On suicide prevention day
Son lei ábi čábbodat
Vahágis gáiddai fávlái iige gáddái boahtán šat.
áhpi, go áhpi, áhpi.
Olmmoš gal lea áhpi.
Das ii geahči lea.
Áhpi/ Sofia Jannok
Today, 10.9., is suicide prevention day.
Suicidality among autistic people is many times higher than in general population. According to research, factors increasing the risk further are late recognition of autism, gender other than man, co-occurring mental health conditions (depression and anxiety are higher than in general population among all oppressed minorities). No matter what one’s list of ”talents” or ”superpowers” looks like, the most profound superpower of a late-identified autistic female is still drawing breath. So many people just like me have not made it this far. People are wide as oceans, but the world seems insistent on turning autists into muddy puddles.
High suicidality is not just some unfortunate but expected consequence of being born autistic. A famous example of similar phenomenon can be found from among indigenous peoples, such as sámi people here in Finland. Like autisti people, they too fae dsicrimination and strong assimilation pressure. They are pressed to move away from where they grew up, thus severing much of their support networks. They face prejudice, discrimination and cultural pressure. Their minority traits are exotized and exploited -in practice, how this happens is very different than exotization and exploitation faced by autistic people. