A blog advocating autism through my own personal experiences and insights.

Posts tagged ‘disability’

Autism: A Feminist Issue

I’ve read a few blog posts over the past few days that have really opened my eyes to an issue in autism diagnosis. They are here: https://themighty.com/2017/02/autism-feminism-and-bodily-autonomy/  and http://www.loveyourrebellion.org/intersections/autism-is-a-feminist-issue/. I’ve always known that there have been far more males diagnosed with autism than females, but after doing some reading, have discovered that this disadvantages females with autism in a few ways. Regardless of whether there is any biological or psychological explanation for this unbalanced proportion, this unbalanced proportion is unfortunately at times to be taken as encouragement for the prejudice that autism is strictly a male trait. Even professional studies done on autism often focus primarily on males with ASD (autism spectrum disorder), while not addressing the issues that females with ASD face.

Society has an easier time labeling a man as “odd” or socially challenged than doing so for a woman. One of the core defining characteristics of having autism is having social difficulties and, as such, many girls with autism go undiagnosed until their adults with many of them being misdiagnosed when they were younger. Females are somehow expected to have exceedingly good social skills. They must appear kind and gentle and not easily tempered and they can be judged harshly based on how they look and behave. Females with ASD might not adhere to American’s standards of beauty or not appearing “ladylike”. They are particularly vulnerable to such judgement because one of the characteristics of autism is experiencing difficulty in not understanding a lot of the dogmatic social rules that govern society.

I like how one of the authors of one of the post describes bodily autonomy on her own terms and relates it to having autism. One of the major issues that feminism deals with is uninvited sexual advances that many girls and women deal with, such as catcalling and rape, which feminists place under the phrase “my body, my choice”. This author, however, points out that this phrase means far more to her than just the issue of rape culture. To her it means portraying her body through her mannerisms and behaviours, exactly as she sees fit without being teased, ridiculed, or outcasted for it. Even some people who call themselves “feminists” are not true feminists; they are only advocating for the most privileged of women without giving a voice to other women who may experience different issues. Such people frustrate me because they’re completely missing the point of what feminism is all about: equality for all.

Given this analysis of these social factors that come into play in diagnosing boys and girls with ASD, I am a bit skeptical that the diagnostic rates are accurate when it comes to displaying the actual proportion of males to females with autism. I am not dismissing here the negative or unfavourable reactions a male with autism might receive in not having good social skills (a lot of this blog has been after all about my own social difficulties as a male with autism). Rather, I am emphasising how gender roles in society make this especially hard for females with ASD. And this is what makes autism a feminist issue.

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It’s All a Matter of Strengths and Weaknesses

As I go through life I can’t help but observe that a lot of what I’m good at is not typically what the average person is good at. Also, what I’m not good at is not typically what the average person is not good at. Of the former, I’m talking about such things as my innate talents in math and philosophy and academia in general. Of the latter, I’m talking about such things as finding it difficult to make and maintain friendships and having a lack of social intuition. Also, while my autism has contributed much in the way of the weaknesses I don’t think autism is anything more than that. My autism is solely a contributor to my own sets of strengths and weaknesses and most of all to my own individuality. I don’t view it as a disability.

Let me elaborate. While I certainly think autistic people do need help with certain life tasks that non-autistic people won’t need help with, I don’t think this is any reason to view autistics as being any more deficient than the rest of us. It is only a different way of being and thinking. The problem lies in the fact that autistics are in the minority and so the world isn’t properly designed for them. In other words, autistics really only need help because they aren’t designed for the world as it is and not because of any intrinsic characteristic. If the majority of us were autistic, I think the world would be a rather different place. For example, social norms would be different. You’d probably be expected to talk in a straightforward literal sense with no chitchat or talking simply for the sake of talking. Conversations would have more logic involved and go about three times as slowly. Face-to-face communication wouldn’t involve body language or at least body language that wasn’t explained by what you say. Loud crowds of people at places would be a lot less common. In such a world, those who weren’t autistic would be the outliers and hence they would be the ones who would be labeled as having a disability, not the autistics.

If you think I’m somewhat too extreme in my view here, feel free to comment. It’s just my personal philosophy. I’m no psychologist, but I think the above explanation as to why we label people autistic would apply to a number of autistics, maybe depending on how severely affected one was with it.

There are a number of autistics, however, who have many admirable talents, such as me, and if an autistic individual has a talent that is quite admirable and rare as to be called a gift, they are called an autistic savant. Of course, there have been a number of famous individuals throughout history who while they had great gifts, they lacked a lot of everyday skills that the majority of people seemed to have. Albert Einstein, for instance, was one of the greatest scientists who ever lived, but he couldn’t tie his shoes and had difficulty in leaning to talk as a child. What is more, very smart talented people who lack everyday skills has become a fascinating characterization to use in the entertainment world. For example, Sheldon Cooper on the popular T.V. show The Big Bang Theory is a prodigy who’s a gifted physicist, but can’t seem to relate to people in a neurotypical way.

In bringing up the concept of such characterizations I only want to point out that no matter what your strengths are and no matter what your weaknesses are they are natural to you. They are part of what makes you a unique individual. How you compare to the rest of society isn’t nearly as important. What is important is self-acceptance and the acceptance of others. You embrace your strengths and your weaknesses, as well as the strengths and weaknesses of others. Being open in this manner requires you to drop any preconceived notions you might have about what combinations of strengths and weaknesses are ‘normal’ or ‘abnormal’. The concept of what’s normal simply can’t be applied. As my aunt likes to say it would be good if everyone understood that everyone, autistic or not, is odd in their own way. It’s why she likes my poem A Foreign Autistic World so much that I shared in my second post. We’re all ‘a little queer’.

Yes, I suppose I do fit the characterization of the stereotypical introverted mathematician with no social skills at least a little bit, which I think is fun to joke around a bit, but you can’t lose sight of the big picture. I’m human with my own sets of strengths and weaknesses, which come natural to me regardless of whether anyone thinks them normal or weird to have. In this way being autistic isn’t a disadvantage. It’s a blessing.