Hi there! You’ve likely been directed here by someone- be they autistic or not- who wants to inform you about Autism Acceptance. Maybe you took the initiative yourself and asked them about what Autism Acceptance meant, and they pointed you here. If so, go you! The first step of understanding autism is seeking information about it, so if you’re here, you’ve already surpassed that. This post is going to be directed at parents, but anyone who wants to learn is welcome to.
Enough preamble. Let’s talk about Autism Acceptance!
What is Autism?
Okay, this is a bit basic. That said, even if you think you know everything there is to know about autism, chances are you still have something to learn from this section.
To start off, there is a fabulous post by Nick Walker at Neurocosmopolitanism about what Autism is. I encourage you to read that great post, which is by an autistic adult, but I’ll give you the short of it here.
Autism is a developmental difference (Nick uses the term phenomenon, which I also quite like) that is characterized by differences in how a person simply is. Differences in everything from movement to communication to eating preferences.
Most notably, but certainly not exclusively, Autism is expressed through social differences. You might know the stereotype of the young boy who sits in the corner alone and doesn’t look people in the eye; this IS a stereotype, as the autistic writing this is neither a boy, nor in a corner, and she is in fact able to look you in the eye!
The point is, though, that we autistics do tend to have issues with social interaction. We miss social cues, we have trouble discerning emotions (including our own), some of us are unable to maintain eye contact, and some of us do not speak with out mouths. On the flip side, some of us talk too much and don’t know when to stop!
However, as Nick points out, Autism is not just a disability of social and communication deficits. The second thing every probably thinks of when they hear autism, after the no-eye-contact boy from before, is kids flapping their hands or rocking in place. This behavior is known as stimming. I couldn’t find a good post on what stimming is from an acceptance point of view, so if anyone has one, let me know! For now, I’ll explain briefly what it is.
Stimming is self-regulatory, self-stimulating action. What this means is that when a person stims, they are regulating their body- helping it cope with something- through behavior that stimulates them- that is, helps them feel a sense, like touch or hearing or motion. Stims are not bad things! Autistic people stim for all sorts of reasons. Are we happy? We stim! Are we nervous? We stim! After all, stimming helps us regulate our bodies, so stimming means that if we’re not calm, we’re trying to get there.
There is a misconception that a person, particularly a child, who is stimming cannot be paying attention to what is going on. This is entirely untrue! In fact, when we stim, we become more able to focus on what is going on around us, because we are calm.
So why do autistic people need to stim, and non-autistic people don’t? Well, I have to start by pointing out that non-autistic people DO stim- haven’t you ever twiddled your thumbs when you were bored or bounced your leg up and down while focusing on something? Regardless, autistic people do stim more than non-autistic people do. This is because we have trouble processing sensory information.
This means that some autistic people process different information, like how hot it is around them or what their food tastes like, at different levels than is typical. This could mean being hyper-sensitive to sensory input (regular smells smelling REALLY strong) or hypo-sensitive to sensory input (regular sounds sound REALLY quiet). Whether someone is hypo- or hyper-sensitive is usually not consistent across the board. Some people are hypo-sensitive to pain and also hyper-sensitive to light and sound. Others are the opposite. We also tend to have trouble processing emotional information.
So how does this play into stimming? Well, imagine you’re an autistic person. You’ve got too much visual information coming in, because you’re hyper-sensitive sight-wise, or too obscure sound information coming in because you’re hypo-sensitive to sound. And on top of that, people are making you feel things! Maybe someone just told you that you failed a math test. So now you’ve got too much AND too little information coming in at the same time, and on top of that, bad news! That’s an awful lot for one brain to handle. You better self-regulate. So what are you gonna do?
You’re gonna stim! The same applies if you’ve got some really great music playing, and then suddenly someone tells you that you some really great news. Suddenly, happy flapping! (That is, stimming in the form of flapping your hands, for happy reasons).
