Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Controversial New Movement: Autistic and Proud

Well, it is controversial from ABC News' point of view.

I am not normally a viewer of Good Morning America, but I was alerted to this story broadcast this morning, by Kristina Chew, author of the excellent Autism Vox blog. She and Ari Ne'eman were interviewed, and I suspect that a lot ended up on the cutting-room floor. The video and a transcript are here.

The thing that annoyed me about this was the adversarial tone that the interviewer took with Mr. Ne'eman and Prof. Chew. The interviewer, Deborah Roberts, sounded incredulous when both of them, in separate interviews, told her that they were not interested in a cure for autism.

Now, I am going to tread into some very dangerous ground. Deborah Roberts is African American. What would her response be if someone told her that there should be a cure for being Black? Although racial prejudice is far less of a problem today than it was when she was born (1960), it is still something that African Americans have to deal with. What if she could be "cured" of being Black and be transformed into being White? This way, she would no longer have to face discrimination due to her skin color. Would she want to do this?

I think that this sort of research would be considered monstrous by people of all races. Even though there are still enormous problems with racial bigotry in this country, we have also made a great deal of progress. I highly doubt that any African American would want to change who he or she is.

Just as being Black is a very large part Ms. Roberts' identity, being an Asperger is a big part of who I am. Just as being Black has affected how Ms. Roberts grew up and learned to deal with the world, being an Asperger has affected how I developed and learned how to come up with ways to deal with a society that was not really built for me and others on the spectrum.

I did not mean to make anyone uncomfortable by drawing these parallels. Racism is one of those topics, I suppose, that nice people are not supposed to talk about. I believe that that is an intellectually dishonest position. The Autism Rights movement needs to draw from the experiences of the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 60s, as well as the Gay Rights movement of the 1970s and 80s, if we are to get anywhere.


Cliff Schumacher said...

You're very right here, and I've said similar things a few times myself. In fact, I think one thing the neurodiversity movement would be suited to do better with is to draw on the support of those groups who have dealt with different forms of discrimination, where there would be an understanding and solidarity.

Chromesthesia said...

So true. I don't think I'd want my blackness "Cured" I rather like my skin colour. I would not want my synesthesia cured either. By trying to make people "normal" one can't help but think society would lose out somehow without being aware of it.