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.