No Dogs or Autistics Allowed
But we don't live in a world where such signs would be unthinkable, either. All too often, autistic people are spoken of in the most vile and dehumanizing language. In her recent post Something Fierce, Mothersvox describes how her daughter was "feralized" and treated "like a pet" at a New York school.
I received an e-mail some time ago from a woman whose autistic boyfriend was told to leave a restaurant, apparently because he didn't look "normal." The proprietor pointed to a sign on the wall that said "We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone." Signs like that were commonly used to enforce Jim Crow segregation.
Nowadays, we have civil rights laws that can be used to prevent disability discrimination, but the reality is that many people are too afraid to stand up for their rights. This woman's boyfriend didn't sue the restaurant, although he probably could have won a discrimination lawsuit. There are many like him who feel that it is far too dangerous in today's world to have their autism become a matter of public record in a court file, immediately visible in an Internet search conducted by a prospective employer or landlord.
In my previous post, I wrote about a news article that mentioned a university student whose professor told her to disclose her autism to her teammates on a group project. The professor was quoted as saying that compared to the "very embarrassing" condition of being autistic, "what else can anyone feel embarrassed about having to divulge?"
Elsewhere in that article, a disability services official at the same university (which is a high-tech haven for geeks) mentioned the fact that many autistics do not disclose and that the actual number of autism spectrum students is much higher than the official statistics.
And that leaves me wondering... how many of the other students working on the group project might have been autistics in hiding? How many of them politely nodded and smiled, forcing themselves to make eye contact and sit still in their chairs, afraid to say a word, as the professor coerced their classmate into a confession reminiscent of a medieval witch hunt? How many of them went back to their dorm room afterward and had a good cry—or took out a razor and cut themselves until the pain was enough to blot out the fear and shame?