A Self-Evident Truth

I worried when I last posted (Housekeeping post notwithstanding) that I was getting too stuck into righteous anger. That I was becoming one of those people, who finds offense in everything. And I’ve tried to surround myself with joy more often, if only for my mental health. There is a lot of joy in the world.

Also, it’s possible to have an opinion on something without being offended. You can be sad. Scared. Disappointed. Worried. Lately, I’ve been all four, and the straw that broke the camel’s back was the response in the aftermath of an appalling Washington Post article. Only one question came to mind.

Do people really need constant reassurance that autistic people are in fact human beings?

It really, really seems like they do.

What else can explain reading a newspaper article about parents who – instead of surrendering their adult children to a reputable agency – locked them in a basement described as “dungeon-like” with no lights, no food and not even a bed, and immediately complaining that the article and the replies to the article didn’t use “person first” language?

What else can explain coming to websites and Facebook pages and thinking it acceptable to tell autistic people “person with autism, not autistic!”?

What can explain the sheer hubris of preaching about how autistics are “more than their autism” and then sympathizing with the Land parents?

I was beyond disappointed and sickened by the Land twins’ predicament, as were most autistic activists I know. It’s not just ignoring the flagrant abuse the Land twins were subjected to – it’s a double whammy of insisting on your preference, your language to describe us. Talk about dehumanizing.

Image description: A middle-aged white female wearing a multicolored shirt and brown glasses halfway down her nose, wagging her finger in an accusatory manner.

Image description: A middle-aged white female wearing a multicolored shirt and brown glasses halfway down her nose, wagging her finger in an accusatory manner.

Many disabled people do in fact prefer person-first language, as opposed to identity-first language. “Person first” is just that – saying “a person with” something. The Down Syndrome community tends to prefer this way of being identified, holding that they are people first. However, the autistic community, as a rule, prefers “autistic.” Why?

Because autism is not removable.

Many autistics feel that if you insist on “person with autism”, you are making autism an appendage. A side dish. Something that can be excised, as the hateful, misleading article recently published in the New York Times explained.  (You can’t “beat” autism, for the record. Saying you can is lying, and it’s also putting immense pressure on autistics to “be normal.”) Autism is part of us. It’s not the only part of us – but it is part of who we are, what makes us, us. If I wasn’t autistic, I would not see the world the same way. There is nothing wrong with me. There is everything wrong with our ableist society. Why should I be ashamed of autism? Sometimes I’m told that I shouldn’t be ashamed of my autism, and then in the next breath they’ll say I shouldn’t call myself autistic.

The thing is, no matter your intentions, trying to pin your labels on us dehumanizes us. Because you are saying, in words of one syllable, that our choices and decisions don’t matter to you. If they did, you would accept that we have the right to govern what we are called. But non-humans don’t get autonomy, so you feel justified in speaking up.

Do you want to know what happens when people perpetuate the myth that autistics aren’t people? Click the cut. (tw for violence!) If you don’t click the cut, well, let me tell you. We declare this truth to be self-evident: autistic people are people. And if you don’t accept that, we will remind you. As many times as it takes.

Jarrod Tutko Jr. was eight years old.

Eight.

He was autistic and also had Fragile X syndrome (the article says he “suffered” from autism, but I’m thinking he only suffered from his parents’ abuse and neglect). He also had at least one disabled sibling, a sister who was also autistic. His mother took care of her daughter, leaving her husband Jarrod Sr. to take care of Jarrod Jr. and the other three children.

Jarrod Jr. was apparently “difficult to control” – classic buzzword for parents who either couldn’t understand his communication or never bothered to try. The article also makes mention of “ripping up carpet” and “smearing feces on the wall”.

Apparently one day, Jarrod’s father killed him and stowed his body in the attic. He didn’t tell his wife what happened. She didn’t notice he was gone until the smell of decomposition got to be too much. Her own son was missing and she only noticed when he started to stink.

We don’t know how he died. But we know he’s dead. And we know his parents didn’t care. Because he was just a little autistic kid, right?

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2 comments

  1. Ugh!! The person-first battle drives me nuts!!! A friend (who works in the special education field) recently posted a PSA on facebook about a local autistic woman who had been missing for several hours. The description was word-for-word what the police dept had released. One of her friends commented nothing but “PC is person with Autism.” It was as though she didn’t care that the woman may have been kidnapped or in serious danger. Instead, how dare you use the word autistic?! Luckily, the young woman was found unharmed.

  2. As the neurotypical parent of an autistic almost 2nd grader, this crap pisses me off too. If you have to SAY person first, to SEE the person first, you have bigger problems. And don’t you DARE tell me or any autistic person what words to use. My mama-bear is a bitch when she’s riled up, and not just for my own child.

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