Posted by: E (The Third Glance) | April 3, 2012

Assume Good Intentions: Autism Acceptance Month

Welcome to April. I’ve been lurking around the Autism Blog-o-verse long enough to know that April is when people tend to really polarize, so much more so than the rest of the year. It’s when the opinions and emotions intensify to a breaking point. When people read and judge, often without context. When we are most likely to get caught up in a wave of support for group or hate for another. When divides between different groups within the community shift to become deep schisms. April is an interesting month. Love it or hate it, it’s here, and with it, all of the Awareness, Acceptance, Advocacy, and Autism that it entails. It’s only the 3rd, and already, good, honest, kind people are hurting. Welcome to Autistic April.

Now this is the Internet. And for some reason, on the internet, some people turn into the same people they are when they are driving super aggressively. Anonymously, they feel they can say or do whatever they want, no matter who it hurts. But most people aren’t like that. Most people have good intentions. If a parent is on the internet, it is most likely that they love and care about their child and are trying to help them however they can. And if an Autistic individual is on the web, they are likely there to self-advocate and have a discussion. (Of course, this is not true for every individual, but for a vast majority it is, and thus, the assumption should be that they are reasonable people.) They may not have said or done whatever they said in a way you personally agree with, or that you find horribly offensive or seriously misguided. But chances are, when they said it, they didn’t think to themselves “I’m going to write this essay and publish it because I think it will piss off a lot of people in the Autism Community. I’m hoping to have a major argument and get nasty comments and cause a mess.” Rather, it’s far more likely their thought process was something along the lines of: “this is something that I think might resonate with some people. I want to help.” Unfortunately, most of the time, when there’s an offending essay, article, or anything else, we pounce. I think its human nature, but I’m not sure that’s the right reaction. In some situations, I’m sure it is, but I have a simple rule that I live by, and it seems to work out pretty well.

Assume Good Intentions. And give the benefit of the doubt.

Now while saying something that offends someone is really not very nice, we have all been guilty of an “open mouth, insert foot” moment (or two or many). Sometimes we say something that is offensive. I’m not perfect, and really, I’m pretty sure no one is. We’ve all said and done things that have offended others, usually completely accidently, coming from a place of ignorance, not a place of hate. Unfortunately, once the offense is out there, it can’t be un-done. Offense is offense. I simply contend that there are multiple ways to respond. If you say or do something that offended someone, would you rather have them scream in your face about how much of an awful person you are, while dissecting everything you’ve said to prove that you are terrible, or would you rather they told you, calmly, what was offensive to them and why? Which person are you more likely to apologize to? Which person makes you more likely to want to make amends and broaden the way you think? Even if you disagree completely with the person’s viewpoint, agreeing to disagree, while maintaining a respectful dialogue is progress. Exchanging verbal blows simply alienates, which is exactly the last thing we want.

And after all, it is April. Like many people out there in the Autism Community, my hope is that this April, there will be increased dialogue. I keep reading things like “awareness is easy” and most people are already “aware” of Autism. They’ve heard the word before. They have an idea of what it is. For most people outside the Autism Community, it’s a stereotypical, completely untrue image. But we want more than Awareness. We want Acceptance. And without dialogue there is no acceptance. So during this incredibly triggering month, allow yourself to be triggered. But before you respond, take a deep breath, assume good intentions, and if you choose to engage, do so in a positive, constructive way. Because it’s how you would want to be treated in the same situation, and because kindness, honesty, and discussion are what lead to understanding. And understanding is what ultimately leads to acceptance.

Happy Autistic April!

 

—————————————————-

Some post-scripts and notes:

There are certainly some nasty awful people online, and honestly with those people, I find that if they don’t respond to kindness, then I simply disengage. Those most likely aren’t the minds we will be able to change, anyway. HOWEVER I simply contend that most people online are NOT awful people. Especially many parents out there… they want the best for their kids. They want their children to grow up well. They LOVE their children, want what’s best for their children, want to give them the best opportunities in life that they can have. They are inherently GOOD PEOPLE. This doesn’t mean I agree with all that many parents do (remember, my parents abused me, physically and mentally, for my Autistic traits, in their misguided attempts to “fix” me, an extreme of a situation that many young people live daily). It doesn’t mean that I don’t cringe inside when I hear a parent say “I hate Autism and everything about it. I want to cure my child and rid him/her of it completely.” Hearing those things hurts. Knowing that many people believe someone like me shouldn’t exist hurts. But responding with direct anger only leads to escalation, and more pain and misunderstanding, on both sides. We say bullying is so awful. But sometimes we dish it right back.

