The idea of a “community” in autism activism is a farce. This is because many who are deemed to be part of this community have opposing goals. From my experience, three completely different groups exist. Though there is crossover between some of the groups, the ends are polarized and cannot unite. Below is my perception of the groups, though more groups might exist that are less well-known.
This group believes that autism is a preventable injury. Though no science supports this theory, they hold on to bogus research claims and snake oil. The bulk of this group believes that the pharmaceutical industry has created dangerous vaccines as a way to make more profit (by using cheaper but harmful additives and ingredients or creating unnecessary vaccinations). Others take the theory a little further and believe that the industry is purposefully poisoning the people. Regardless of how extreme, this group tends to believe in pseudoscience and promotes sometimes dangerous “snake-oil” treatments in attempt to cure autism. Groups such as Talk About Curing Autism and Age of Autism are examples of this group’s mentality.
This group consists of those who seek to eradicate the possibility of new autism births. They seek to find a prenatal test that can identify the likelihood of having a child on the autism spectrum so that families may be given the opportunity to terminate an at-risk pregnancy. They also seek to find ways to keep the so-called disorder from happening – presuming autism is a preventable defect (think Fetal Alcohol Syndrome). They hope to find a “cure” for those they believe are “suffering with autism.” They throw millions of dollars into “awareness campaigns” that stigmatize those who are on the spectrum. They also fund research that might further their goals. A good example of this group is Autism Speaks.
This is where the self-advocates, often identifying as autistic, tend to flourish. This group believes that disability is natural and that autism is a neurological difference and a variant of human diversity. This group vehemently opposes that autism should be prevented or cured. Led by disability activists, this marginalized group has been compared to the civil rights movements of the past. Their motto is “Nothing about us, without us!” This group promotes “acceptance” rather than awareness. Most of this group consists of those identifying as autistic. In the recent past, however, many non-autistic (aka allistic) allies have joined in support of the neurodiverse message. This group has been notoriously labeled by other groups as “too angry.” Others have attempted to discredit the movement by insinuating the members are not truly disabled and are NLMC (not like my child). A couple examples of this movement are the Autistic Self Advocacy Network and the Autism Women’s Network.
You may already be able to discern why these groups cannot converge. Here are a few ways they do and do not.
Eugenicists and Conspiracists
These two groups agree that autism is potentially preventable and treatable. Both tend to infantilize autism as believing it only affects children (somehow magically disappearing in adulthood).
Neurodiverse and Eugenicists
There is very little agreement between these two groups. Both groups do support scientific research about autism but the support for research focus is very different.
Conspiracists and Neurodiverse
I am at a loss to find any common ground with these two groups.
Eugenicists vs. Conspiracists
The eugenicists represent legitimate (albeit ethically questionable) science. The conspiracists do not.
Eugenicists vs. Neurodiverse
The neurodiverse are strongly against cures and prevention for autism and consider autism a natural human variant. The eugenicists are strongly for cures and prevention and consider autism a disease or affliction. Eugenicists seek social awareness while the neurodiverse seek social acceptance.
Neurodiverse vs. Conspiracists
Conspiracists believe that all cases of autism are preventable injury and fight to stop this so-called injury. They promote treatments that are often harmful and dangerous. Neurodiverse do not support questionable treatments for autism nor do they support the idea that autism is caused by a preventable injury.
It is probably not so hard to see why there is little community behavior between these groups. It is unrealistic to believe that they will ever converge because they simply do not share the same goals. Community generally refers to common ground. It is not only unrealistic to infer we should all “just get along,” it is offensive. What most really mean by that statement is that the marginalized group should be silenced.
I won’t deny that there are people who do not fit neatly into any of the three groups. Often we hear those who say they support the neurodiverse message but still seek a cure for some. These statements are in disharmony and make little sense. Realistically, these people are supporters of the eugenics or conspiracists groups but do not want to identify as such. You simply cannot be for finding a cure for autism and at the same time believe autism is a natural part of human diversity.
For those who read my blog, it is probably easy to see that I am an ally to the neurodiversity movement. My belief is that those who are labeled – are living with a disability, should be calling the shots. I believe that people on the spectrum should have a voice no matter whether their voice is through augmentative communication or their vocal chords. I cannot possibly imagine that I, an onlooker, should have more say than this marginalized group of people. I don’t get to determine how they should think and feel anymore then they do for me. This is their battle and I proudly stand beside them in support. As a parent, I stand beside my autistic son and let him be my guide.