This Is Autism

In response to Autism Speaks’ pathologizing, offensive, bigoted characterization of autism, various autistic writers and pro-autistic allies are writing our own accounts of what autism really is.

So what is it?

I need to go to the post office to mail a package. This is autism.

I also need to pick up groceries to cook dinner tonight. This is autism.

I’ll probably spend this chilly evening reading under a blanket. This is autism.

I spent much of this morning doing laundry. This is autism.

I spent much of this afternoon spending too much time on Facebook. This is autism.

I love my husband with all my heart and I adore my children with my every breath. This is autism.

I am drinking a glass of Diet Coke. This is autism.

But don’t non-autistic people do those things too?

Yes, they do, but right now I’m talking about an autistic person (me) doing them.

But what about flapping and not-talking and sensory pain and social awkwardness?

Those things are autism, too.

You see, as I’ve mentioned before, “autism” is not a substance unto itself. You cannot have a jar of autism. “Autism” is an abstract noun used to describe a type of person. A type of person with a certain shape of brain, certain traits, yes, but who still has every human attribute of personhood.

The goal of Autism Speaks and other organizations that seek to “prevent” or “eliminate” autism is to eliminate autistic people from the world. This would mean eliminating the aspects of autistic people which they loathe and desperately wish to abolish (like difficulty with speech), but it would mean eliminating every other aspect of autistic people as well. Non-existent people don’t have traits, attributes, talents, disabilities, strengths, or weaknesses. Non-existent people have nothing and are nothing.

A non-autistic person could drink Diet Coke and go to the post office, just as I do. But if I were not an autistic person, I could not do these things. Because if I were not an autistic person, I wouldn’t be a person at all. If I had been prenatally identified as autistic and aborted before I was born, I would never have lived to taste my first Diet Coke. If I underwent surgery to strip away the specifically autistic structures of my brain, I would die on the operating table, and never make another post office run again.

The way that autistic people go about our lives may in some ways be different than the way non-autistic people do. For instance, when I go grocery shopping, I probably put far more concern into choosing a quiet, uncrowded, dimly-lit store than most non-autistic people do. And, of course, there’s tremendous individual variation within the categories of “autistic people” and “non-autistic people.” But all of these individual variations fall well within the larger category “people going about their lives.” None of these varying aspects of humanity could exist without the existence of people who fill them.

Which is the real problem with organizations like Autism Speaks—it’s not about their offensive rhetoric, or their lack of autistic representation in positions of power, or their allocation of funds, or their methods of going about achieving their goals. It’s their goals themselves, the elimination of all autistic people, everywhere. The elimination of autistic people means the elimination of autistic children screaming, and the elimination of autistic teenagers building robots, and the elimination of autistic men playing piano, and the elimination of autistic children fingerpainting, and the elimination of autistic women folding laundry, and the elimination of autistic seniors golfing, and the elimination of autistic babies sucking pacifiers, and the elimination of autistic writers watching trashy television. Autism Speaks wishes to eliminate us and everything about us: the good, the bad, and the utterly boring.

Autism is not a stereotype, or an image, or a set of pathologized “symptoms.” It’s not a moment in isolation, or a metaphor for modern alienation, or a term to embody all of a parent’s worries about their child. It’s not an illness or a virus or a demon that steals souls. It’s simply a description of a type of people. Autistic people. Living, breathing, conscious, autonomous, concrete, complex, multidimensional, non-hypothetical autistic people: This is autism.

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17 Responses to This Is Autism

  1. Harry says:

    Autism Speaks doesn’t seem to have changed one little bit over the last 6 years, I’ve been following their slithering progress. Does anybody remember their loathsome “I am Autism” video? Right clink link to save, and please only use for private research and study and respect the rights of the copyright holders.


  2. stimmyabby says:

    I love this. It’s so true. And it’s funny. Good points.

  3. Christine says:

    My son has high functioning Autism. He is so bright, very high IQ and a photographic memory, I couldn’t imagine him not having Autism, it’s what makes him so amazing and unique. I sometimes wish that there were different ‘labels’ for different areas on the spectrum. When I tell people he has Autism they immediately think he can’t talk and wipe his own bottom. I then have to explain at great length that for him it is not a disability, it’s a different way of thinking. I get so sick of peoples pity when I tell them – don’t pity me! How many people can say that their five year old is gifted and will go on to do great things? The general term Autism describes the whole spectrum and as we all know, that spectrum is huge.

  4. Creigh says:

    Well-written and I agree. 🙂 On a note, just from one person who writes articles to another (I, personally, crave constructive criticism), you have a slight typo here: “The elimination of autistic people means the elimination of autistic children screaming, and the elimination of autistic children screaming…” Nothing big, but it was building up momentum as I read and then I did a double take when I read that and it threw off the flow/finish. Just a heads up. Great article, though. 🙂 🙂 🙂

  5. willaful says:

    Terrific post, thank you!

  6. londonaspie says:

    Spot on! A great response to the vitriolic Autism Speaks.

  7. Yes! Exactly. This is why I do not and cannot identify with the label “autism mom” or even “mother of an autistic child.” I have three children. One is officially autistic. The other two are not typical, whatever that might mean, in many ways. And mostly, we do stuff that most people do. I shop, cook, and do laundry. My children go to school and homeschool, play, annoy one another, and enjoy one another. We get anxious and relax. We withdraw and socialize (not much 😉 ). We learn and laze. We all do it our own way.

  8. M Jones says:

    That’s excellent. It’s a shame you have even make those points. If Autism Speaks hadn’t proliferated fear and misunderstanding, you wouldn’t have to. That “I Am Autism” video is mortifying and actually makes me furious.

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  12. Nicole says:

    I stumbled upon your website through Jezebel- but will add it to my bookmarked sites. I have a 3 year old little boy who may be on the autism spectrum and just hearing this as a possibility brought forth all sorts of emotions: I was a mess for a few hours, but my husband said to me, “he is still the same little boy he has always been. Why would you let a word change your view of him?” So I want to thank you for posting this article. I wouldn’t change my little boy for anything and I am not going to label him disabled in my mind. He may have quirks but he is who he is and I am very grateful to be his mom.

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