I am a burden, I am a statistic, I am a number. I am one of many, solely because I am autistic. This is how the organization Autism Speaks views an autistic person. The goal of Autism Speaks, devoted to the curing and research of autism, is “Making autism a word in the history books.” Other autistics agree with me when I say, “We don’t want Autism Speaks speaking for us.”
According to Ari Ne’eman, the founder of Autistic Self-Advocacy Network or ASAN, the right motto is, “Nothing about us, without us,” which is a motto that has been embraced by the autistic community. This motto expresses the outrage of planning the future for the entire autistic population without the involvement of those that are on this spectrum.
Before I started accepting the fact that I was autistic, I heard of Autism Speaks.
This organization was founded by a couple named Bob and Suzanne Wright as a means to help their grandson. Yet when I look deep into the pages of their website and it says clear as day “Making autism a word in the history books.” Anyone like me would react with shock when hearing these words, “Making autism a word in the history books.” Why focus on curing autism? To focus on a cure ignores those that need help today. The focus should be on helping autistics meet their needs now. Autistics need to learn how to acquire basic living skills, such as having a job and establishing a roof over their head.
Autism is a cognitive disability. When one hears that someone wants to make a cognitive disorder “a word in the history books,” one thinks of eugenics or in other words “wiping out a minority group”, and while I’m not suggesting this is connected with Nazi-era Germany, the core of the idea is similar. Attempting to cure a cognitive disability is absurd, yet never the less Autism Speaks is using Dr. James Watson’s efforts to what he calls curing stupidity.
Working towards a cure isn’t going to bring forth a worthwhile society; it is only going to strip enrichment from the world. Working towards getting rid of autism will not make the world happier; it is only going to sadden the world by eliminating genius. For example, scientific and artistic contributions to society have been made by some well-known historical figures, such as Albert Einstein and Vincent Van Gogh, who, if today’s diagnostic tools had been available, might have been on what we call the spectrum, ranging from Asperger’s, Pervasive Developmental Disorder, to High and Low Functioning Autism. What if Albert Einstein never existed? What if Starry Night was never painted by Van Gogh? The world would be worse, not better, without the contributions of Einstein and Van Gogh.
What I want to suggest is that Autism Speaks not focus on the intent to get rid of something because they view it as a burden. When hearing Autism Speaks commercials portray autism in a negative light, I am saddened by the ignorance of the commercials’ approach. It’s not a burden, it’s a gift. It’s not a curse, it’s a blessing. All we need to do is learn to use this difference in cognitive function as a gift and a blessing. I am one of those advocates along with ASAN who want to focus on improving society’s perspective of autism and on improving the living situations of individuals that are on the spectrum.
At first, I thought my diagnosis was crazy. I did not notice the quirks that I have,or how tired I got of acting normal to everyone else’s standards, and trying to pass myself off as a neurotypical, the name autistics use to refer to those not on the spectrum. Actually it’s very hard to portray myself as not being on the spectrum. Even in high school, I didn’t want anyone to know because I didn’t want to be treated any differently. I wanted independence like everybody else. But I felt like I was alone and worthless.
Searching for open communication, I found a forum in February 2009 for autistics, and I realized I wasn’t alone, would never be alone, that everyone has struggles, but we are still worthwhile and valuable to society. I am autistic. I do not need to become obsolete, a word in the history books. I am not a burden, I am not a statistic, I am not a number, and yes, I am one of many.