make ME feel better. And he’ll have to communicate in a way that conforms to my notion of valuable communication, because two words isn’t ENOUGH.”

    1. Yup. And then on top of that, this charming individual went on to call me “self diagnosed” (as if that would invalidate my opinions) and insinuate that I was being “enabled” by “social justice warriors.” Because I totally can’t have any opinions of my own, right?

      Ugh. I told him to take a flying fuck at a rolling doughnut and I’m not sorry.

      1. I really liked the phrase “self diagnosed and peer validated” that I saw on a blog the other day. Underscores how important our autistic connections are to us, because we grew up in a world without peers. And yes, there’s always something they can use to disregard our opinion, isn’t there? Not like my child, not autistic enough, not verbal enough, no empathy (just wrote about that on my blog), self diagnosed… Meh.

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