Thursday, November 1, 2012

Autistics Speaking Day: On Communication...

Leeanne Marshall writes Autistics Speaking Day: On Communication... on OneAutisticPerson tumblr

On the 1st of November 2010 the first Autistics Speaking Day was held. This event was in response to Communication Shutdown Day which was held on the same day. Communication Shutdown Day got people to pay a small sum of money and switch off their Facebook and Twitter accounts for that day in order to spread awareness of Autism Spectrum Disorders and to show people what it is like having autism. Here is a link to the Communication Shutdown promotional video:

Autistics Speaking Day was set up by Autistic people who were unhappy with the claims of Communication Shutdown Day. The organisers of this event pointed out that people shutting down their Facebook and Twitter accounts for one day was not going to show people what it is like being Autistic and that all Communication Shutdown Day was going to do was spread misinformation about Autism Spectrum Disorders. So Autistics Speaking Day was set up. To be involved in Autistics Speaking Day, Autistic people (and allies) wrote Twitter messages, Facebook notes and blog posts on others sites about their life experiences, feelings and others matters that relate to being Autistic.

Today, the 1st of November 2012, Autistics Speaking Day is still going while communication shutdown day is not. In other years I have wanted to participate in this event but I have not even managed to think of a topic to write about. Today though, I am determined to participate and I thought I would discuss the topic of why it is important that Autistic people (and our allies) speak up, not just on this day but in general.

I sometimes give guest talks at TAFE (sort of like a college) in an autism topic, giving TAFE students an idea of what it is like being autistic, not just in terms of psychology but also in terms of how society views autism and Autistic people. I usually start these talks by saying something along the lines of “well, it is good to see you all made it to TAFE despite being neurotypical” (a neurotypical is someone who is not Autistic). Why do I say this to students? I certainly do not say it to be mean, in fact, most students usually laugh at this comment. I say this to try and make the TAFE students understand that the language people use when discussing autism and Autistic people is important.

I have often told people in my University classes that I am Autistic. Sometimes the comments I get in response are insulting. Such comments are usually along the lines of ‘well it is great you made it to University despite being Autistic’ or ‘so does that mean you are marked to a lower standard then the rest of us because you have autism spectrum disorder’. The latter example used here implies that since I am Autistic, I must not be capable of producing the same standard of University work as my neurotypical peers. The former example suggests that Autism Spectrum Disorder, by itself, can only be thought of as a handicap that needs to be defeated in order so the Autistic individual can achieve anything. In this example the person who said it actually thought they were giving me a compliment, that I somehow beat autism to attend University.

Examples of offensive language by neurotypicals towards Autistic individuals are not just limited to University. Earlier this week I was at a meeting at my local Autism organisation with parents and Autistic individuals. During the meeting one of the parents said something similar to ‘…and you do not know what is wrong with them until you receive a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder’. This suggests that there is something wrong with us Autistic individuals, that we are not as good or valued as the neurotypicals. Another example I have come across occurred last week while I was giving a guest talk at TAFE. One of the students appeared late, missing the part of my speech where I talked about offensive language. At the end of my speech the late student mentioned how impressed she was at my speech given that I am Autistic.

So why I am bringing these examples up? I am certainly not bringing these examples just to show how much some neurotypical people offend us Autistic individuals (after all, often these neurotypicals offend us without meaning to). Rather I am bringing these examples up to show why it is important that us Autistic individuals be given the chance to communicate, to make it clear that these people are often being insulting even if they are not aware of it. We need to be given the chance to put our point of view forward – and more than that, we need to take advantage of the opportunities given to us to make a difference. I start my talks at TAFE with language use and yet, at these times I have been offended on the spot …. I have stayed silent. How will the language use ever change if people like me do not speak up immediately when we are confronted with insulting comments?

My contribution to Autistics Speaking Day is not just reflecting on what has happened in the past, but acknowledging that I should be doing more to bring about change and not just let people say these comments – after all how are people meant to change their offensive comments if they have not realised they have offended anyone? Next time I will not just say silent, next time I will communicate my thoughts!

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