There are a LOT of opinions, topics, and other things out there in the world of Autism. What works for some people doesn’t work for others. People have lived a multitude of lives and experiences surrounding Autism, and that diversity is what makes this community so great. But it’s also what makes the community so volatile, and when we hit April it intensifies. I know there’s a lot of frustration with “awareness done wrong”, and I share a lot of that frustration too. It’s very frustrating when well-intentioned people organize “awareness events” without ever consulting the group of people they are trying to bring awareness of. It’s infuriating and often incredibly hurtful when people ignore Autistic voices, and talk about us as a public health crisis or an epidemic that needs to be eradicated. But if we want awareness and further, acceptance, done right, we have a responsibility to lead by example. If we want respect, we must give it. If we want to be heard, we must listen, too. There is absolutely a time and a place for conflict, but it shouldn’t be our first reaction. Reach out with compassion. It’s likely that the person you’re reaching out to will respond similarly. Give the benefit of the doubt, and assume good intentions. Acceptance takes time. It takes work. It takes enduring an awful lot of awfulness. But compassion generates dialogue. And dialogue brings consideration, understanding, and maybe even acceptance. But any one of those steps is better than the alienation, distrust, hate, and anger that come from conflicts where we make the wrong assumption. I’m not advocating letting others walk all over us. I’m not suggesting that we just let the offensive material stand and go unchecked. It shouldn’t. I’m not saying “don’t get angry”. Anger is an important emotion. I’m simply saying that anger isn’t always the best response. Sometimes it is. Anger is easy. But sadly, what is easy is not always best.

And to officially end the end of the post-script to the post (say that 5 times fast):

“We have to choose between what is right, and what is easy.”

— J.K. Rowling (I believe it was Dumbledore who says this in the book)

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Responses

  1. You are wise beyond your years. Good words, good advice and good energy put out into the world.

  2. I’d like to post this on the autism blogs directory on Friday and link back to your blog, if you don’t mind. We’re running a mix of parent bloggers and autistic bloggers this month, offering a diversity of opinions on the month.

  3. You, my friend — ROCK. 🙂 Standing ovation.

  4. Well said! So glad Leigh @Flappiness said your post on FB.

  5. I found your blog through a FB link from Flappiness Is. Thank you for the perspective!

  6. Once again, you are amazing, E!

  7. I love your post and I LOVE Dumbledore quote (yes it was Dumbledore) That is one of my Favorite Dumbledore quotes of all time. Too many of us choose what is easy. I get what you are saying. I really hate the Cure Autism rally myself I don’t think there is a cure but I understand some people do stand behind that stance and I respect that. Not all of us need to agree. We are all trying to fight the same fight of Awareness and with good intentions.

  8. Thank you for writing this. I appreciate so much the generous spirit in it. I wish I had read it this morning before I spoke before thinking.

  9. I just found your blog and went back and started from the beginning. I loved it and wish you lived in South Florida so I could meet you in person. I don’t think this person who wrote “I hate Autism and everything about it. I want to cure my child and rid him/her of it completely” meant you did not have a right to exist with autism. Everyone has that right to exist “as is” but deep down, don’t you wish your childhood had been easier? Your parents had no right to abuse you (that made me cry) but you mentioned other people in your life that made you miserable too. I also wish I did not have ADHD diagnosed at 40. I have learned to function but I would rather it did not exist as my life and those lives around me would have been so, so, so much easier. I don’t want you to change but I hate to read how you struggled so much and life was so difficult. I wish all the “medical conditions” that made people different would just go away, not you. This is only my opinion and I hope this does not hurt your feelings as mean it in a respectful way. I also wish open and positive dialog would continue both IRL and online.

    Thanks for letting me express my thoughts.

    • Thanks for your comment 🙂 I’m really honored that you liked my blog enough to read the archive! Sometimes, yes, I wish I had it “easier”, but no, I personally don’t want to change how I think about and perceive the world. Yes, being Autistic brings about its challenges. So does being a woman in a male-dominated field. So does being the youngest person in my PhD program. But I wouldn’t change those about myself either. I do have to adapt some things to fit my life, of course, but who doesn’t? That doesn’t mean I didn’t wish that I could communicate a bit better sometimes. It doesn’t mean I wish my startle reflex didn’t cause me to freak out every time a door is slammed or there are other sudden noises. But I also wouldn’t change who I am. Being Autistic is such an ingrained part of my brain, that if you took it away, I would be a fundamentally different person. If everyone was the same and liked and did the same things, and had the same strengths and weaknesses, the world would be a very boring place indeed.

