Trans Day of Visibility was a couple days ago. We’re now in Autism Acceptance Month. Some music and perspective for the moment:
Selections from “Thriving at Work While Autistic, Introverted, Shy, and Otherwise Different: Part 3” on intersectionality, equality, equity, and autism at work:
Abundantly confident people who are energized by competition and enjoy a bit of a fight (typically men, extroverts, and those without conditions associated with higher physiological reaction to stress) may feel that all others should be happy to play by their rules. And if some are not, then these others are flawed, and perhaps even inferior.
Equality is not equity. The most well-intentioned mono-focus equality programs, such as gender-based, assume homogeneity within the group – but groups are not homogeneous, and the most privileged in the group benefit the most. White women benefit more than women of color. Affluent women benefit more than poor women. Those without disabilities benefit more than those with disabilities.
When the system is blind to intersectionality, those with multiple intersectional backgrounds get squashed by that seemingly unbiased system.
And the most insidious thing about systemic discrimination is the built-in gaslighting mechanism.
The system makes you think it’s your fault.
Except, autism is not a problem. It’s a solution. When there are too many variables to solve for, it makes sense to solve for the infinity – the symbol of both the infinite number of possible intersectionalities and autism acceptance.
There is rarely a need for special mechanisms for each intersectional identity. The same practices that would allow my autistic self thrive would allow every other aspect of me to thrive. Transparency, psychological safety, consideration of human differences in legitimate options for work organization, scientifically-developed job descriptions, the inclusion of a wider variety of voices – the same practices would make work better for all people. The same practices will make organizations more productive. When there are too many variables to solve for, solve for the infinity – for the infinite number of all possible intersectionalities, by embedding foundational principles of justice for all into systems and processes.
Person First Language is about putting as much distance between the person and “the autism”. It is the opposite of acceptance.
Throughout my school years, I was taught to camouflage my symptoms in order to blend in and function in the mainstream environment. This was reinforced through behavioral therapy and the school system
What the people who helped me didn’t realize at the time were the future implications of my mental health as an autistic person. This was because their focus was on making me as self-sufficient and socially adjusted as possible, and by the time I reached adulthood nobody ever considered that what they were doing could unintentionally affect my self-identity and self esteem. But all my energy spent camouflaging myself in order to appear “normal” became mentally exhausting. I started second-guessing myself, and internally beating myself up, over minor social infractions. This is a big part of my anxiety in living as an autistic person.
My experience with special education and ABA demonstrates how the dichotomy of interventions that are designed to optimize the quality of life for individuals on the spectrum can also adversely impact their mental health, and also their self-acceptance of an autistic identity. This is why so many autistic self-advocates are concerned about behavioral modification programs: because of the long-term effects they can have on autistic people’s mental health. This is why we need to preach autism acceptance, and center self advocates in developing appropriate supports for autistic people. That means we need to take autistic people’s insights, feelings, and desires into account, instead of dismissing them.
Acceptance means training mental health service providers to look at autism and other disabilities as a part of a person’s identity, rather than a problem that needs to be fixed. Acceptance means helping to create a world where autistic people don’t have to camouflage themselves as neurotypical. Acceptance also means giving supports and accommodations to autistic people of all abilities and support levels when it’s asked for and needed. If the world becomes more embracing of the autistic lifestyle, I believe the severity of the mental health problems autistic people have can, in many cases, be lessened.