Ignorance is NOT bliss.. at least not for the Autism Community.
Last night, while reading a favorite blog of mine, “Mostly True Stuff”, I was introduced to a different type of ignorance. A different type of hate. And it hurt. It hurt badly.
After the happenings at Sandyhook Elementary in Newtown, CT autism was once again thrown around as a cause for planned violence. As a reason for the heart breaking insanity that went on within the walls of the school that day. I heard one person say that autism is a precursor to mental illness and schizophrenia. I heard another say that autistics are inherently violent due to their anti-social behaviors. I read a post on twitter saying “Try curing the real disease, AUTISM, not the N.R.A.” Although I tried my best to kindly correct these people it ended there. I didn’t want to blog about this. I didn’t want to feed into the “autism as a cause” conversation too much. I didn’t want to reply because in doing so, I felt, I would be giving such a ludicrous idea as that justification. I felt that in doing so, I would be in some way defending something that doesn’t need, or deserve, to have to be defended. Sadly, after the ignorance that I read last night I can no longer hope that “autism as a cause” will fall to the wayside. I can no longer hope that people will realize the error in that assumption. “Autism as a cause” is still a prevalent conversation. It is still being thrown around. And it still isn’t correct.
New groups have popped up on Facebook. Groups with names like “If we get 50 likes we’ll set an Aspie on fire” (“Aspie” is a term used by the autism community to define people with Asperger’s, a high functioning form of Autism.) Groups called “Cure Autism, Save Children From Psychokillers.” Or, “The Truth About Autism: (which goes on to say) ..Autism is mercury induced brain damage that causes the victim to smear feces, bash their heads through walls and into cement, scream in excruciating pain for hours each day and go through life without ever learning how to speak, read, write, use a toilet, communicate in any appreciable manner or get laid. Autism sucks. There is nothing good about it.” These groups, which are made up of people, speak their thoughts and spread an ignorant message of hate; a message totally unfounded in fact.
Autism or not, I don’t understand why Mia and the autism community should be held accountable for the actions of one person. Just as we, the neuro-typical, are held no more accountable for the crimes committed by the people in the neurologically typical community. I understand that people are confused by this unjustifiable action. They are looking for a scapegoat. But why does there need to be a scapegoat? Why look any further than the man who committed the crime himself? Why place the blame on the shoulders of someone else? I don’t know the answers to these questions. I wish I did..
After reading all this, I was so hurt. I was so sad. I was so dejected. I was so outraged that I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t even know how to react. Thankfully, there was already a group of people out there fighting against this injustice. They saw hope for the future in the face of their anger. They knew how to change the conversation. They started trolling Facebook and asking them to take down these hurtful and misinformed hate speech groups. They started blogging about their experiences being autistic or parenting autistic children. They started snapping photos of themselves, of their children, of their autistic parents even. On these photos they wrote little bios of what they were like. They wrote “This is Autism” at the bottom. They effectively realized that the only way we can stop an inaccurate message such as that from spreading is by putting the REAL faces of the autism community out there, one by one. Individually. To show the world what autism truly looks like.
I joined the bandwagon. I made one of Mia and submitted it to their website and facebook page. You can now go there now and see the face of my happy bumble bee among the masses. (You can even leave her a message here.) These places show a beautiful out pouring of love. They preach a message of respect, tolerance, and understanding. I just hope it is enough.
After I did this though I realized that I had made a fundamental mistake in my own blog. Although I have said time and time again that Mia is NOT only autism. That she only HAS autism. That although it defines her reactions to certain things it does not define her. But, I never once set about writing a post of what my Mia is really like, aside from autism. I have never told you what she likes. I have never told you what she doesn’t like. I have never told you of her amazing characteristics or the funny things she says. I have effectively robbed you of knowing Mia fully because I have focused too heavily on her autism. So, in my own small way I am going to fight back against this hate speech by writing what my autistic daughter is really like, aside from her autism. I am going to finally let you in. I am going to finally introduce to you, the extraordinary, amazingly special, little girl that is Mia.
