A chap called Matthew Smith, also known as Yusuf, recently wrote a blog-post in response to my recent letter to The Guardian regarding autism as an illness. The main thrust of his argument is that autism is not an illness in itself, but still a definite problem that needs dealing with. However, many of the problems which Yusuf claims come with being autistic are all from the way other people treat autistics, and not due to being autistic itself.
Yusuf writes, “The idea that you might not want kids to be autistic is kind of like saying you want autistic people strangled at birth.” Well, yes, it is. The people who are arguing that autism is a bad thing are also the same people who are talking about disclosing to pregnant women their child may be autistic – and how their child may not have full quality of life. The research currently being done to find a “cure” for autism, is not focussing on training kids out of it – you cannot change a child’s intrinsic nature, whether they are shy, boisterous, curious, or autistic. No, what organisations like Autism Speaks are looking into is the genetic causes of autism. They want to prevent us from being born, not to integrate us into society. That’s why autism advocates oppose them.
I am also an LGBT activist, and the similarities between the attempts to find a “gay gene” and “the cause of autism” are striking. About 8% of adult male rams are only interested in mounting other rams: hardly helpful for the average farmer. Scientists have been looking into the causes of homosexuality in rams with a view to identifying the genes which caused such behaviour, and when the study was published in 2007, the results were predictable- anti-gay advocates immediately stated they would be examining the research to see if it could be applied to human beings (I don’t have a reference for this bit, by the way, beyond “I heard it on the radio three years ago…”. It is not difficult to see how further research in the “causes if autism” will be used to eradicate us rather than to help us.
I am not saying that all autistic people are functioning human beings hemmed in by society rules that just don’t allow for our eccentricities. There are autistic people who can’t speak, who look straight through you in a world of their own, can’t bear to be touched, can’t feed, wash or clothe themselves. But they’re not ill – they can’t communicate with you, but they are feeling, thinking people. Amanda Baggs is a low-functioning autistic who needs round the clock care, who produces Youtube videos about her experiences of autism. Tito Mukhopadhyay is severely autistic and is entirely dependant on his mother to survive, but can still write poetry after years of coaching. My point is not that all autistic people can be made to express sentience, but that what these examples show is that regardless of what is going on on the outside to “distress” parents and carers, on the inside, we’re all there. We’re not ill.
Ultimately Yusuf’s argument culminates in a wish that autistic people didn’t exist. But I quite like existing. I would not be the same person were I not autistic, and I quite like being me. So do quite a lot of other people, too. I’m sure some parents wouldn’t want their children to be autistic. Some parents also don’t want their children to be red heads, gay, or obsessed with space. But some are. And yeah, maybe it will result in a harder life for them – I was bullied thoughout my school career, I’m heavily dependant on my Asperger’s tutor and my university has already attempted to throw me out for poor attendance – but I would never want to be “cured”, and neither do most of my friends who have mental health disorders.
Yes, I don’t know what people are talking about when they’re being subtle, I can’t bear ticking, and I have nervous breakdowns when my friends lie to me. Those things aren’t pleasant. But I enjoy my ruthless honesty, extremely deep knowledge of specific subjects, and relentless, single-minded drive to achieve what I want from life. I don’t think I would have those qualities were I not wired up differently to other people, and I don’t want it any other way – and other people shouldn’t either.