Outstanding Neurotypical Media Allies of 2011
This year there were many neurotypical people who made the world better for people with autism through their work in media, certainly many more than I can mention here. These are a few of the NTs who did the most to advance the image of autistic people in 2011.
Laurent Mottron's "Changing perceptions: The power of autism" successfully challenged how people see us. He makes the case for that even scientists have tended to focus too much on the deficits of autism and argues for our value to employers:
Too often, employers don't realize what autistics are capable of, and assign them repetitive, almost menial tasks. But I believe that most are willing and capable of making sophisticated contributions to society, if they have the right environment.
Amy Harmon of The New York Times embraced the full humanity of autistic people and created complex, accurate portraits that challenged stereotypes: one of Jason Canha, a young man struggling to enter the world of work, and one of Kirsten Lindsmith and Jack Robison, two aspies in love.
Two fathers brought understanding of people like their autistic sons to new levels through their work as producers. Although the depiction of Max Braverman on Parenthood was often problematic when I started writing about the show, it has consistently gotten better and better. Because of Jason Katims, viewers have been given a window into our lives.
In its own understated and thoughtful way, Loving Lampposts is a groundbreaking, even revolutionary film. Instead of stoking fear and panic about an autism epidemic allegedly caused by vaccines, or promoting the efforts to ”recover” children from autism through biomedical treatments as organizations like Generation Rescue do, Loving Lampposts emphasizes the Drezners’ unconditional love for their son just as he is — quirks, weirdnesses, problems at school, and all.
By talking to other parents (including those who are committed to using unproven treatments in the hope that their children will “lose the diagnosis”), pioneers of autism research like Simon Baron-Cohen, and — most importantly — autistic people themselves, the film poses a challenging question: Can you learn to love an autistic child without wanting to “cure” him?
Speaking of Steve Silberman, he has been one of our most engaged and committed allies. His interview with John Elder Robison was chosen for Scientific American's Open Lab anthology and he continued his support for Autistics Speaking Day, this year by featuring an essay from ASAN President Ari Ne'eman.
Steve also selected The Thinking Person's Guide to Autism as book of the year, and its editors have also been among our best friends in the online media. The website speaks for itself. Aspie Carol Greenburg joined the team this year and continues her work as an advocate for girls and women on the spectrum. Non-neurotypical science editor Emily Willingham is one of the most interesting writers around, especially about the intersection of scientific and personal issues. Jennifer Byde Myers' poignant and complex essay "Will My Autistic Son and I Look Like That?" haunts me. Liz Ditz's work on aggregating things like Autistics Speaking Day and responses to TPGA's own dialogue series is essential. And Shannon Des Roches Rosa's "On Parents Listening to Self-Advocates" advances arguments that most neurotypical people have difficulty understanding, much less supporting:
If self-advocates let me know that my efforts are misguided, that is when I have a choice. I can react instantly and defend my intentions -- or I can take a step back, and try to understand why a self-advocate would take offense at something that I worked so hard on, and meant so well by. I can listen to what they are saying, rather than how they are saying it (not always easy). I can try to determine exactly what I have done that is hurtful, and ask how I can avoid doing it again. And I can remind myself that this process, this learning does not equal total and complete agreement (nor should it; if we are truly talking about a meeting of minds).