Tag Archives: Paula Durbin-Westby

Autism, Assumptions and Perpetuating Misperceptions

I was going to write something about the Aurora shootings, but I think it’s better if I give some links to things others have written.

This link is from Lydia Brown on her blog Autistic Hoya – All I Want to do is Weep.  She wrote it last Friday, July 20th before Joe Scarborough, whose son is Autistic, weighed in with his damaging, destructive words, needlessly adding fuel to the flames of ignorance and misperceptions that roar whenever the word autism is spoken.

Then, just as Lydia and others within the Autism community predicted, Joe Scarborough said,  “As soon as I hear about this shooting, I knew who it was. I knew it was a young, white male, probably from an affluent neighborhood, disconnected from society — it happens time and time again..”  He added, “Most of it has to do with mental health; you have these people that are somewhere, I believe, on the autism scale. I don’t know if that’s the case here, but it happens more often than not.”

His words, so predictable, so incredibly stupid it would have been comical had it not been so very harmful to so many.  When I read his comments I thought, people will read Lydia’s piece and assume she’s psychic, because that would be the only explanation for her ability to predict such a thing.  Right?

Kassiane Sibly wrote on her blog Radical Neurodivergence Speaking – Open Letter to the Media in the Wake of the Aurora Shootings

Paula Durbin-Westby wrote: Autism, Aurora Shooter, and Actual Crime Statistics

Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg wrote: Despicable: Joe Scarborogh’s  Words on Autims and Mass Murder

And finally here is the petition Rachel started, demanding Joe Scarborogh retract his statement.  Please sign.  This is too important.

Sign this Petition

These “theories” and it seems they are always “theories” which appear to be code for “opinion” are doing damage to people who are living their lives in a society that not only does not understand, seems unwilling to understand and even actively refuses to understand despite all the people who are trying to help them understand.

Autistics are saying – LISTEN TO US!   And we look around and say, huh, I don’t hear anything.

Autistics are saying – STOP SAYING THINGS ABOUT US WITHOUT INCLUDING US IN THE CONVERSATION!  And we look around and say to one another, Huh.  Did you hear something?  Nah.  Carry on.

Autistics are saying – NOTHING ABOUT US WITHOUT US and we say, I don’t understand.  Why are they so angry?

Autistics are saying – YOUR MISPERCEPTIONS ABOUT US ARE HURTING US and we say, oh those autistics are not like my child, that’s not what my child would say.  My child is nonverbal.  My child can’t type.  My child doesn’t have a blog.  My child can’t say the things those Autistics can say and do.  My child is different.

How do you know? 

How do you know?

Joe.  You made a mistake.  Retract.  Apologize.  Make amends.  Have an Autistic on your show.  Listen to them.  Listen to your son.  Do the right thing, educate yourself.  You have a massive following.  You could make an incredible difference to so many lives including your son’s and your own.

I will end with this thought. I choose to presume competence, not just in Emma, but in myself and in my fellow human beings.  We ARE capable of listening to one another.  We ARE capable of shifting the perceptions of autism and Autistics, one person at a time.  I believe that, because to do otherwise is to live in a world I cannot and do not want to be a part of.

Autism Acceptance

Paula Durbin-Westby is an adult autist, an advocate, a writer, blogger, and mother. She writes extensively about autism on her blog – Autism Acceptance Day.  I had planned to do a series throughout the month of April of Autistic writers discussing autism, “awareness” and acceptance, which I planned to submit to the Huffington Post.  However, HuffPo does not take “guest bloggers” and as I hadn’t gotten permission beforehand, this piece from Paula was never printed.   I am printing it here, instead:

This article introduces a new celebration for the month of April: Autism Acceptance Day.  First, the background.  Autism Awareness month has been around for quite awhile.  Unfortunately, much of the deluge of “awareness” has been demeaning and even discriminatory.  Many Autistics have written pieces on the theme “April is the cruelest month.”  Parents talk about wanting to turn off the TV during April so their Autistic children will not have to see the alarmist statistics and “medical mystery” reporting.  Autistic friends, weaving their way through a barrage of autism “warning” signs placed prominently on campus, talk about how they can’t wait for April to be over.

In 2008, the UN declared April 2 World Autism Awareness Day.  A year later, in September 2009, during an autism conference the UN showed a video called “I Am Autism,” which portrays autism as a demonic persona that threatens harm to parents and families. In one section, voices chime “We are the United Nations,” showing people from many nations who will stand up to “autism.”  It was outrageous.  The United Nations, by showing this film, violated its own principles in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.   The UN wrote in Article 8, and I quote, “As a change of perceptions is essential to improve the situation of persons with disabilities, ratifying countries are to combat stereotypes and prejudices and promote awareness of the capabilities of persons with disabilities.

Against this backdrop, I organized the first Autism Acceptance Day in 2011.  Autism Acceptance Day was to be everything that Autism Awareness Month was not. Rather than “awareness” that insults and even damages the life chances of Autistic people, I promoted complete acceptance, not just mere tolerance. As Autistic activist Nick Walker puts it, “If it doesn’t involve acceptance of autism, and acceptance of autistic people as autistic people, you don’t get to call it “autism acceptance.” I was tired of my friends being hurt, and dismayed at the media and parent- and researcher-led autism organizations portraying autism and Autistic people in what my nine-year old calls a “despicatizing” light.

Autism acceptance means an active acceptance of neurodiversity. Neurodiversity sometimes gets a bad rap, but it’s really fairly simple: neurodiversity encompasses all neurologies, from “typical” people to those who have a variety of neurologically-based differences and disabilities. We support all people with disabilities, even though our emphasis is on neurology. We assert the worth and dignity of every person, no matter what their disability or level of disability, including people with significant disabilities. Our aim is not to gloss over the very real difficulties that people with neurologically-based disabilities face. Our focus is on access to services, supports, education and employment opportunities. We support the development of communication systems, a high priority for Autistics, some of whom do not speak, and many of whom do not have reliable access to language-based communication at times.

The first year, Autism Acceptance Day was primarily an online, Facebook event. I started a blog so that people who were not on Facebook could read about Autism Acceptance Day and participate. Over 1000 people signed up for the Facebook event. This year, as more people made plans and expanded on the idea, I wrote – “It’s time to take back April!” ASAN did a series on its blog and there were other events and activities.

Like any other community, the Autistic community and our supporters have developed expressions of community involvement.  Some events are celebratory; some are not.  On March 30, people attended candlelight vigils to mourn and remember people with disabilities who have been murdered by family members or caregivers. The vigil effort was organized by Zoe Gross. An online vigil was implemented as well.  As with other minority communities, a sense of identity, pride, and accomplishment, as well as a time to pause and reflect, is a way to build upon our strengths, learn to work together to promote our own interests and concerns, and ultimately to foster a greater societal acceptance of people with disabilities including autism.  Sadly, the day after the vigil, Daniel Corby, age 4, was murdered.  We still have much to do toward acceptance of Autistic people.