Better Than It
I was reminded of this unfortunate history while reading a San Francisco Chronicle article that spewed the usual high and low functioning autism stereotypes and quoted ignorant pronouncements from Bryna Siegel about social deficits. I never post active links to this sort of bigoted crud, but here's a partial URL for those who don't mind copying and pasting:
The author interviewed an autistic university student named Andrew Van Etten and praised his ability to socialize and make friends, which he attributed to his frequent participation in clubs and activities:
"They are ways to show myself that I can be beyond this diagnosis," he said. "I can choose a life path that says I've defeated it. Or I'm better than it."
One might wonder what Andrew Van Etten was thinking when he said this, but I can make a pretty good guess. He probably grew up hearing that autism made a person inferior, mentally deficient, a burden to society, and so forth. Most likely, he internalized that view and learned to despise his own kind, like so many people before him who belonged to the "wrong" race or gender or religion and who thought they could never succeed in life without first denying what they were.
It was an ugly heap of prejudiced garbage when other groups of people had to contend with it, and it's an ugly heap of prejudiced garbage now. And yes, Andrew, you are better than it—better than the stereotypes of inferiority that have come to be associated with an autism diagnosis. So are all the other 50 or 60 million autistic people on the planet. I hope that one day you'll learn to see your experiences in historical perspective and to understand that you are not so different, after all.