Hello everyone! Happy Autism Awareness Day!
Autism Awareness Day is like a holiday to me. I know it's a strange thing to be "happy" about, but to me, Autism is worth celebrating. I was honored walking around school today and seeing people who know me wearing blue...thank you! It is a day to help people be aware of what Autism really is, besides what you may have learned on TV.
If you have read my blog before, then you know that I have an autism diagnosis. If you read my earlier posts, I go into much detail about how Autism has affected me, and how it currently affects me. It is a huge part of who I am, though it is not entirely who I am. I am a human being: I have multiple layers that make up what is "Maddie Dugan". Along with being autistic, I'm also an actress, an artist, a writer, a friend, a karaoke addict and a kick ass trapeze artist (and a pretty good over exaggerator).
In the spirit of Autism Awareness Day, I want to talk about something that affects me today. Something that many people I know do, even if they don't intend to hurt me when they do it. I want to talk about the many phrases, words, and other things that you may have said in the past, that you may not have been aware of, that hurt people like myself...in regards to Autism.
Let's take a look at phrases such as...
"You have autism? I never would have guessed! You're so fun and personable!"
"I mean, you don't *really* have autism..."
"You're too pretty to have autism..."
"Dude, that's so retarded."
Here's the deal, guys: while you may have meant well with statements like these...they have hidden meanings behind them that hurt people like myself.
In my theater history class today, we talked a lot about stereotypes in the media. People were voicing their opinions on how they aren't affected by certain stereotypes, and how many TV shows make fun of all kinds of people, so that makes it ok (such as South Park). The entire conversation, I wanted to shout "THOSE WORDS MIGHT NOT AFFECT YOU, BUT JUST EFFING ACKNOWLEDGE THAT THEY AFFECT OTHER PEOPLE!". It does not matter if it directly affects your life or not. We have become desensitized as a culture to humor that puts people down...apparently, because every group of people is a target, that makes it O.k. I don't believe it is, but feel free to disagree with me.
I'm asking you all to take a step out of your own lives for a second...how would it make you feel people came up to you constantly and made remarks like the ones I listed above, knowing that you live with a certain trait every single day of your life? People don't understand the implications behind things like "You're so smart and personable!" is potentially implying that people with Autism are not so...
Like I have said countless times throughout this blog...
EVERYONE IS AFFECTED DIFFERENTLY BY AUTISM
IT IS A SPECTRUM
LOOK AT THE DAMN TITLE AT THE TOP OF YOUR SCREEN
There is a reason it is called the "Autism Spectrum".
While there are people who face social differences because of their autism, that does not mean that everyone with autism has the same kinds of functioning. Also...people with even severe autism can be "fun". Their "fun" might not be your "fun", but that doesn't take away from the fact that they can have fun. It's just different.
Telling me that I must not really have Autism because I have an easier time relating to people completely takes away from my experience with Autism. It is something that I am proud to have, despite the difficulties that have come my way because of people not quite understanding how I function. I am not any less autistic just because I might not show the same kinds of signs you have seen in movies, or in your friend or relative who has autism. I have many of the symptoms that come with an autism diagnosis, and while I may "pass as normal" (whatever the heck that means...), I still am impacted by Autism.
Along with this, phrases like "you're too pretty to have autism" hurt people unintentionally. Why are you suggesting that only ugly people have autism? Autism is not a physically representative condition. A super model can have Autism. Celebrities can have Autism. There isn't some hideous giveaway that someone has Autism. While I am flattered to be considered pretty, the fact that you have to put down other people in the process of your compliment makes it no longer much of a compliment.
And then there's the "R" word...
I have heard just about every excuse in the world for using the "R" word. "It used to mean slow in it's original meaning" "It's musical term 'retardando'" "I'm not calling YOU retarded, just this object or subject". I've heard it all, guys. We all know you aren't speaking in musical terms when your friend does something while they are drunk and you tell them about it the next day and refer to their actions as "so retarded" (unless your friend is just a crazy good tuba player after taking one too many tequila shots...)
"Retarded" has been used to put people down. It has been used to tell a group of people that they are stupid, less than other people. While it may have meant something different long ago, it has been used in recent time as a means to hurt people, and it's not ok.
Even if you aren't directly using it at me, you are still using a word that has been used against people like me. Calling something "retarded" is implying it is stupid, dumb, whatever. Knowing how it has been used in the past makes it impactful to someone who has a different functioning than you, no matter how you say it or what it may be directed at. People who are Autistic have been called "retarded" for far too long, and we are far from it.
There are so many other words you can use to describe what you are trying to imply, without directing bringing in an oppressed group of people who are directly associated with that word. The negativity behind the word is still implying that being "retarded" is bad. Why is someone "slower" than you a bad thing? It isn't. It is just different.
I know old habits are hard to break, and that "retarded" is so heavily used in today's culture, but I urge you to try and understand while that word might not directly affect you and your situation in life, it has been used against other people in a means to "put people in their place".
Ableism is a very real issue that Autism Awareness Day aims to bring to light
It is NOT about making you aware of the horrors that come with Autism. It is about helping people understand that this is not a disability, it is a different way of processing the world around us.
This is really only scratching the surface of the many ways to become better aware of how we all interact with Autism (and other different kinds of abled-ness). So, you may be wondering what you can do, someone who may not have Autism. Reading this blog, and other blogs like mine, is a great way to start! Educate yourself. And then...pass the information you know around. Stand up when you hear fallacies in people's statements. Think outside of yourself and attempt to acknowledge the differences and similarities between autistics and neuro-typical people.
Thanks for reading this, and hopefully becoming more aware :-)
xoxo- Maddie (not gossip girl...well...ok that's debatable.)