Neurodiversity is the notion, and fact, that human beings are neurologically diverse. The Neurodiversity Paradigm (to which I refer throughout this post) believes that there is no “right” or “normal” way to neurologically be; and that all neurologies are therefore valid. It believes that variations in human neurology, are a natural part of human diversity. Autism and being autistic, are addressed often in Neurodiversity Paradigm ideas. I feel that deep and real respect for autism and autistic people; springs from an acceptance and embracing of neurodiversity.
Understanding this notion may be something you are working toward. It can be hard to come to new places in a journey of challenging your own beliefs. If you aren’t there yet, don’t lose heart. Full acceptance of our autistic children, or of ourselves as autistic people, is the worthy end result; but for some can take time.
Here is a list of ten things you reject for your autistic children, when you embrace Neurodiversity.
1: That being autistic means there is something ‘wrong’ with you.
By embracing the notion that there are many valid ways to exist, and by embracing that all neurologies are valid; we can reject the notion that being autistic is ‘bad’, and instead simply see it as a valid way of being. When it is not believed that being allistic (non-Autistic) is the singular “right” way to be; alternatives are not seen as wrong or even as ‘not normal’. Without the assumption that there is a “right” way to be, there are no “wrong” ways.
2: That being positive means you have overcome the inherent badness of autism.
Accepting being autistic as a valid way to be, means that life (as a carer to an autistic child or children, or as an autistic person) is not automatically thought of as inherently negative; as something needed to be overcome with “positive thinking”. As a parent to an autistic child or children, you don’t lament who your child/ren are just because they are autistic. It’s not something you need to “grieve” or “come to terms with”. Your own life has not been hampered or ruined by having autistic children. It’s not an obstacle. It is just your life. You don’t need to “overcome the negativity” if your life isn’t negative to begin with.
3: That saying ‘autistic’ is wrong, or damaging, or medical, or “labelling”.
The idea of being concerned with labels (in the sense that the word “autistic” invokes upset); isn’t there when you believe in the beauty of neurodiversity. When it is genuinely believed that all neurologies are valid, there isn’t a fear in saying them. When it is rejected that being autistic means there is something wrong, ‘autistic’ is a neutral and descriptive word. When people mention “labelling” with concern; this is often because they believe that autism is something wrong or shameful or problematic. A ‘heavy burden’ to bear. Otherwise, why would they be so afraid of naming it? If we imagined refusing to say “gay” or “Aboriginal”; I think this demonstrates the reason why refusing to say ‘autistic’ is considered unhelpful and an opposite of inclusive. When autistic people say so often (and almost unanimously) that knowing about autism is important to autistic people, this also stinks of ableism and of not listening to a minority group about their own lives. In embracing neurodiversity, being autistic needn’t be stigmatised or referred to in hushed voices.
4: That “Person First” is necessary.
When it is deeply believed that being autistic is a valid and valuable way to live; there is no longer a need to separate autism from personhood (by insisting on saying “person with autism” as opposed to “autistic person”). Autism is not considered a disease, a disorder, a condition, something you ‘have’. It is not thought of as a growth that attaches itself; it is thought of as a major part of someone and who they are. There is hence not a need to isolate the word ‘autism’ and treat it differently (linguistically and socially), to other markers or parts of identity. Being autistic is comparable to sexuality, nationality, or even eye colour. By rejecting that Person First language is necessary, we accept being autistic as acceptable and valid, and that autistic people don’t need to be constantly reminded that they are people first. (And also that those around them don’t need to constantly be reminded that they are people first). We can instead see being autistic as naturally and automatically linked to being a person and to having human rights, just like with all people.
5: That autistic people need fixing.
If we don’t see being autistic as being broken, damaged, or faulty – what is there to fix? Seeing the Neurodiversity Paradigm as an inclusive and worthy paradigm, means we are all free to be, free to live, and free from the burden of people (and sometimes, eventually, ourselves) trying to fix us. Being autistic doesn’t mean being broken, and autistic people don’t need fixing.
6: That people who aren’t autistic, are experts on autism.