Mia loves to swim. She asks to go to the beach about once a week, no matter what the season. I would bring her too except I know she will try to jump into the icy waters. She likes the summer months. And playing outside. Her favorite color is blue. She is silly. This year when I asked her what she wanted to be for Halloween she replied “A chocolate cake.” We finally opted for a bumble bee, a more appropriate costume choice. She thoroughly enjoys wearing her bumble bee costume whenever she can. She loves Santa. She trusts in people, maybe a little bit too much. She is gentle. She likes school and loves her teacher. She enjoys playing on her iPad, lining up her toys, making things out of playdough and playing hide-n- seek for hours on end. She loves Phineas and Ferb, Dora the Explorer, My Little Pony, Rugrats and a million more kid’s shows. She has an amazing memory. She likes to spell and read books. She likes computer games and scripting lines from TV shows and movies.
She loves animals and can name more of them than you or I (this is a promise.) She can also tell you what animal that particular animal is “afraid of” (which in layman’s terms means whichever animal is a predator to the said animal.) She loves our dog Henry and can often be heard calling him “Come here Henry!” Mia absolutely loves singing, McDonald’s french fries and Shamrock Shakes (a mint flavored milkshake dyed green). She is an amazing artist, her pictures hang all around our house and one even hangs in the halls of her school. She loves spending time with her Grandparents, or as she calls them, her Mimi and Poppi. She loves playing in the snow. The sun on her face. She calls my cousin Nathan, her best friend – “Best friend Nathan.” Mia enjoys riding her adaptive bike at school. She has an amazing smile. She warms the hearts of many. Mia loves baking cookies and banana bread – she really likes telling me the order in which we need to put the ingredients into the bowl.
She abhors violence, and I am not just saying this in light of the topic, I am saying this because it is truth. I have mistakenly watched things that have minimal violence in her presence (like someone punching someone) and she is very disturbed by it – covering her eyes with her hands and immediately climbing under a blanket for comfort in a confined space. Mia loves playing at the park. Mia loves unconditionally, easily, and freely. She never judges people, although she is judged by people that don’t even know her, a thousand times a day by a thousand different people. Mia forgives easily. Mia laughs with disregard. She is not embarrassed of who she is. She does not care what someone looks like, or how they dress, if they engage her one on one she will most definitely acknowledge them. She in turn likes being acknowledged and accepted. She wants more friends.
She says funny things from time to time like “uh-oh I’m in trouble.” She likes kissing me when we take pictures together. She likes wearing my shoes around the house – boots, sandals and high heels. She loves cuddling and yoga. Mia thinks her father is the funniest person alive. She knows how to take advantage of us by flashing her toothless grin. Mia is happy. She helps me trap and save insects hopelessly stuck inside the house during the summer months because both her and I can not kill them. Mia, quite literally, wouldn’t purposely hurt a fly.
I really hope that each and every one of you after reading this understands that there is a unique and valuable person underneath the title of autism. Most likely a kind, gentle, loving person. I hope you understand that autism is not a precursor to planned violence; to the contrary autistics are more likely to have a violent act performed upon them.
If you are wondering what you can do to help? You can head over to “Autism Shines” on facebook and like them. You can share Mia’s picture on your facebook page by clicking here. Next time you see someone say that autistics are more likely to commit a heinous crime than a neuro-typical you can give them the facts (which you can learn by clicking any of these links, “Don’t fear Autism because of the Newtown Tragedy.” or “Fearing a Stigma for People with Autism.” or “Autism Facts.”)
If you have children, or teach small children, and you are forced to lead a discussion about a mass murderer you can help by never again explaining autism and that person in the same way. “Their brain works differently than ours” is a way I have heard people explain to their children how, and why, my daughter is different. And I have recently heard those same words being used to describe a man who committed a horrendous act. Words are strong. They shape the way we view people, places and things. Please, never ever describe my daughter the same way you would describe a psychopath. When you describe them in the same way you are unknowingly linking the two. And if you do, don’t be surprised when the told child has a hard time accepting an autistic kid. What we tell our children today, matters for our tomorrow.
The easiest way you can help is by doing what you just did. By reading this. Because by being introduced to someone with autism, by knowing what autism really looks like, you are helping. By not believing, or forwarding, any of the falsity being openly paraded as truth, you are helping.