Stuart Duncan, who recently acknowledged his own Asperger's syndrome, explains why it is important for us to listen to those we disagree with:
Autism is not a superpower. Autism is not a curse.
It’s a spectrum of different stories ranging from one end to the other and only those who take the time to listen will be able to truly understand it.
It’s people. Autistic or not. Happy or not. Angry or not. They’re all people.
And they might not understand us. They might not agree with us. They might not accept us.
That doesn’t mean that we can’t take the time to understand them. All we have to do is listen.
That’s what understanding and acceptance is.
Todd Drezner brings the cutting edge of autism acceptance to The Huffington Post by rejecting discussions of hypothetical children to focus on the real lives of autistic people like his son Sam.
There are three hypothetical children in Todd's essay, each of whom he finds less compelling than Sam himself. There's the "indistinguishable from his peers" autistic child with no visible traces of autism that some parents and many professionals hope successful treatment will create. There's the typically developing "real" child that some adults claim that regressive autism has taken away.
But it's Dr. Will Clower's question about another hypothetical child, the one that Todd and his wife might not choose to have after a kid like Sam is born, that causes the writer to challenge our thinking:
By conjuring this child into even temporary existence, Dr. Clower made some dangerous assumptions about the child I actually have. After all, the whole premise of the question is that there is something wrong with Sam, something that my wife and I wouldn't want in a second child. It assumes that the reason to have a second child would be to somehow achieve what we did not achieve with Sam -- a "normal" child. And it assumes that not doing so would be a failure that would further compound the "failure" we had with Sam.
It ought to go without saying that people have or don't have children for all sorts of reasons. (Like most decisions here in New York City, it's based at least 50 percent on real estate). There's no way to know exactly why a couple decides to have or not have children, and there's certainly no reason to draw any conclusions about autism based on those decisions.
It seems equally off base to make decisions about treating autism based on the "normal" children we hope our children will become or once were. It seems to me that this is why a group of autistic self advocates and their allies has tried to rebrand April's Autism Awareness Month as Autism Acceptance Month. Perhaps acceptance seems like a rather uninspiring goal. But when many conversations about you are about how to make the world have fewer people like you, acceptance can seem like a pretty good idea. I believe that many autistic people are asking that we stop concentrating on the hypothetical people and start listening to the real ones.
Brenda Rothman at Mama Be Good defines Autism Acceptance:
Acceptance isn't a mere willingness to tolerate someone else. It's not simply an acknowledgement of an individual's existence and of their difference. It is not a passive agreement to be civil or to put up with a difficult situation or an idea that you don't agree with.
Acceptance of autism is acceptance of an autistic person. Of a person. Of your child, a family member, a neighbor, a student, a co-worker, a stranger.
Acceptance is recognizing and appreciating their autism. It is talking about autism with autistics, asking them what works for them, what bothers them, what delights them, what you can do to make their lives easier, to make their day more comfortable, to create supports for them. Acceptance is learning from autistic individuals.