Guest Column: Autistic need support, not pity
By LIZZY MILLER
T.S. Eliot was right: April is the cruelest month.
So maybe the lilacs haven't bloomed yet, and maybe any dead land in the area has turned into mud
by now, but the principle is the same: April is one of the most unintentionally cruel months of the 12.
It's Autism Awareness Month.
I, for one, am acutely aware of autism, and I don't need a special month to think about it, because I
I am one of the autistic adults that the president of Autism Speaks - an "organization" that despite its
name doesn't employ autistic people or allow their input - swears up and down don't exist.
I am one of the autistic adults who spent much of her youth being bullied for her differences. I am
fortunate that the only abuse I suffered was at the hands of my peers. Many autistic people today are
still hospitalized against their will simply for being autistic. They often are forcibly restrained and
suffer electric shocks in hopes of being "cured."
I am one of the autistic adults who is fortunate enough to have been born into a loving, supportive
family that did everything in their power to teach me the coping skills I needed to function in a
neurotypical world. Many parents of autistic children teach them that what they are is inherently bad
early on. Some of them end up killing their own children and get applauded for their "acts of mercy."
These parents tend to face drastically lighter prison sentences than parents who harm their
neurotypical children, if they're convicted at all.
I am one of the autistic adults who is proud to be fighting for the autism acceptance movement.
"Autism awareness" is not a laudable goal. Awareness is cheap. Anybody can put a puzzle piece
magnet on his car and call himself "aware." Being aware and accepting of autistic people as people
instead of puzzles takes more effort.
Many 'flavors' of autism
It's impossible for me to speak for all autistic people on most issues. Autism is a spectrum disorder,
meaning there are as many flavors of autism as there are autistic people. There are, however, a few
things that I feel safe to say on behalf of the one in 166 people who have been diagnosed with an
autism spectrum disorder.
Do not pity us; it accomplishes nothing but harm. Help us by listening to us. Even those of us who
don't or can't speak have plenty to say; we simply need to be given the opportunity. Don't pretend to
know what's going on in our heads if you've never even bothered to ask.
We are not puzzles; we are people. We are not broken; don't fix us. There aren't neurotypical people
trapped inside us, waiting to be unlocked. We're just like you already, except we experience the
Oh, and watching "The Rain Man" doesn't count as research.
That said, I fully support therapies that genuinely help autistic people function in our neurotypical
society. It's just that attempts to "cure" us by making us just like everybody else are misguided at
best. The only thing autism "cures" accomplish is teaching autistic people to act neurotypical while
believing that they are broken.
As Eugene Marcus, an autistic writer, says, "the person who believes 'I will be real when I am
normal' will always be almost a person, but will never make it all the way."
I am real, and I am normal. I'm just not neurotypical.
Now can we please move on to fighting real epidemics?
Lizzy Miller is a spring semester intern at The Advocate.
CopyrightThe Advocate-Messenger 2008