All I Want

All I want, as far as “autism advocacy” goes, is awareness.

I don’t want to sue the people who vaccinated my kids. I don’t want the government to give me lots of money (unless they just have their hearts set on it), because there are autistic kids who need the money more than we do. I don’t want people to treat my son more specially than they treat other kids. I just want awareness.

Have you ever heard anyone say, “Ew — that kid has Mongoloid features and unusual speech patterns, and he isn’t as intellectually developed as his peers. What’s WRONG with him? He’s freaking me out! He’s a weirdo! His parents must have totally messed him up somehow! He’s creeping me out!”

No, you haven’t, unless it was a thirteen-year-old bully, or a really lame stand-up comedian trying to be edgy. And you know why? Because most adults in America know what Down Syndrome is, and they know that people with Down Syndrome can’t help having it, so there’s no use making fun of them, unless you want to come off like a complete asshole.

Do you ever hear adults in America say “Ew — that kid acts weird. He’s socially stunted. He talks funny, and he’s strangely good at math. Do his parents homeschool him or something? I bet he gets beat up in school all the time. I bet he’s never gonna have a girlfriend, ever. He’s creeping me out. What the hell’s wrong with him? He’s a freak. His parents must have messed him up somehow”?

Unfortunately, yes, you do. I recently saw it happen on a site that I frequent, in comments regarding a YouTube clip of a young spelling-bee winner who pretty obviously, in my opinion, had Aspergers or autism. And I’m not going to link to those comments here, because the young urbanites making them were obviously trying to be “edgy” by expressing fear/loathing of alternate cultures (i.e., homeschooling Midwesterners), and had no idea how to identify Pervasive Developmental Disorders. I want to believe that these people, had they realized it was a condition the child and his parents couldn’t help, would have refrained from commenting on it. Because only a rude dumb ass makes fun of something like that, and some day a real rain will come and wash away all the rude dumb asses. (Right? Hope so.)

When adults meet my Aspergers-having son for the first time, they tend to react to him in one of two ways. Either they completely ignore him, because he inadvertently gives off social cues that discourage them from asking him the same questions they ask my other two kids (“So, how old are you now?” “So, how do you like school?”)…
or else, way more rarely, they feel compelled to draw him out. And that’s usually because he reminds them of themselves, or of someone else they knew who was quiet, but ultimately intelligent and rewarding to hear.

In either case, I find myself telling everyone I know that Dallas has Aspergers, if/whenever they express curiosity about his behavior. (They say, “Dallas… likes to keep to himself, huh?” or “Dallas is kind of… intense, huh?” or “Dallas reminds me of my uncle, who also preferred drawing complex machines to hanging out at family barbecues.”) Why do I tell them, instead of keeping it private?

Not because I’m trying to excuse his behavior, and not because I’m looking for pity. It’s because I want to help create awareness. I know that none of my friends would make fun of someone for acting a little different. But maybe, if they come across someone else who would, they can pass on what they know. They can say, “Dude, don’t make fun of that guy. He was probably born with Aspergers. Don’t be lame.”

(Social shaming: the fabric of polite society. :) )

So, yeah. If you know me in real life, and I start giving you an informal presentation on Aspergers, autism, and PDD — I’m not trying to make you uncomfortable, I promise. I’m just trying to do my part. Until we get a popular actor who outs him/herself as having Aspergers, this awareness thing is strictly viral marketing. Grass roots. Underground. Help me out, okay? Spread the word.

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Posted in Aspergers, parenting on 07/16/2007 11:00 am

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