Autistic Future
April 28th, 2019

More Than What We Oppose

April has nev­er been my favorite month in the Autis­tic com­mu­ni­ty. I go through the motions as best I can because engag­ing in the rit­u­als is part of belong­ing. This year, con­cerned about vis­i­bil­i­ty, I went as far as mak­ing a ban­ner to hang on my front stoop and buy­ing the most out­ra­geous­ly fun Autis­tic pride stick­er* I could find for my car. Still, I remain skep­ti­cal of how we do April. The reclaimed con­cept of an accep­tance month is cer­tain­ly an improve­ment on #AutismAware­ness, but it does­n’t come close to what it could, and should, become. Even in our alter­na­tive April activ­i­ties, the month fails to live up to what it should be. It will con­tin­ue to do so unless we change our approach.

The real­i­ty of the sit­u­a­tion is that April was brand­ed Autism Accep­tance Month sole­ly because it was Autism Aware­ness Month first. Med­ical mod­el orga­ni­za­tions lit things up blue and described the Autis­tic exis­tence as a tragedy and a bur­den, an inher­ent obsta­cle to full human flour­ish­ing. For obvi­ous rea­sons, Autis­tic adults found this both offen­sive and threat­en­ing. It offend­ed us because it deval­ued the good lives many of us live. It threat­ened us because any nar­ra­tive that sug­gests lives like ours are not worth liv­ing moves peo­ple to try to pre­vent lives like ours. If enough of main­stream soci­ety accepts that nar­ra­tive, the day may well come when there are no more lives like ours. Promi­nent state­ments about aware­ness in pub­lic places and on social media made #Aware­ness impos­si­ble to escape and April exhaust­ing and dispir­it­ing for many Autis­tic adults.

For those rea­sons, we tried to push back. This was, and is, right and nec­es­sary as part of the strug­gle for con­trol of the nar­ra­tive that is our strug­gle for peo­ple like us con­tin­u­ing to exist in the long run, our col­lec­tive sense of self-respect, and many indi­vid­ual Autis­tics’ abil­i­ty to cope. As long as April is asso­ci­at­ed with an uptick in anti-Autis­tic ableism, we will have to respond to it in our com­mu­ni­ca­tions with the wider soci­ety. Inter­nal­ly, though, respond­ing to out­side ableism isn’t enough. Oppos­ing ableism and the med­ical mod­el’s pro­posed answer to the “prob­lem” of Autis­tic peo­ple is nec­es­sary but not suf­fi­cient for our com­mu­ni­ty’s long-term sur­vival. We also need a nar­ra­tive that draws peo­ple in. If our com­mu­ni­ty is to last for gen­er­a­tions to come, it has to be an appeal­ing group to join. It must come with a sense of pride, sup­port, and shared expe­ri­ence. A com­mon threat is not a healthy, desir­able, or durable long-term identity. 

The crux of my prob­lem with April is that we spend it respond­ing to ableism not just when we face the rest of the world but among our­selves. We miss the oppor­tu­ni­ty to cel­e­brate who we are. I don’t have a coher­ent plan for mak­ing next April more enjoy­able and pro­duc­tive with­in our com­mu­ni­ty, but col­or­ful ban­ners and Autis­tic pride swag seem like part of the solu­tion. So, too are rev­el­ing in memes, jokes, writ­ing, and art, break­ing bread togeth­er, get­ting ready for Autreat, and men­tor­ing new­er activists. We can’t sus­tain pro­tect­ing our com­mu­ni­ty unless we have some­thing worth pro­tect­ing, some­thing warm, human, and real, at its heart. In April, we still tend to fall into talk­ing more about what we oppose than who we are, what we want the world to be. That can­not con­tin­ue. We deserve, and need, some­thing bet­ter: an April that is more about us.

*This is not an affil­i­ate link. I just love it.