• Darcy Reed

Hung up on labels

Today I want to talk about the realities of identity politics. Many people seem more concerned and worried about the way people describe them than they are about other issues that require their attention.


So much of what today’s young adults worry about seems to be what their particular label needs to be. Are they autistic, or do they "have autism?" Are they "on the spectrum" or are they "mildly Aspergian"? What does it matter what people are called? Think about it.


I know if someone called you a bad name, you’d be offended, but there are so many more important issues to define in one's life. If someone calls me autistic, I don’t care. I’m proud to be autistic. If someone calls me crazy, I don’t care. It doesn’t matter. It’s not exactly like using the "n" word to define people of color. I think it only matters when language devalues people.


I just don’t like the trend for neurotypicals to be vilified for using the wrong terms, those not considered politically correct. I’ve noticed some hateful qualities in the neurodivergent movement. I understand the agony of being judged. I understand the agony of being considered abnormal, but what I don’t understand is automatic disapproval of any stranger or person who stumbles into a conversation with the PC police in the neurodiversity movement. I'd like those people to understand that as a person with more severe autism, I feel left out of their club.


The trend here in this movement is positive in many ways, but the hatefulness toward parents and people who might want answers or a cure for autism is worse than discrimination against autism. It is unfair, disrespectful, unnecessary, and divisive. If people are rejected over something so simple as getting the labels wrong, then there is something wrong with your movement.


It gets worse here in terms of dividing people with autism by dividing them into the autism pride movement or the autism cure movement. Neither are totally getting the picture, I understand, but when you are a happy, functioning Aspie driving yourself to work everyday and judging others for wanting a cure, for instance, I’d like to suggest that if you couldn’t speak, you would want to. If you couldn’t drive, you would want to. Maybe if you didn’t have seizures, that would be cool, but don’t bother to look into what causes or cures my autism. In fact, prevent any investigation into the causes or cures, if you must, out of what – pride?


Twenty-seven years ago, when I was diagnosed with “severe autism” my parents got involved in the disability advocacy world. Back then, it seemed the only real mission of some of those organizations was to insist on "people first language". That was so long ago. I’d like to suggest if you really want to help our people, go protest at the Judge Rotenberg Center where they are torturing those of us who maybe aren’t as proud as you.


Decades ago, full inclusion in neurotypical society and school was a worthy goal, yet all these years later it seems our people with autism are most likely self-segregating, so where is that on the progress charts? Where?


I’d like to join neurotypical society in some of their meaningful battles against war and environmental destruction, and of course, rights for the disabled, or do I have to say "people with disabilities?"


Please look beyond identity politics to some more pressing issues. Integrate in the art world, integrate in the poetry world, integrate into the political world. Don’s separate yourself into smug little clubs of coolness. It isn’t cool.



Photo by Carolyn Reed

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