In a 2013 interview on YouTube, Temple Grandin said “Autism is an important part of who I am, and I like my logical thinking, but I consider myself a college professor first—my career comes first. I’m getting worried about too many kids getting hung up on their autism. I’d rather get them hung up on computer science or being a journalist—something that they can make a career out of.” (The Economist)
This quote has remained in the back of my mind for a long time, and just recently it has resurfaced. I realize that I now share Temple Grandin’s concerns more than ever before. We live in a world that advocates not only for autism acceptance, but also for autistic pride. I believe that pride and acceptance are two completely different things. While I am afraid that autistic pride can block potential, I also believe that autism acceptance is needed for autistic people like myself to reach our full potential. Through this blog post I will share my current opinions about the differences between pride and acceptance. I also want to address the shortcomings that I see with autistic pride, and the good that I see in autism acceptance.
What are the differences?
Autistic Pride: Not a lot of people know about autistic pride, but it does exist, and it’s very real. I have struggled with this form of pride in my own life. Fighting against this sense of pride within myself has completely transformed my worldview — I have grown to become very sensitive to this feeling that seems to linger behind many more labels besides the label ‘autism’.There is even a day devoted to autistic pride. June 18th is known as Autistic Pride Day, and this day is represented by a rainbow infinity symbol (shown above). The website Awarenessdays.com says that “this annual event was first celebrated by Aspies for Freedom in 2005 and they modelled Autistic Pride Day on the gay pride movement.”
My concern about today’s general emphasis on pride in the labels that society assigns to us, and that we assign to ourselves, is that they might keep us from transforming and gaining a better sense of what is true outside of ourselves.
The word “autism” is just a word that helps society make sense of human complexities, challenges, and gifts — “autism” is nothing more than a word that’s being used as an attempt to encapsulate unknowns about human complexity — it’s useful, but it’s not perfect. If we tie ourselves to this word as if it’s a badge of honour I’m deeply concerned that we won’t explore our potentials beyond the ‘autism’ categorization. We have created a community revolving around this word that we call the ‘autism community’, and to a certain extent that’s fine, but I believe that just like anyone else we are meant to branch out as individuals seeking gifts, and truth that is bigger than ourselves.
This is what I believe that we need to do—we need to branch out, but can we do this alone? This is where autism acceptance comes into play.
Autism Acceptance: Acceptance seems to work as a two-way street. If we open our minds up to others, they might open their minds to us, and vice versa — as a result we can help them to help us incorporate ourselves into the world. If we are struggling to communicate, how can we open our minds to others? I believe that we can do this through our gifts. It’s easy to assume that presenting our gifts or talents to the world is an arrogant thing to do because we think that we are showing off, but I believe that revealing our gifts does the exact opposite of that — gifts are shared with other people. They help others to empathize with us, and us to empathize with them. We are supposed to share our gifts, so we shouldn’t hog them all to ourselves.
April 2nd shares two different names: Autism Awareness Day, and Autism Acceptance Day. Several years ago, I was given the opportunity to sing at an Autism Awareness Day event, and my friend presented his gorgeous, heart-felt sketches of elephants along with other wild animals, and colourful paintings of fruits and flowers. Our gifts shared the spotlight while we were presenting them although the word ‘autism’ was used a lot on that day. As we were revealing our talents that we have been developing and refining through a never-ending process of transformation and improvement, the label ‘autism’ could have easily been pushed to the side. People find unity in witnessing and sharing in other people’s gifts because they represent the fact that no matter what, we are all transforming and improving, and we all have stories to tell even if we don’t have the words.
No matter what you call April 2nd, that day can be very flexible, while Autistic Pride Day seems to be rigidly fixed into the notion that we exist, and that we should be proud to be autistic. The impact of April 2nd events all depends on the people who are moving the organized autism-centered events forward. It can be a day of open-minded discussions about autism, but it can also remain closed-off to discussions. Some events might treat autism like a deadly disease (hopefully not too many), while others might treat it as a unique part of humanity, but from there extend it to the limiting form of pride that I have described earlier. An April 2nd autism-centered event can also involve many different people who hold different views about autism, and hopefully this would open up opportunities for constructive debates. In my opinion, this is the best set-up; this would create a safe environment for debate and allow for diverse views on the subject to be represented. Not only do I want to see if I can make strong arguments against someone else’s views, but I also want to see if others can make good arguments against my own views.
Even now, you may have great arguments against the position that I have taken here. If so, I want to know what you have to say so that I can continue my never-ending process of transformation and improvement. I encourage you to share your views in the comment section.
To other autistics out there, I have a few questions — can we seek acceptance from others if we are preoccupied with the autism community as being the center of our identity? How can we seek acceptance from others if we close ourselves off within the autism community while complaining about how the outsiders don’t understand us? Why not help them to understand us? This is what autistic pride can do to us — it can make us love ourselves, but it can also turn us into a tribe against the world who talks about acceptance, but deep down wants to remain segregated from the world. We exercise a twisted form of tyranny if we deliberately prevent others from connecting with us just because we want to remain proud, separate, and unique. We should be open and curious about other people’s ideas, and I hope that others will be open and curious about our ideas. Social skills, and morality are not the same things. Even though socialization is hard for us our conscience can help us to discern if we are treating others with love, and if others are treating us with patience and love.
April is just a few days away now. You don’t have to agree with what I have said, but as the next three months roll by, I encourage anyone who is reading this to be vigilant. If you see something — anything — a video, a poster, or anything else that revolves around the word ‘autism’, I want you to ask yourself this question: “Does this possess the spirit of pride, or the spirit of acceptance and unity?”