”Autism” is not a swear word

After going public with my autism I have noticed, that sometimes people find dealing with such openness really difficult. Openly using the word ”autism”, I mean. People I have encountered have attempted to substitute it with words such as ”flaw”, ”handicap”, ”illness” and ”restriction” -all of which, for starters, are far from being decent substitutes for ”autism”.Next problem with these circumlocutions is that they are obvious value statemtents. Can we agree, that we autists get to decide what our autism means to us? Could experts, professionals and our relatives and loved ones respect our experiences on autism? My impression is, that few autists see their autism as such a crushingly negative condition as well-meaning neurotypical people around us. We tend to be quite good at separating challenges stemming from autism itself from difficulties that arise from interacting with harsh neurotypical world as an autistic person. This difference in views gives rise to interesting (though almost always harmful to autists) situations when these well-meaning neurotypicals get the opportunity to tell the world, who autists are, how we experience things and what we are or are not capable of.

Third and biggest issue with euphemisms is, that autism is not a swear word. It is not something shameful that should be hidden and only be whispered about. Sure, soem people use the term ”autist” as a slur, but such misuse only ruins words if we let it. I don’t feel uncomfortable when someone calls me autistic in a relevant situation and matter-of-fact tone. Instead, I feel supremely uncomfortable when I notice that my discussion partner wriggles like the late worm in a fishing hook trying anxiously to find the most polite way of expressing their conviction that compared to them, that as an autist I am an inferior and incomplete poor soul who must bee deeply unhappy for her failure to be part of neurotypical excellence. In other words, treating the a-word as if it was the f-word that has no place in civilized communication, is an effective way to turn the situation into exactly that sort of awkward demonstration of microaggression that the misuser of silk gloves so dearly wished to avoid.

Minorities 101: overcautiousness and tiptoeing around minority traits especially when they are the topic of discussion are NOT part of equal and sensitive treatment of minorities. They are part of the problem and renew effectively discriminating structures. They produce barriers where there otherwise might not be any.

Would you like to know more? I will keep on exploring this theme in future blog posts, but if you wish to gain deeper understanding tailored to exact needs of your organization you can email me saara.reiman@kaiao.fi, and we’ll see how Kaiao could be of service.