Whose Planet Is It Anyway?

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Hypocrisy and Hope

Here's a point to ponder, raised by Ettina in her post Locked Out of Advocacy: To what extent is there a contradiction—or even flat-out hypocrisy—when autistic advocates tell parents to accept their children as they are, while also pointing out that autistics have natural cognitive strengths and that Einstein and some other famous historical figures were autistic? Ettina writes that this creates a situation where a parent, in considering an autistic child's future, "musn't hope he becomes normal but is encouraged to hope he becomes high functioning autistic."

Although I agree with Ettina's main point that the value of a human being shouldn't be viewed as conditional on certain types of accomplishments, I don't believe that this sort of value judgment is a natural or necessary consequence of discussing autistic strengths. Many groups regularly celebrate their role models and the potential of their young people, such as in Black History Month and Women's History Month. (I'll have more to say about that in my next post.)

Yes, it would be totally obnoxious and hypocritical if an aspie were to say to a parent of a nonverbal child, "Gee, it's too bad your kid isn't a brilliant aspie like Bill Gates or me, but someday he could be high functioning autistic, rather than useless like he is now." And yes, there are some puffed-up snobs who have that sort of attitude, such as Temple Grandin, for instance. Whenever I feel like telling jerks to kiss my autistic ass, anyone who thinks like that can go straight to the head of the line.

Still, just because we have a few jerks in our midst, that's not a reason to deprive autistic kids of inspirational role models and encouragement. I remember reading about the lives of Einstein, Archimedes, and Marie Curie when I was a child. At that time, I didn't know there was a group of people labeled "autistic," but I still got the message that people with minds like these great scientists, who had strong interests and persevered until they accomplished their goals, were worthy of respect and admiration.

To make myself completely clear, when I wrote the previous sentence, I was not suggesting that "low functioning autistics" weren't worthy of respect. I don't believe there's any such thing as "low functioning autistics." I also don't believe "high functioning autistics" exist. I don't believe that a child becomes a different sort of autistic by virtue of developing speech, learning to use the toilet, or whatever criteria one may prefer. (See Jannalou's post about how meaningless such distinctions are.) I don't believe there's such a thing as "normal," either. All of these categories are social constructs. We need to recognize them for what they are, and we need to free our minds.

Why shouldn't a parent of an autistic child be encouraged to hope that he or she will have a successful adult life? Wouldn't a parent of any other child have such hopes? Success does not require becoming "normal," or becoming "high functioning," or achieving any particular level of education, or having a high-status career. The most important ingredients that go into a successful life, in my view, are having meaningful goals and values, being empowered to act in accordance with them, and contributing something of value (though not necessarily a measurable monetary value) to society. Whether or not a person has a disability label shouldn't even enter into that equation.


Love and acceptance and respect are all very important in life, no doubt about that, but autistic children (and children in general) also need and deserve parents who hope for success—who expect them to set meaningful goals for themselves, who give them genuine encouragement, and who believe in their ability to accomplish their goals.

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5 Comments:

  • Bravo!!

    That friend who accused me of self pity said to me "it's okay if your kid will never be a rocket scientist, nor will mine ever be," to which I responded, "I'm not sure about that." ;0)

    By Blogger Estee Klar-Wolfond, at 12:49 PM  

  • Love and acceptance and respect are all very important in life, no doubt about that, but autistic children (and children in general) also need and deserve parents who hope for success—who expect them to set meaningful goals for themselves, who give them genuine encouragement, and who believe in their ability to accomplish their goals.

    Definitely!

    I am certain that our parents' attitudes about who we were as individuals are part of the reason my brothers and I are as successful as we are in life.

    Thanks for the link, by the way. :)

    By Blogger Jannalou, at 2:37 PM  

  • Estee -- that's particularly ironic when you consider the fact that many of the rocket scientists working for NASA are obviously autistic.

    NASA has been described as "the world's largest sheltered workshop" because it employs so many autistics.

    Jannalou -- a few days ago, my site got flagged by Blogger's spam detection program because I've posted so many links. However, after further review, they decided I wasn't a spambot, LOL.

    By Blogger abfh, at 3:04 PM  

  • That's hilarious. :)

    By Blogger Jannalou, at 6:30 PM  

  • "Why shouldn't a parent of an autistic child be encouraged to hope that he or she will have a successful adult life? Wouldn't a parent of any other child have such hopes?"
    It depends. There's two things that could mean, depending on the definition of success. One is just moving the line, while leaving some people unacceptable, such as saying that low functioning autistics are OK, but profoundly delayed people aren't. The other is to say that even profoundly delayed people, or people in "vegetative states", or whatever can contribute in their own way, and everyone should be encouraged to contribute what they can. I'm not sure (and note the words "not sure", many people ignore those words) which you mean. The second I agree with, the first I don't. And I think it's important to clarify those for people who may be stuck in conventional definitions of success, by giving "success stories" of people that don't fit conventional ideas of success, such as the story of Cath in Does She Know She's There

    By Blogger Ettina, at 12:21 PM  

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