      And yes, sometimes I look back and say “I wish my childhood had been easier”. But everything that has happened to me in the past has made me into the person I am today. And honestly, I rather like where I am. I’m happy, I’m extremely comfortable with my body. I have a full-time job, doing something I LOVE to do, and I’m living a good life right now. Most of all, though, sure, I’m not perfect (and I am constantly working to be better and adapt better to the world around me), but I’m very happy. And who’s to know whether I would be where I am if things had been different. Sometimes I look back and ask “what if”, but I find that “what if”s don’t do much for me.

      And thank you so much for your comment. I know I disagreed with a lot of what you said, but again, I believe we simply have different views on this. To me, being Autistic is a pile of strengths and weaknesses that are different from the strengths and weaknesses of most other people. Take away the Autism, and it takes away me. Yes, I love every time I discover a new way to “cope” in society, and wish that I just “knew” it the same way others do, but then, when I make a scientific breakthrough, or solve a really tough math problem that most people couldn’t begin to do, nor would they enjoy, I feel there’s a tradeoff. But I get great joy from solving tough math problems (and other things), and I likely wouldn’t if I weren’t wired the way I am. Does that make sense? I don’t see my being Autistic as all negative. I see it as being. 🙂 Thanks for the fantastic chance to self-reflect 🙂

      • I am happy you feel you are exactly where you are as an adult. I guess upon my self reflection I see my undiagnosed ADD-PI (primarily inattentive) as a child, as many missed opportunities. My diagnosis sure explained most of my childhood struggles especially my absolute hatred for sitting in a classroom. With maturity and medication I am now able to do so many things differently. Fortunately I was bright enough to “get by” without doing homework, studying or engaging in class. I cannot tell you how many times I heard “She is such a bright student if she would only apply herself”. I hated that word “apply”! What does it mean anyway? I was trying but was bored beyond belief. My solution? Read anything I could and place that book inside the class book to hide the fact I was reading material other than the subject being discussed.I actually read the encyclopedia during 4-6 grades because I could not pay attention. I regularly was caught reading and punished for not paying attention. Wow, what self reflection! My point was I still have my hatred of school and that has kept many doors closed to me. I wish I had been diagnosed and treated as a child. Things would have been so much easier for me. You, on the other hand, appear to have figured it out or accepted the finished product with no regrets. I am going to follow your blog and hope I will pick up a few pointers on not wishing on what could have been. Thanks!

      • I think you misunderstand a little. I too, wish I had been more aware earlier. Yeah, I figured a lot of “it” out on my own, but the process was excruciating. I simply choose not to dwell on the past. That doesn’t mean I don’t have regrets. It means that I choose to focus on the future, which I do have control over, as opposed to the past, which I do not. But that’s just my nature.

      • I think I am going to adopt your approach for awhile and see how it goes. It is positive and can’t hurt. I’ll let you know how it goes 🙂 Thanks

        LH

  10. Excellent post! I linked it up to a bullying post–hope you don’t mind. http://hereirawr.wordpress.com/2012/04/12/it-takes-a-village-to-raise-a-bully-or-stop-one/

  11. Great man, Dumbledore. Great man.

  12. What if we call “it” Awesome April and leave it at that? I recently read Daniel Tammet’s “Born on a Blue Day” (its a book so it shouldn’t be in quotes but that seems to be increasingly acceptable nowadays.) I had difficulty reading it I must admit but I am glad that I did. I would highly recommend the book. I found this delightful memoir at my local library in conjunction with “Autism Awareness” month. I’m ok with that title– because I want to understand. Thank you for helping me understand.
    And a postscript to my second grade teacher who said that I needed to respond promptly to her instructions…”I probably didn’t hear you because I was totally bored.” Phew. Got that off my chest.

  13. Wonderful point of view, beautifully said. Thank you.

    • Thanks 🙂 and thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment. 🙂

  14. Saw your post on Flappiness’ wall today and loved it. Civility and open communication really is a dying art form, I hope your brand of good will advocacy is infectious.

  15. There is the blog-o-verse for most autism advocates. But then there is blog-o-verse for someone like myself. (Same goes for rest of Internet.) As a professional now, I have to be very careful about the stances I am taking on autism. I feel that some people in the autism community don’t really know some of the dilemmas I have.

    As freely as I want to express my views on autism, it is as vital for me to understand the potential consequences on what I say online- in blogs or elsewhere on the Internet. After all, my words can carry a lot of weight (because I am a professional). Also, I run the risks of angering professionals and/or autism community. Lastly, because I work in OT, so I have to be pro-OT whenever possible… even when my heart aches for people who are affected by autism.

    Since you are a book person, I think you will like a book called Venus on Wheels. The person featured in this book doesn’t have autism. But, she has other disabilities and once upon a time served as a social worker.


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