2 Apr 2014

Action not Awareness for Autism

It's World Autism Awareness Day and autism is all over the papers and radio. Some of the stories are great such as this by Fiona O'Leary, an Irish self-advocate explaining why she opposes the Light it Up Blue campaign and seeking an end to negative rhetoric:
"Any research that will bring positive benefits to people on the autistic spectrum is welcome. However, the propaganda used by Autism Speaks is instilling fear and hatred about a condition that is struggling to find acceptance in society."
Some stories attempt to tug at the heartstrings such as the story of a 9 year old girl who wrote in school about her dearest wish- that her 4 year old brother be cured of his autism. In her letter she describes her brother's sensory issues as well as the efforts those who care for him are making at improving his communication skills using Grace App. The little girl comes across as very insightful and caring. It seems to me that she uses the words "cured" and "healed" as shorthand for educated and parented so as to help him to have the best life possible. It's just a shame that the media have jumped on her story as though autistic kids' lives are a tragedy and the only way to help them is to seek a cure.

According to a local autism charity, every council in Northern Ireland is Lighting Up Blue as is Channel 4 News (belying their reputation for thorough research and a good understanding of the background to the stories they report). Have we lost the battle to separate autism activism from the corporate blue of the despicable Autism Speaks?

Then last night BBC aired Horizon, "Living with Autism" presented by Uta Frith, which gave more insights into how autism researchers interpret their findings than on how autistic people perform in their Sally Anne and dancing triangle tests. In every instance the autistic way was coded as impaired, less-than. The language of the programme was inherently pathologising. It worked best when autistic people themselves had the chance to talk- though even then their words and actions were put into context by Uta as to how they differ from "ordinary" people. I liked it a lot less than I expected to.

However a nice thing happened as the show started, my son, my darling Ryan (aka Duncan) came in to say goodnight. I told him I was watching a programme about autism and he said, "Oh autism! I love autism. I'm the autistic boy!"

Ryan with his beloved Granda. 

And that's what matters most to me. My child is autistic. He's here to stay and I need to work to make the world a safer and better place for people like him. That's why I want ACTION not bloody awareness for autism. Yesterday on twitter someone called for a cure for autism as he has seen autistic people locked up for decades in hospital, wiped out on anti-psychotic meds and unable to care for themselves. This doesn't motivate me to find a cure- but to act on behalf of the people who are being treated inhumanely. These people need freedom, they need action to help them communicate better, people who listen to them, and support to experience more of life. Autistic people need better education that doesn't stop when they turn 18 or 19. They need decent paid jobs, places to live with only as much interference from service providers as they need. They need the right benefits to get by, opportunities to engage in sports and hobbies. My boy will be moving into the adult care system in a few years. I'm just starting to look into what options exist and it's heart sinking. I'll do what I can to shake the system and every time we make progress, then call on the media to aware the heck out of whatever has been achieved.
This is what I will battle for and I'm not going to be fighting alone.

1 comment:

Bev said...

So cool to see a young autistic person who likes himself as he is. Thank you for this and for that.