Autism is not in any way a real disabling condition, except by society’s standards. I don’t see it that way. In this post, I want to pay tribute to autistics, both past and present, and talk about what we need to do to accept them as they are.
Born and raised in Maryland, LaVonnya Gardner was autistic and blind. She was also partially hearing impaired. What I remember most about her was not the bad stuff, the rumors people said about her, but her weirdness, her energy, her enthusiasm for God and his word when Christianity was an interest to me. LaVonnya composed her speeches and communicated while she was in public using apps and tools like Dynovox, prolacro, and other things that would enable her to form words, words into sentences, sentences into paragraphs, paragraphs into full fledged speeches. LaVonnya died several years ago, but it wasn’t because of autism. She had a really bad concussion. That’s all I know about her cause of death, and she left behind a daughter, Briana. I don’t remember sometimes that autism for her was a way of life, a difference, but when she left this world behind, I felt like I hadn’t spent time enough with her. I didn’t think about the autism part of her, I saw her as a close friend and companion online, and many other Facebook buddies knew who she was.
Here’s a few stories that might inspire you to understand acceptance, namely one sshould I say? Lavender Eliabeth Darkangelo was born under a different name, one I won’t write here. For her sake, I won’t write it no matter what people think. Lavender spent the first seventeen or so years of her life being abused by not only sighted parents from Laos, but sightless siblings! The interesting part of it was that Lavender’s siblings were all married and giving birth to children or taking care of children, but because Lavender is an autistic, they did not want to accept that she had to learn things differently. Her dream has been to sing for bands and stuff, which she has done. She was later adopted by the Cormier-Darkangelo family. I want to say that this family accepts Lavender for who she is and what she does. Lavender’s example is how abusive nonacceptance became acceptance with another family. Lavender legally changed her name and found a personal care attendant who helps her with daily living tasks she might otherwise have missed out on, and the PCA is patient and awesome with her. Lavender, if you’re reading this, the spiralhead will always have a box of pasta with spirals waiting for you when you decide to go skiing in Vail or whatever you’d like, otherwise, shoot me a plane ticket to Boston and I’ll hang out with you along with my future husband.
There are many ways that autistics live their lives. However, because of society’s nonacceptance, autistics are prime targets for exploitation, guardianship, institutionalizing, or worse, death. One such lives in Kentucky, and is currently off the radar. I was blamed for causing problems with this woman and her friend, and I won’t write her name here. She had a job and everything, but was sadly not really accepted by her family. She was guardianized two years ago, and has since been isolated and possibly drugged. Not much is known about this woman’s situation.
How do you accept autism? First and foremost, get to know autistics who are successful in your community. Do not use the terms “high” or “low” to describe function. I learned from a woman on Twitter that autism doesn’t truly affect function, only it affects how stuff is done. LaVonnya’s use of technical tools to communicate and sign language are two such things nonverbal autistics can use to overcome barriers to social integration. What about reading social cues, you ask. Who needs eye contact, I say. Being blind, I resonate with autistics because they generally don’t use eye contact, which can sometimes be seen as threatening to some people, even nonautistics. I think autistics and the lack of eye contact does carry a very impoprtant link to why society is so messed up. My fiance doesn’t do eye contact either, and neither do his friends and some others he knows. However, society thinks eye contact means something. Autistics don’t prefer to use eye contact, and it’s not because they’re “shy” as some may call it. It’s their way of staying within a safe space as I’ve studied in some things and pieces of literature I’ve read. One way to accept an autistic is to realize that eye contact is a no no.
While nonverbality and lack of eye contact can drive both sets of parents and grandparents bonkers, there’s something else that needs to be said of autistic people. They are usually the best types of people to handle things like … well, anything. Albert Einstein’s brain was funny shaped according to some who have studied it, but he was autistic. He became the greatest scientist and discovred the theory of relativity. Autistics connect with animals, and an example of this can be found in Temple Grandin, who happens to be living in my backyard as a professor of biology or something at a university in Colorado. She has iinnovated ways to humanely slaughter the livestock, although not everybody takes her seriously. I would rather eat a humanely slaughtered cow, however, rather than Popeye’s chicken because of the animal welfare policy(s) or lack thereof that this chain preports to have had. It was reported on the petition site Change.org that Popeye’s Louisiana kitchen does not take good care of its chicken supply. I also signed one on the same site for Eggland’s Best, telling egg workers to treat their eggs better. Professor Grandin would have tons to say about this stuff, but really. She is highly accepted at her work, and I ought to read her book so far.
What is the bigest thing you cannot do to an autistic? Do not send them to institutions, guardianize them, prevent them from integrating, marrying, etc. There was an autistic couple I read about that got married, and they learned how to engage in intimate activities in special ways through a support group. A lot of amazing friends came together for the couple’s special day. Even the harpist was autistic. What a wedding! When two people with disabilities marry, however, the government takes back their SSI by $200 plus. This is unacceptable as disabled people need the extra money for food, bills, and supplies, and ppossibly to pay a provider to drop by their home and do what is needed, like reading the mail if lighting sucks where we sit. I absolutely hate the idea of expensve OCR apps to read the mail myself. Sometimes, a provider is needed for the sake of cost savings such as time and money. Time, what is time? Money doesn’t grow on trees. When autistics marry, the same things should be said of whether they want or need a provider or not. Some autistics do fine without attendants, others don’t mind a little bit of help especially with some supports, tools, and other sorts of techniques to better integrate them.
Note: I do not and cannot support Autism speaks. It does not include actual autistics on their board, in their group metings, or in their spokespeople. They actively try to cure autism, something you really cannot do. Some autistics manage to speak after a while, but others don’t. We can’t rush their development or expect a therapist to fix our children. Autism should be accepted, and one organization I do support is the Autism Self Advocacy Network. This group alows autistics to excel at advocacy work and provides support groups run by such persons. Autism is not a disease, not a disabling condition, rather it is the way the brain interprets things differently in the environment. In memory of LaVonnya and others who’ve died, let’s strive to do better and accept our autistic friends as people with a difference. Let’s not make a big huge deal out of nonverbality, rather I’d work with it. Autism may affect one in every three babies one day, however, the stats are coming from Autism Speaks, which is highly irresponsible and does not seek acceptance. Thank you all for reading this. More to come on Medium.