To finish off this section on what Autism is, I want to talk about what it is not. Now, there are a lot of misconceptions about autism; far too many to cover in one post! The one that bothers me the most, though, is the idea that we autistics do not feel empathy. The truth is that our empathy feeling is as much on a spectrum as Autism itself is, and it’s not tied to how profoundly autistic someone is. Some people really report not feeling for other people. Some autistics, however, are hyper-empathetic (myself included)! This means that not only do we feel for others, we actually feel very strongly for the emotions of others. The funny thing is, sometimes we feel others feelings too strongly, and we don’t know how to express such strong feelings. This can lead people to believe we aren’t feeling empathy at all, when in fact we’re a raging ball of too many emotions. In addition, it can be hard for us to identify emotions, even in ourselves. Because of this, some of us can’t necessarily say “I’m sorry you feel sad, I feel bad for you,” because we neither know that you feel sad, nor do we know how we feel about it. But some of us, once we get the inkling that you’re upset, might just start bawling- and still not know why!
Anyways, moving on…
What is Autism Acceptance?
The simplest answer here? Well, there’s a whole post on acceptance with some great quotes here at Unstrange Mind, but I’ll explain. Autism acceptance is seeing a person who is autistic, as an autistic, and loving them for their autistic self. Note that I say loving. Not tolerating, but loving. Note that I say autistic, not “person with autism.”
Okay, the second part will take some explaining. Bear with me while I give a brief lesson on language and disability.
In the autistic community, as well as the disability community as a whole more or less, we prefer what is known as Identity First Language. We tend to really dislike the opposite- Person First Language. Identity First Language is autistic person. Person First Language, which is described in more detail at the link, is “person with autism.” Person First Language says “See the person, not the disability.” You may not see the problem with that, but that’s why I’m here to explain. When you say “see the person, not the disability,” you are implying that one cannot see a person if they are seeing a disability. Conversely, Identity First Language says “see the person, AND the disability.” Moreover, it might say “see the person, and see who they are because of their disability.” Thing is, for those of us who have been disabled a lifetime, or who are disabled in pervasive ways (that is, ways that influence our entire life, as with Autism), you cannot separate the disability from the person. The disability and the person are forever intertwined, permanently super-glued together. No amount of cures or therapies will ever disentangle a person’s lifelong disability from them, and because of that, we are influenced by our disabilities, and we DO identify with them.
Now here’s where acceptance comes into play. It is entirely okay to identify with one’s disabilities. It is okay to be forever connected to our disabilities. That is because we do not seek to change them, or cure them. We seek to accept them. That is the first step of acceptance- seeing that disability is not a bad thing. This is not the same as pretending that disabilities do not come with their struggles. However, this leads me into my next side-adventure.
When we talk about struggles in disability in the Disability community, we tend to talk about them in the context of the “Social Model of Disability.” This “model” of disability says that we are disabled by a society that does not accommodate us, not by being less than typical people. An example: An epileptic person does struggle. That said, they struggle because people insist on using strobes on their bikes, for instance, and not because they are less of a person. Now yes, you may have noted that an epileptic person can have seizures that aren’t just triggered by people being jerks. The social model does not say that disabled people do not struggle, or that harm can only be caused by society. Simply, the social model says that the main struggle of a disability comes from a society that does not want to accommodate simple things. The other model is the “Medical Model of Disability,” which says that disabled people are hurt by their disabilities alone, and focuses on curing disabled people over accommodating them.
How does this fit into acceptance? Well, here’s a very simplified example using the medical model. When we see an autistic child being bullied for flapping her hands in school, we will say “that child needs to be cured so that she will not be bullied.” We will try to cure the child in order to stop her from flapping her hands. Cures are very problematic, but we’ll get to that part later. The point is, we saw how the child was being harmed, and deemed that it was the fault of the child’s autism, and therefor the autism must be eliminated from the picture.
The opposite side of this is what the social model would do. The social model says, when we see an autistic child being bullied for flapping her hands in school, we will say “that child is being bullied for who she is, and we need to educate the other children so that they know not to bully her.” This paints the problem as being in the other kids’ attitudes and in society at large, not with autism.
Now, it should slowly be becoming clear what the problem is with curing autism, but since this is an informative post, I’ll explain it. We’ve discussed how Autism is a part of somebody. We’ve discussed how Autism doesn’t hurt people, but rather, society hurts autistics for being autistic. So now we know that not only is Autism a part of autistic people, but also not a bad thing. So why and how could we cure it?
