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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.

The reality of how cure culture interrupts the neurodiversity movement
Scene from X-Men

Rogue enters and says "Is it true professor, they can cure us?"

Professor X answers "Yes, Rogue. It appears to be true"

Storm intersects "No, Professor. They can't cure us. You wanna know why? Because there's nothing to cure, nothing wrong with you. Or any of us, for that matter".
Scene from X-men

The above scene is quite poinient to the topic of this article. Here we have Rogue, a mutant who kills everything she touches, and Storm, who can control the weather.

One might be forgiven for not necessarily seeing the connection between this and Autistic experience, but it is in fact a very good allegory for the battle between the normative violence of cure culture, and the neuroqueering approach of a lot of the Autistic community. Rogue and storm disagree on the benefits of a cure because they both have different profiles of how they embody their Self and experience the world.

In much the same way, Autistic people who support cure culture are ostracised and spoken poorly of. I’m going to let you in on something, I used to be one of then. I longed for someone to make me “normal”. I was tired of being the outsider. I, of course, was lucky enough to discover the Autistic community. I learned how to co-exist with my particular profile of traits and intersections. I was taught how to make the best of being a marginalised person, and came to see the harmfulness of cure culture.

Not everyone has had the access to the community I have had.

There in lies the crux of the matter. The cult of normality, peddlers of normative oppression, face less scrutiny while our energies are spent fighting amongst ourselves. While hearing the harmful views of those who are yet to dismantle their internalised ableism is difficult, we need to give them the space to learn and grow with us. If we are fighting each other, we are not fighting the system.

This isn’t to say that we should excuse or accept harmful words or behaviour, more a commentary on the idea that everyone is at a different stage on their journey of discovery and growth. Much as we were brought in from the harsh cold of society, we need to create a space where those with less knowledge and self-acceptance are willing to listen to us and grow alongside us.

Cure culture has done so much harm. From the children being fed bleach, to the trauma Autistics experience hearing those stories, to the civil wars in our own communities. We need to find a way of showing that we understand.

This is what we need to understand; all of us have our own unique experience of being Autistic. Much as Rogue and Storm has vastly different experiences of being mutants, not every Autistic person has a profile of traits and intersections that is congruent with our own. Some of us have been so traumatised that we can not come to terms with our Self. We need to help people come to love who they are, even if that person has more negative experiences than we do.

We need to consider how we create a world that truly accommodates diversity, and not just the pretty, idealistic version of diversity that sells t-shirts and pays lip service during company diversity campaigns.

Autism “cure” culture and normative violence

TRIGGER WARNING: This article contains detailed discussion of harmful “cures”. It also mentions ABA, MMS, Chelation, and has in depth discussion around normative society and the murder of Autistic people.

For as long as I have been an advocate, many of my fellow Autistics have spoken out against cure culture. From Applied Behavioural Analysis (ABA) to Miracle Mineral Solution (MMS), there are myriad “treatments” that claim to purge the autism from autistic people. I could speak at length about the direct harm that these quack interventions inflict, but there is a deeper level of conversation to be had.

We are engaged, at present, in a culture war. On the one hand, we have Autistic culture which teaches us to be neurologically queer in every sense of the words. Be ourselves, connect with the self and express it in a way that honors our neurocognitice style. On the other hand, is cure culture.

Cure culture teaches us that who we are is broken, deficient, unrelentingly burdensome. Curists would have you believe that our lives are empty, broken, that we are trapped in a living death. Alive but somehow non-existent. The discourse around autism “cures” is dominated by non-autistic people who believe they are performing acts of mercy by pouring bleach solutions down our throats, and chelation drugs into our veins.

All of these things are a form of violence against a minority group that simply wants to live in peace. A minority group that intersects with many other oppressed demographics.

This is why Autistics get angry, this is why our lives revolve around our Autistic identity. Not only do we have to be Autistic in a world that desires normativity, we have to justify why we shouldn’t be tortured and murdered by people that are often (incorrectly) described as “well-meaning”. We constantly have to justify our existence. We are begging to be allowed to live while the world at large seeks to destroy us.

And yes, my Autistic self is defined by that which they seek to remove. Remove the autism, and you remove the person. Autism doesn’t even exist, only the Autistic-self exists. I am Autistic, not a person with a fucking carry-on bag where I store my quirks.

Do you want to know why pretty much every Autistic person you meet is at some level of burnout? It’s because we are dealing with this bullshit every second, of every minute. Every hour, of every day. By their nature, our lives require us to educate people on why we should be allowed to carry on existing. Have you tried to every account while teaching literally everyone you meet why being Autistic is not something to be grieved and/or corrected? It’s exhausting.

This is the culture war that we are fighting. We have no choice but to join the frontlines. We have to raise our voices above those who would speak over us.

After all, isn’t the whole point to leave a better world for our progeny?

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