“Sticks and Stones” with autistic author Spalding
Here’s the latest Autistic Lincs column, featuring autistic author Callum Brazzo.
Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.
Diving into this seemingly innocent age-old saying, it describes owning your story. Owning words meant to hurt you actually helps build that wall to say, “No, I’m not X.”
And so how that might translate in the context of the autistic community is that resisting the effect of people using the R-word, for example, to ignorantly explain someone’s behavior can empower you .
If there is malicious intent, it is clear to most that one must defend oneself, but what about when the oppressive words come from within?
I’m talking about internalized ableism. Specifically for now, let’s think about “aspie”. It might seem like a harmless, even cheerfully expressive way to tell someone you have autism. However, I believe this acts as a way to get away from just telling it like it is; autistic.
Aspie serves to create a false “hierarchy” of autistic experience akin to the extended but equally divisive (and outdated) version of Asperger’s label that was only made to distinguish IQ (now what is -what it means ?)
Am I isolating myself from other autistic people by saying this? May be.
Other autistic people may see this as their “personal preference” and they would be right, but I think if you know certain word stories or hear enough lived experiences to counter your belief that your “preference” is harmful to the “big picture”” and always choosing to ignore it is problematic.
This distancing from autistic identity occurs within autistic people and the services we enter. Autists and allies, do your best to reiterate that you can just say autistic, it’s not a dirty word. Sometimes, because of how people with autism have been treated by society for at least 70 years, it will take someone from the outside to help them understand the conflicting nature of their terms and feel comfortable. to describe themselves fully and openly without shame or being noticed. being “less” autistic than others (bargaining).
“Autie”; is another that I’m not sure adds to this larger picture of positive autistic wellness and mental health. It can be infantilizing and, much like the “autism is my superpower” narrative, it aims to separate. “Autie” separates “mature” autistic people because it’s a “cute” word. The idea of ”superpowers” separates by saying similarly that people with autism are valuable because of their proposed superpowers/supposedly “hidden” abilities that people don’t see.
The intention here is to value autistic people as autistic people, but the most productive way to do that is to simply accept them as autistic people in all their beauty, not for what benefits a problematic society. and traumatic.
It is extremely difficult to be vulnerable in this way in the wider society, not everyone is ready to discuss this sort of thing in everyday situations… but it is also problematic.
The more positive feedback loops of language empowerment there are, the better our future will be. Mental health services, schools and areas of mass influence are in a privileged position, so I think they have a social and moral responsibility to develop these feedback loops. The cost of not doing so may seem small, but in the long run it is severe.
The terms regarding our “condition” mentioned above are just a few that I personally think we should either remove or at the very least analyze for roots.
Language evolves, it’s true, and I don’t blame anyone for using such terms because they permeate our culture. The culture of “dominant norms” which are the norms of neurotypical people. Not those who think differently, not neurodivergent people.
If you, as a parent, caregiver, teacher, mental health practitioner, or more importantly, an autistic or neurodivergent person, look at life-affirming language and think it’s silly and you can’t take worth adjusting your view of our experiences, isn’t that also problematic? It’s easier”; accepting the status quo, but that’s the problem. Back to the adage, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”
When people are already broken inside, they will not feel the sticks and stones of stigma thrown down.
“Fix” the culture. Live authentically.