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It's hard to talk about.

Posted Dec 31 2012 10:04pm
I guess I'm expected to post some kind of response to the Newtown shootings. About how some people say the shooter had autism. About how autistic people aren't any more likely to be violent. About how autism doesn't skew your sense of morality, or cause you not to care about others. I've had a lot of trouble putting my thoughts together, though.

In one way, I feel like I've said it all already. I posted on WrongPlanet, explaining how scientists have found that autistic people are no more likely to commit crimes than the average person (and classic autistics much less likely to do so). I've explained how autistic people are just as compassionate as neurotypicals--that you can learn moral reasoning without constantly feeling other people's emotions. I've explained that autistic murderers, just like neurotypical murderers, choose to do what they do. And I've mentioned that while the shooter is only rumored to be autistic (with no diagnostic paperwork available), two of his child victims were definitely autistic.

People like to comfort themselves with the idea that a sane, rational person could never commit mass murder. But the fact is... sane, rational people do commit mass murder. Human beings really are capable of doing that kind of thing. We're also capable of throwing ourselves on grenades to save our squad, smuggling Jews out of Nazi-occupied territory, or diving into icy water to save a drowning child. Human beings are complex. Our minds are powerful. My cats can be mean or spiteful, but they cannot be truly evil; they can be friendly or comforting, but not truly good. Humans, with our great complexity, are capable of both good and evil. And sometimes, we choose evil. On occasion, an autistic person chooses evil. He does so because he is human, not because he is autistic.

My gut reaction to Newtown was, "I want to fix this. I want to get in a time machine, go back in time, and save everyone. I want to stop it from  happening. I want to take everyone away to somewhere where it's safe." I may not have a strong emotional reaction to tragedy, but that doesn't change my deep desire to prevent it or at least to comfort the people involved.

But I've said all of this before.

Lots of people are talking about how they don't feel safe admitting to having autism anymore. But maybe, to break through the prejudice that faces us every day, we have to have the courage to be open about who we are, rather than trying to pass as typical.

Whether, after this, you choose to hide your autism as best you can... That's a personal decision. I'm single--I haven't got children that could be taken away from me, nor a job I could be fired from. I'm female, short, round, and don't look dangerous. And yet, just for being mentally ill, I've already been expelled from college, fired from a job, and treated like a not-quite human. I can see the temptation of staying quiet. Maybe if I had children to worry about, I might decide to hide my autism for fear of being taken for a potential psychopath.

In a way, though, I do have children to worry about--those autistic children in the next generation who, if the world isn't taught now that autistic people are fellow human beings, will have to face the same stigma that we face now. If I can just be an example of an everyday autistic person--one who cares about others and values human life--then maybe those children will be accepted as fellow humans.

It still scares me, though. Secretly, I hope I never have to choose whether to deny having autism in order to give myself a better deal in life, because maybe I won't have the courage to be honest. But here are the facts: If you're ashamed of it, you're never going to gain equality. To gain equality by distancing yourself from a stigmatized group is to reinforce that stigma.

I can pass during a casual encounter; for longer periods, it's obvious there's something off, but many people don't pin it down as autism. But some people can't pass. Some people will be facing that prejudice no matter what, because they're so obviously autistic there's no way to hide it. We can't leave them behind. We just can't.
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