Prescriptions. ABA. Occupational therapy. Speech therapy. Music therapy. Gluten-free diet. Nutritional supplements. Sensory integration. Chelation. All of these words surround my head as I watch my 5-year-old son stacking Legos on the waiting room floor of yet another specialist’s office. Connor was diagnosed with autism one month ago, and my husband and I are still trying to decide the best way of approaching a “treatment” plan for him. It seems like everyone we talk to says something different. The pediatrician disagrees with the psychologist, who disagrees with the audiologist, who disagrees with the parent that I talked to at my other son’s school, who also has a child with autism. “Autism is very different for each individual.” I have heard this so many times – so how do I know that any of these treatments will help MY autistic son? How do I know for sure that these treatments won’t make things more confusing or scarier for him? I want my son to be happy, and right now he is happy, even if happiness for him means stacking legos in his own little Connor world.
Drawing from the Murphy and Sicile-Kira readings, I used the idea of other people (especially professionals) trying to influence the ways in which a parent raises, treats, or disciplines their autistic child, even if the parent does not feel that it may be the best thing for their son or daughter. While writing this, I tried to think of how confusing it must be for parents when there are mixed messages coming from so many directions, whether it be Jenny McCarthy, professionals, or parents of other autistic children. I feel like there is a stereotype that all parents with autistic children just want their kids to be “normal.” While that may be true a lot of the time, I do think there are parents who just want their child to be happy, rather than obsessing about how to normalize and “treat” him or her.
One question that I kept asking myself while reading Songs of the Gorilla Nation is how much of Dawn’s characteristics were actually because of her Asperger’s, and how much of them were just things that “normal” kids do that happen to be a little quirky. Maybe it’s just me, but I remember doing a lot of the things she talked about doing as a child. For example, I loved hiding in the coat racks while shopping with my mom, and I always worried about non-living objects having feelings or “missing me” while I was gone. I, too, remember vivid details from my early childhood, and I don’t know if that’s something that is just more typical in people with Asperger’s, or if she was just trying to capture her perspective from when she was a child, in some ways irrespective of her being autistic.
It is interesting to me how in these younger years, Dawn seemed so much like myself or perhaps other “normal” children, and yet was still different enough socially to be on the autism spectrum. I also found her claiming to remember being born pretty fascinating. I was skeptical at first, but then again it does make sense that because of her Asperger’s she might have been advanced enough, even as a newborn, to be able to comprehend what was going on around her. I was also a bit confused as to why Dawn’s parents did not step in when she decided to drop out of high school or when she was wandering the streets as a homeless person. In the same way, I was wondering why they were so quick to move out of state in the first place without considering the best interests of their disabled child.
Dawn’s positionality is unique because although she is autistic, she is obviously very intelligent. It really struck me how she explained that not seeming blatantly autistic to the outside world has been both a compliment and yet kind of upsetting at the same time. Since taking this class, I can definitely understand her point about people not realizing how hard her daily life is, only because she seems so capable compared to many other individuals with autism.
Autistics Speaking Day is so significant because it’s an encouraging way for people with autism to let their voices be heard. This one day is enough to increase autism awareness widely, especially through the use of popular social networks and internet media in today’s society (i.e. twitter, facebook, youtube, etc.). I think one of the most important messages to relay on this day is that an autistic person often does not fit autism stereotypes and that our preconceived assumptions are what create these stereotypes in the first place. I was shocked when I read in “Cat in a Dog’s World” about the way Simon Baron-Cohen developed the new diagnostic criteria for adult Asperger’s. The blogger is right in saying that Baron-Cohen bases much of these criteria on his own assumptions, such as a person with Asperger’s having a “lack of interest in fiction appropriate to [one’s] developmental level” and preferring to go to a museum instead of a movie. Not only is this extremely vague, but since when did a hobby become a diagnostic criterion? These criteria written by Baron-Cohen, a trusted psychologist known for his autism research, is solid proof that there is a flaw with the way in which people view those on the autism spectrum.
On the whole, neurotypical members of society (including those like Baron-Cohen who regularly work with autism) have no idea what it is like to be autistic. Further, the individuality of people with autism makes it nearly impossible to empathize with someone who has it, or to make assumptions and base your understanding of them off of past experiences with other autistic persons. That being said, it’s not necessarily a neurotypical person’s fault for assuming stereotypes when they meet an autistic individual, just because they likely do not know anything else about autism. That’s where Autistic Speaking Day comes in. I’d encourage any person with autism to speak up and let the rest of the world know what it really means to be autistic. Use this day to work towards changing the notions and stereotypes that come to mind when someone thinks of the word “autism”, and prevent the future existence of ridiculous diagnostic criteria like those created by Baron-Cohen.