[I deliver the following without a trace of irony. There is no humor here. Only pain ... and one more crumb of hope.]
Dear Autism Speaks,
In the wake of the Sandy Hook tragedy, my sorrow for you is immeasurable. You are now seeing your very own children demonized in the popular media, and thus, in the minds of an entire generation of Americans. You are beginning to see how this will make your children’s lives even harder. You are seeing how the stigma and social burdens already heaped upon them are now doubled and redoubled with each new slur. And you are seeing how this newly amplified social prejudice and discrimination against your children will not go away. It’s heartbreaking.
Doubly so for us.
We, the adult autistic community, have been trying to warn you about this for years. We have endlessly demanded, pleaded, even begged you to drop your bombastic rhetoric about how “monstrous” autism is, how it “destroys families,” how it’s “a burden on society.” When the public is fed this sort supercharged emotional imagery, they do not connect it with some abstraction called “autism.” They connect it with real people. They connect it with US. All of us, including your children. When the public looks at us, they see our faces and feel the “monstrous” imagery you have instilled in them. In this way, WE become the Monster. And when they see us in this way, they treat us badly. They treat your children badly, as you are now seeing, and as you will continue to see for years and decades to come.
This is how dehumanization works. This is the process called “scapegoating.” This is how paranoid societies wipe out whole populations of innocents without feeling a trace of guilt. This, in all its glory, is the the face of injustice.
And this is what we tried to warn you about. This is what we asked you to help us stop. But you didn’t see any point in listening to the people you claimed to speak for.
For today, at least, it is not you who are doing the demonizing. Indeed, several of your officers have been quite vocal in trying to fight back the “mass-murderers” hysteria by which we have now been permanently branded. But your voices are now swept aside by the media’s torrent, just as our voices have always been swept aside by yours. And it is now too late to stop the tsunami of prejudice that today threatens to drown your very own children. Oh, Autism Speaks, if only you had listened.
But it’s not too late to start.
We are still here. We will always be here. Waiting. It’s time for you to take up the burden in a new way, by learning from us how to be a little bit ‘autistic’ yourselves: by saying what you mean, and by meaning what you say.
And, above all, it’s time for you to listen.
One Unheard Autistic Adult
. . .
For more background and a roundup of responses to the media’s assault on the autism community, please visit:
I Speak of Dreams: Gun Violence and the search for a scapegoat, autism edition