Well, this is the first issue with curing- the “how”. I’ll go ahead and say it- there is no cure for autism. Nothing. No cure. Nope. There are, however, therapies. These therapies can range from benign (and potentially helpful but not curing), to actively abusive, to actively deadly. Applied Behavior Analysis is the most prevalent therapy, and is often talked about by autistic adults who went through it as children… on the subject of how they are now traumatized. If you want to read more, and you really should, because there is a lot of confusion around ABA, this is a fantastic post, also by Unstrange Mind. And while I’m at it, here’s a third post from Unstrange Mind, on the subject of Good versus Bad therapies. The main idea is that therapy should not focus on making your child look “normal” or “indistinguishable from their (non-autistic) peers.” There is no value in looking “normal” for an autistic person, besides in the comfort of others. There is in fact real harm in looking normal, because it adds a lot of stress while taking away our ability to regulate that stress (through keeping us from stimming). This kind of stress can lead to autistic burnout, which is talked about here, or if you want to watch a great video, here. (I highly recommend Amythest’s videos, by the way!)
The therapies I really want to talk about, though, are the far end of the spectrum- the deadly end. I’m talking here about chelation. Chelation is used to treat heavy metal poisoning. Unfortunately, someone got the idea one day that Autism was caused by heavy metal poisoning, and decided that autistic children needed chelation. If you are doing chelation to your child, I cannot urge you enough to stop. It can kill. It has killed. Besides, there is no link between heavy metal poisoning and autism. Same goes for those of you using the Miracle Mineral Supplement, which is a toxic dose of sodium chlorite, which is used to make bleach. Seriously, do not give it to your children.
Scary stuff aside, what if there was a cure for autism? Would it be ethical to give it to an autistic child? No. This is because curing your child is the exact opposite thing from accepting them. If you were to cure an autistic child, you would be removing an integral part of who they are, without their consent. Even if your child said “Yes, I want to stop being autistic,” as a child they are not old enough to give meaningful consent. Now, if an autistic adult wanted to cure themselves, that would be fine. However, I’ve found that most autistic adults do not want to be cured. This is likely because, by the time we’re in the autistic community, we have found out about acceptance, and have accepted ourselves for what we are.
So really, what is autism acceptance? Well, we’ve just gone through it! It’s talking about autism as a disability that affects autistic people, but not because they are lesser for being autistic; because we are disabled by our society. It is refusing to use therapies on your child that are abusive. It’s knowing not to try to cure autism.
But it’s more than that. It is loving the autistic people in your lives. It is seeing them for who they are, when who they are is autistic. It is refusing to see autism as something bad.
And you know? It can be going to therapy. We do sometimes require a lot of support, and therapy can help us learn valuable skills that come naturally to other people, but not us. That said, acceptance is stopping therapy the moment it becomes about making your child typical. Focus on the skills. Your autistic child will never be non-autistic. With your help, though, they can be a functioning member of society, autism and all. Autism and all, especially. They might even grow up to write a blog about it!
So What Can You Do for Your Autistic Child?
You already love your child, or you wouldn’t have gotten this far. I won’t tell you to do that, but it’s really the first step. That said, you do not simply need to love your child for the rest to come naturally. Autism is likely new ground for you as a parent, even if your autistic child is older. It is, on top of that, confusing ground. Look outside this blog and into the Autism community and you’ll see promoters of chelation. You’ll see people pushing abusive therapies. You’ll see people calling your child a burden (Hi, Autism Speaks). You will see people talking about killing their autistic children, and you will see parents being called victims when they do just that. It is a scary, scary landscape. But you are not traversing it alone.
The Autistic community is there for you. We know what it was like being like your child. In this community, there is everyone from non-vocal autistics to talks-too-much aspies (who are also autistics, for the record). Trust us- one of us was like your child, if not scores of us. We know how scary certain therapies can be, but we also know which ones helped us. We know how we like to stim, and we might be able to give you some suggestions for your child as well (my suggestion is Stimtastic‘s line of products). We know stuff like why your child might be going through more meltdowns to why your child won’t touch certain foods. We were there, once. We might even still be there with some things! You just have to ask.
So how can you ask? Befriend us. Join a community. “Like” Parenting Autistic Children with Love & Acceptance on Facebook, as just one example. Just make sure that it is a community where autistic voices are centered, because if other parents are allowed to speak over us, then you might get bad messages. And yes, you are welcome to ask me questions.
Anyways, this post is both extremely long and likely grossly oversimplified. But if I’ve done my job right, hopefully you understand a little bit more about autism acceptance!