We have this pervasive pattern in our society – the autism “experts” who have the best-selling books, whose seminars are recommended by paediatricians and autism centres, who become therapists implementing ‘treatment’, who organise conferences, who run training programs so that medical, law enforcement, and teaching staff can learn about autism, or who promote diets and food theories – are not themselves autistic. This is tied to the assumption that being autistic means there is something wrong with you and so you need the “undamaged” people to ‘splain it all. If we truly, as a society, respected autistic people for who they are, we would not feel it was acceptable to allow important decisions influencing them, to be made without their input (and in many cases, with ignoring, rejection, or mocking of their input). When we value autistics, we allow them to speak about their own lives and ideas without feeling the need to exert our superior non-Autistic viewpoints onto them. It’s a simple concept really; that when you respect someone you let them speak for themselves, about themselves. That when a minority group is given basic respect, they are allowed a voice and are included in organisations and other things that affect them. If we wouldn’t go to a man instead of a woman to learn about women’s issues; and if we wouldn’t go to a white person instead of an Indigenous person to learn about Indigenous issues – then why are we allowing non-Autistic people to dominate mainstream discussion about autism and autistic issues? When we respect autistic people because we believe in the validity of their lives, we can seek them out for valuable information, and ‘expert’ advice is more easily questioned.
7: That “where you are on the spectrum” determines whether you can benefit from acceptance, and whether it “applies”.
If you accept autistic people, and if you exist within the Neurodiversity Paradigm; you don’t feel that some people deserve more respect or acceptance more than others. Especially not based upon level of support needs. If it is believed that only some autistic people deserve the right to be accepted for who they are, and that others do need to be fixed or are damaged – this is ableism. The Neurodiversity Paradigm is a counter paradigm to ableism. The Neurodiversity Paradigm involves the radical notion that autistics are people, and that they deserve to be recognised and treated as such. When neurodiversity is embraced, it isn’t believed that some people deserve this, or need this, more than others.
8: That doing “some good” is an excuse for doing a lot of bad.
When organisations or people (I am thinking of Autism Awareness Australia and Autism Speaks and similar, as well as professionals and public figures) spew hateful rhetoric and dehumanise autistic people; a common counter-cry is something like “But they did something good, once.” I think this stems, as usual, from a base and innate lack of respect for autistic people. From the belief that there is a right way to be, and that being autistic isn’t it. It’s an assumption that we should be grateful for anything we get (even if we don’t want it or make clear that it’s actually unhelpful or harmful) and that being dehumanised (when you’re automatically assumed to be less than fully human), isn’t worthy of complaint. In the belief that autistic people are valuable and worthy, just as non-Autistic people are, we can reject the idea that autistics don’t know what they need. We can reject that they need to be dehumanised or ignored, to be helped. We can seek alternatives; respectful ones. We can see that “help” that is rejected by the group it’s aimed at, isn’t help at all. Basic respect for autistic people, helps us to see through such instances of thinly veiled ableism.
9: That autistic children deserve, or cause, mistreatment.
This is again tied to the belief that there is something gone wrong in an autistic person, resulting in their dehumanisation at many levels. Mainstream ideas would tell us that having an autistic child to care for results in problems because of the child. It’s hard to cope, we hear. Families “living with autism” elicit pity. When we start to think about things from the perspective of autistic people (as well as, as we so often hear “putting yourself into the shoes” of carers); we can start to think of them as real people (who knew?!). We can stop hearing only the tragic stories from carers, and can see also the opinions and needs of autistic people. We can stop seeing abuse and mistreatment as “inevitable” because “lack of services”, “lack of support”, “aggression”, “lack of autism awareness”. Just as external factors do not excuse child abuse of allistic children; nor does it excuse abuse of autistic children. We can see that they deserve to have their needs met as much as the next person, irrespective of social conditions surrounding autism. The Neurodiversity Paradigm tells us that autistic children are valuable and deserve to have their needs met, and that they always have been. If you are an autistic adult, this can show you that you deserved it, too.
10: That our children need to be grieved for.
Surely all children deserve to be loved for who they are, and cared for by people who appreciate them in their entirety. The idea that we would grieve for our living, breathing, loving children – is often an erroneous one for those who believe in the beauty of neurodiversity. This is because we do not believe that there is a “right” or a “default” way to be (we may recognise social structure that supports these beliefs but we still reject their validity), and so we do not see being autistic as an opposite or alternative to these concepts. We see our children as hugely valuable people in their own right. We don’t see a “right” neurology, and “others”; we see any neurology as valid. We believe in this natural diversity of neurologies that is the Neurodiversity Paradigm.
You may end up rejecting a lot if you take this path, but you will surely gain a lot more. I am so glad that I embraced neurodiversity and found the Neurodiversity Paradigm, and that as a result my children are embraced every day for precisely who they are.