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Divide and Conquer

Posted Jul 31 2009 11:54am
So you have a minority group that's getting uppity. What's your best bet? Well, you divide the minority into two groups.Then you say one group is better than the other.

Doesn't matter what the division is; you can make it totally arbitrary and it'll still work. If the two groups buy it, they turn on each other. Simple, and your work is being done for you. It's a very efficient strategy.

What, you think it wouldn't work? I'm seeing it work in the autism community, and it's not pretty.

The divide-and-conquer high versus low functioning or autism versus mental illness or high IQ versus low or whatever dividing line they happen to think of keeps everybody down, not just the designated "lower" group. You've got your "lower" group fighting your "higher" group for not "really" being part of the group at all, and your "higher" group fighting to tell everybody they're not part of the "lower" group so they're actually OK, and the people who want the lot of you put in your place are sitting back with a very satisfied expression on their faces.

(Let's say "low-functioning autistic" is "an autistic person who needs an aide most or all of the time"--that is, extensive or pervasive support. Of course people move in and out of that category but it's the only possible definition that I can see that has any relevance at all. Functioning labels have very little meaning for any other purpose than answering the question, "How much help does this person need?" and then only if defined concretely rather than stereotyped. Hey, you don't even have to divide people into actually clear categories for this thing to work!)

The idea that Aspies are somehow "better" than "LFA" is ridiculous. Most of us agree on that point--that both groups have the same human rights and the right to keep your own brain the way you want it, make your own decisions, and direct your own life.

We definitely need to stick up for each other. Those of us who require limited or intermittent support need to stick up for the rights of the people who need more than that. Those of us who need a lot of help shouldn't devalue the importance of proper services for those who only need a little. Neither group should say the other is "not really autistic"--yes, autism is a huge, broad spectrum, a big group, and it makes sense to say just how diverse we are; but since when has diversity been a reason to deny rights to anyone? Oh, it's been an excuse, sure, but it's not a reason.

Two more divide-and-conquer strategies I can see: Autism versus disability; and autism versus mental illness.

The first split is often touched off by the fact that some autistic people are not disabled and do not need any extra services. It's common enough to be in that category as an adult if you are on the border of diagnosis as a child. The problem here is that when non-disabled autistics disavow the rest of the spectrum or put down their very real disabilities as "comorbids", the disabled autistics end up being told, basically, "Let's cure you and turn you into an AS/HFA." That's just as bad as trying to turn an Aspie into NT, every bit as much of a violation. It also implies the very idea that the autism rights movement probably hates the most: Individuality and the right to learn and think as you were meant to isn't nearly as important as not being disabled.

Autism versus mental illness: Yes. We know autism isn't a psychological disorder; it's neurological. Fact remains, though, that like many mental illnesses, it comes out in behavioral and cognitive symptoms. And many mental illnesses are nearly as highly genetic as autism. No, we're not "crazy", but why the idea that not having a mental illness makes us any better than those who do? Many of us do have mental illnesses--there's enough vulnerability, what with the social isolation and vulnerability to abuse--but even those of us who don't shouldn't think that makes autistics superior to someone with a mental illness.

The fundamental difference between autism and some mental illnesses is that the mental illness happens after the personality is developed, an unwelcome intrusion, and the person would like to go back to thinking the way they did before. But the freedom to choose your treatment and be treated with respect by professionals, is the same whether you are autistic or mentally ill. People who are too psychotic to make clear decisions should be treated with the exact same respect as people who are too autistic to communicate their decisions--and the exact same respect as those who are thinking clearly and communicating efficiently.

The right to make your own choices, and to be taught to communicate your choices, exists whether you are mildly or profoundly disabled, whether you are autistic, mentally ill, or both. There is no reason why autistic people of all sorts cannot agree on at least that, and work together to achieve it.

There's a big opportunity staring us all in the face, and we don't seem to be picking up on it: People with disabilities of all sorts, and people with mental illnesses, are fighting just about the same battle the autistic people are fighting. The same exact things would benefit us all. We're all in danger of being unemployed or underemployed even when we have the desire and ability to work. We're all in danger of having to live in institutions just to survive, or even being put into them totally against our will. We're all socially ostracised, but extremely small adjustments to a world that wasn't made for us could let us participate just as well as anyone.

Why in the world are we passing that up? Who gets more done--a lot of little fragmented groups fighting against each other for no good reason, or a big group that can force the world to listen?
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