When you blame autism on brain damage, you harm every Autistic person who exists
Autism elicits a wide range of responses from people. In the Autistic community, we are relatively protected from harmful views on our existence if we wish to be. For many of us, however, there is the ever-present threat of our existence being used to enforce beliefs that are overtly harmful.
People have argued ad nauseum about the “cause” of autism. Vaccines, radiation, antenatal intake of paracetamol use. In one particularly bizarre twist, I was told that Peppa Pig causes autism. That was an odd conversation. Regardless of what may or may not have led to the existence of Autistic people, these narratives are incredibly harmful.
When people look for a cause, what they are really asking is “how is this person damaged?”
We have been positioned as living tragic loves, devoid of humanity; mindless automatons that express no love and feel nothing that can be quantified by our neurotypical carers. We are placed into the role of perpetual burden, afflicted by an abstract concept that has stolen our parents wishes for our future.
This isn’t to say that all Autistic people have the privileges I do. I am a relatively well-educated, white, cis-gendered, perceptible male person. I am what is usually expected of an Autistic person (on the surface at least). Many of us exist at multiple intersections. We have differing support and care needs, we have a variety of co-existing diagnoses, we come from various races, social groups, gender identities.
Autism doesn’t discriminate in who it affects because it doesn’t exist as a separate entity. In literal terms, autism doesn’t exist. It’s not some invisible force that steals us away from the world. It’s at the core of how we experience the world and embody ourselves. Autistic people do exist, and writing our stories as a Shakespearian tragedy serves no purpose than to make our lives harder.
The idea that we existed “pre-autism”, that we were something different before becoming different hurts. It places us in the position of feeling less valuable. We live in a world that is increasingly throwing away things that break. If we’re broken, when will you throw us away?
Rather than fixate on why we are the way we are, why not accept that we are here as we are. Instead of pouring efforts into preventing us, into identifying what broke us, that energy could be spent helping us thrive. Thriving doesn’t have to mean working full time and raising an army of children. The time that is spent on prevention of people like me could instead be spent on working out what thriving looks like amongst the diverse Autistic community, and how it might be achieved.
Autistic people deserve to exist. No human exists to be moulded into a comfortable shape for others, so why do we hold Autistic people to a higher standard? Why do we focus on the discomfort that our existence causes for normative society?
Perhaps the time has come to look to our shared goals and to move beyond the world of pathology.
I am different, not damaged.