Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Same Old Keynote, Wrong Crowd.

So last month I went to the Autism Society of Oregon conference, which was theoretically on adult issues. Theoretically, I say.

Lee Grossman, president and CEO of ASA for about a zillion years, gave the same keynote he gives everywhere. Contrary to popular belief, I don't actually start the day angry, but damn, give me a big heaping pile of bullshit first thing in the morning and I'll get angry, and call you on it too.

So, this is an adult conference, right? He's been around at least a decade in ASA high up land, I know I'm not the only person to make very clear why his old schtick is unacceptable, or even the first. And you can imagine that at a conference supposedly focused on adult autism, there are going to be, like, adult autistics and people who recognize that autistic children grow into autistic adults, right?

The first thing that rubbed me wrong was before he even started. I guess I can forgive the puzzle ribbon, ish, but I cannot think of a single reason for the adorable age 10 and under poster children on the first slide. There are a whole lot of adult autistics. What's with the children?

Then he went into actually talking. The exactly one thing he said that I agree with is this: "the system is broken". It is. It is indeed broken. It spits us out at 18 or 21 and shoves us into the cracks.

Now, hey! Let's get onto why! Call on me call on me! Or call on Mr. CEO, as that's where the rest of the keynote went!

The whole thing was about how it's a family issue. "When one family member has autism, the whole family has autism". MY ASS. My autism is not about my parents or my siblings or my non autistic friends and extended family. It is my neurology. It is not theirs. No matter how much they listen to me, how much they try to understand, it is not about them. It's a lot easier to protect the martyr mentality when you insist it's about you, but that's just not how it is. As long as it's considered to be our parents' thing, though, the system will continue to be broken. We keep having to fight for ownership of our own experiences, and that's not right. It isn't even wrong. It's so backwards there is not yet an adjective for it.

And he was just getting started! After that we got the whole "vaccines are a likely cause of autism!" shoutout, we got the whole cure or nothing thing--fun fact! You can help people, you can help them a whole lot, without trying to "fix" them. Sick people need cures. All people have some sort of support needs. And while we're on the whole sick people thing, Mr. Grossman is guilty (again) of comparing autism to cancer & heart disease. I know quite a few people who've died of cancer. I know quite a few who died or will eventually die of heart disease. The only people who die of autism are the ones who are left to rot by the system and those who are killed by their parents. That isn't dying of autism, though. That's dying by a parent-centered system.

The real winner of the whole thing was the alarmist autism as a tragedy language. According to the Autism Society, people like me are:
-a tsunami
-a tidal wave
-a national emergency
-a crisis
-something to be combated.
Charming, am I right? Full of human dignity and respect of autistic personhood, huh? Yeah, I didn't think so either.

Then, because my irony meter wasn't broken enough, came the bit that would have been pretty awesome had he left out the middle hour or so of his 75 minute speech: a nod to civil rights and quality of life, employment and higher education, and how damn hireable we are.


Yes, because what everyone and their dog knows about autism right now is that we are a violent earthquake or something, in large part because of the fearmongering rhetoric of Mr. Grossman and those in similar positions, employers are really going to be lining up to hire people who they know are autistic. Absolutely! That's how the world works, isn't it?

Oh. Wait. Back here in reality, prejudice wins.

If you really want to improve my quality of life, stoppit with the Tragedy Model of Disability. Stoppit with the alarmist language. Stop making it all about parents, professionals, everyone but autistic people. People high in the autism charity infrastructure who do these things are a bigger part of the problem than autism itself. Oh yes, I went there. It's just not about you, Mr. Grossman and counterparts.

It's about us.

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