It’s Amazing You’re Here At All

I tell my students I’m autistic.

Usually, I remember to mention it during the first-day introductions, but even when I forget, they tend to figure it out by the third class, if they’re listening to me at all.  The use of the first person plural when I talk about autistic writers tends to give it away.

I mentioned my autism to one of my students last week, in a conversation about how I got into disability studies.  Student’s reaction: “Wow, so it’s amazing you’re here at all.”

I thought, “Yes, but not for the reasons you think.”

Being autistic, in and of itself, doesn’t make it “amazing” that I’m teaching.  That’s unremarkable, really.   The professoriate has always had more than its fair share of autistic teachers, I’m guessing, and there would probably be a fair number more of us if alternate communication means and assorted other accommodations were easier to come by.

It’s amazing I’m here at all not because I’m autistic, but because of the way we treat autistic people.

It’s amazing I’m here at all after a childhood of compliance training, bullying, isolation and total ignorance of my needs.

It’s amazing I’m here at all when the standard approach to autism has been to institutionalize us with “childhood schizophrenia” and announce that we are incapable of human communication or connection.

It’s amazing I’m here at all when the standard of care for autism is currently either torture, poisoning, or both.

It’s amazing I’m here at all when the thrust of the research for decades has been toward eliminating people like me.

It’s amazing I’m here at all when the biggest non-profit in the world with my diagnosis in its name is dedicated almost entirely to helping parents feel sorry for themselves that people like me are born to them.

It’s amazing I’m here at all when, because of all of the above, I made my first concrete plan to kill myself at the age of seven.

Plenty of “autism parents” see that litany and blame my autism – if I weren’t autistic, none of that would have happened, right?  But this misses the point.  Worse, it works as a convenient excuse.  As long as we blame “autism” for the way autistic people are abused, we let their abusers off the hook.

Then, when these same parents turn around and praises me for my accomplishments – “I’m so proud of you,” “It’s amazing you’re here at all,” it feels like a slap in the face.  You’re proud and impressed because I got here in spite of obstacles you created and that you support?

As the luminous Amy Sequenzia might say, Fuck that.

It’s not amazing I’m here at all because I’m autistic.  It’s amazing I’m here at all because I was abused for being autistic – and I’m here in spite of it.  

Imagine how much cooler I’d be if the world sucked less for folks like me.

Now, go make it suck less.


13 thoughts on “It’s Amazing You’re Here At All

  1. I remember when I was first becoming open about my autism diagnosis, I told one of the teachers in an all-autistic classroom at my school, and she basically said something like “Wow if that’s really true you’re incredibly impressive for being able to communicate with me” and I went WTF? in my head but had no way to respond. It actually made me feel guilty for even saying I was autistic, because I knew I’d done nothing impressive, and if saying I was autistic (which at the time I insisted on saying I had atypical autism because I was so afraid of just saying I was autistic, and if anyone questioned me on it I’d go “ATYPICAL autism” with the emphasis on atypical because I thought that was why I wasn’t a stereotype) meant there was something impressive about me, then it felt like I was somehow claiming accomplishments that weren’t mine.

    These days, I realize there is a lot amazing that I made it through a lot and became able to communicate a lot of things, but like you say… not for the reasons people like that teacher think. These days, I also know there’s nothing all that atypical about my autism (and my diagnosis was long ago changed to reflect that fact, there turned out to be reasons behind it that hadn’t been explained to me at the time, not that any of that matters given that all the diagnostic categories are BS anyway), and that I don’t have to hide behind words like “atypical” or “high functioning” in order to justify my abilities, and that saying “autistic” is not saying “it’s amazing that this person can communicate at all”. And I’m also now aware that I did in fact struggle greatly with a lot of things I wasn’t even aware existed at the time that all this went down — things that a lot of autistic people I know didn’t ever have to struggle with, basically huge gaps in my knowledge of the world compared to most people’s understanding of the world. But most of all I have a perspective now that isn’t so individual and medicalized, and is more derived from people in the disability rights and self-advocacy movements. And I’m glad for all of that.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for writing this I was not diagnosed until my teens, so I did not get that form of treatment, but I was misdiagnosed as ADHD and put on a boat load of meds, which did nothing for me.


  3. I will congratulate us for being here at all on the basis that at some point my dad and my aunt realized they had no idea where their brother was, and then that first the Navy life insurance people, after Grandma died, and then the federal government when they were working on determining my aunt’s security clearance came up empty. The last we heard his ex-wife let us know he was in the hospital. She would obviously have called if something had gone wrong with that stay. Or one of the searches would have found the record.

    Bob Ross’ “Joy of Painting” is on a few times a week. All those happy little trees and their friends. I got the message that I was welcome at brainy things and the other serious students wanted me in group projects, but I would be basically ignored anywhere else. I am trying very hard to unlearn this. I have been going to things in the “brainy” category for years, and started coming to the social ones. Me, my canes or wheelchair, my assistance dog. One person picks me up for most of them, others have made sure I know how to reach them if she can’t. They do so much to help me be there. They don’t imagine that they are my social life, them and the Internet. That there isn’t a second tree, other than my parents and dog and far-flung relatives. They assume that others have always done what they are. They are too great to realize that they are doing something that is, to me, unique.


  4. Being a teacher be optimistic towards your students, utmost respect and a yearning to learn all that you have to offer is the only concern in the rising kids eyes. Students notice you’re real and really care. You have been put into the strongest currents in this era’s flow of society and independent individuals like yourself are the only ones who can help others. Thank you for staying with us, we love and need what you have 🙂


    1. I wasn’t going to respond to this comment, since I think it was made with the best intentions. But you’re so dramatically off track at a few points here that I need to speak up.

      utmost respect and a yearning to learn all that you have to offer is the only concern in the rising kids eyes

      Wouldn’t it be so great if this were true? It’s not. My students (high school and college alike) have a thousand other concerns. Some are less important than learning, some are way MORE important.

      I coach in a public school district where over half our kids are on free or reduced lunch. This means that some of my kids show up to practice not having gotten their last meal and not sure where the next one is coming from. Nearly half live with people who are not their parents – some of them in extremely perilous and/or transient circumstances. I can’t do so much as ask them to buy matching headbands or supply their own hairspray without making sure they can all afford it. I do more fundraising now than I ever have in my life, and I spend more out of pocket on my kids than I ever have in my life.

      I’m optimistic about them as people. They are, every one of them, fantastic humans. But I’m realistic about their opportunities and, more importantly, about their NEEDS. When they know they won’t get dinner or aren’t sure where they’re sleeping tonight, their concerns are A LOT bigger than learning how to toss a rifle. I have to respect that in order to earn their respect in return.

      You have been put into the strongest currents in this era’s flow of society and independent individuals like yourself are the only ones who can help others.

      That’s…nice? That and a dollar will get me a soda.

      Most people who talk fancy words about the importance of teaching don’t realize: teaching is HARD WORK. I have worked in Customs. I have been an insurance litigation attorney. I’ve literally shoveled shit for a living. And I have never worked as hard, or for less pay per hour, than I do as a teacher. Never.

      Nice words are nice, and I’m sure you mean them in the nicest way. But I guarantee you that as a profession, we teachers are pretty sick of hearing them. Instead of stroking our egos, please aim your words at your nearest state legislator to get our cost-of-living increases, health insurance, and pensions restored. Then I’ll know you really value teachers.


Comments are closed.