When “Awareness” is Ableist.
Last week, I did a post about a video that was going viral. I said then, and still think, that it’s ableist. Not to pat myself on the back (ok, maybe a little), the well-known activist Alice Wong agreed with me and shared my post. Her group even included trigger warnings for the original video, they felt it was that bad. April is Autism “Awareness” Month, which I’ve grown to loathe. It should be April is “spread negative stereotypes about autism” month.
But, my goal isn’t to beat up other moms, unlike what you may read about me on the video threads. My goal is to educate. Sometimes the truth is uncomfortable. So, staying true to my mission, I wanted to point out some well-intended Autism Awareness materials that are actually ableist.
Change has to start with us, moms. We are the front line in how our kids are perceived. It’s not about us, it’s about our kids. I just want people to be aware of subtle messaging that tells society that our kids are a negative thing.
I know that I’m a “don’t sweat the small stuff” kind of person, and this might seem like small stuff. But, an ongoing series of small things leads to big things–like how our kids are treated in society.
I just want everyone to be aware of stuff like this. I’m sure that the creators of these messages thought that they were helping. But in a subtle way, they are hurting the cause. Next time you’re asked for your input on something like this, read it carefully. Like I said, change starts with us.
Autism Awareness Materials that are actually ableist.
First, looking for these wasn’t hard at all. A quick Google and Pinterest search gave me more than I wanted. I am not linking to the source, again, my idea isn’t to beat people up, but to create awareness. I’m sure that they were well-intended. Please note that yes, some contain spelling errors. Some of the spelling errors are British/European language differences.
The Signs of Autism-examples of ableist language.
- If you know me, you know why this one is first on the list. I’ve circled in red what bothers me most. “Inappropriate” play with toys. Why such a negative word? Who gets to decide what is appropriate? I have several Facebook friends who are just gaga over all things Disney. They’re in their 40s. Why doesn’t anyone get on them for being inappropriate? What has to be age appropriate about liking something?
- Then they go on to “inability” to relate to others? Why is it the autistic kid’s fault? Isn’t it a two way street? Don’t the neurotypicals have an “inability” to relate to him? If we are so intellectually and neurologically superior to autistic people, why can’t we relate to them? Why is it their fault and not ours?
- Lastly, and I didn’t circle it, but the kid and the leaf. The word “strange.” I actually have a cousin who had this same hyperinterest, he loved to touch leaves and plants. Why can’t we call it different, instead of strange? Again, a negative connotation. Strange people are, well, strange. To be feared.
Ableist word choices-The components of autism.
Ugh. So much negativity!
- First, I think I counted the word “poor” or “poorly” seven or eight times in the whole infographic. If the word poor isn’t a negative word, I don’t know what is.
- Then, “behavior difficulties.” To that I say: All behavior tells you something, what is the behavior telling you? Back to number 2 above, if we are superior as non-autistic, why aren’t we able to assist our kids with this?
- Social rejection and isolation? By whom? My son and many others like him, love to be around other kids. They are not usually the ones doing the rejecting. Why is it the autistic kid’s fault that he’s rejected?
Lovely Autism Fact (??) Sheet
I genuinely feel sad for the people who live in this province, and this is the local agency they turn to for assistance. And remember, these are proclaimed autism facts. This is what people are reading as truth.
- Impairment, Impaired. Is it? Or are we the ones who are impaired because we don’t know how to relate.
- The circled paragraph of bullet points: there’s so much ableism in there, I don’t know where to begin. It makes people with autism sound simple horrible people to be around, doesn’t it?
- Negative word count: failure, lacking ability, awkward, avoidant, inability, socially embarrassing, impaired, markedly impaired, lack of…
I cannot find one positive sentence in this so-called “autism fact sheet.”
Ableist Autism infographic-saving the worst for last.
Jeezy peezy. Look at what I circled in the middle, where it says “Common Behaviors Associated with Autism.”
Please find one positive statement about people with autism in that section. Or even the whole thing. Just one. I’ll wait.
Better word choices to describe people who are different or have autism:
Maybe you’re thinking, “Well, what should we say then?”
Unconventional, unusual, different, differing, novel, uncommon, unlike, offbeat, unsimilar, various, colorful.
I’ll stop now, you likely have a thesaurus.
Edited to add:
A reader sent me this. Much better attempt! I find it a little patronizing, but it’s much better than the above examples.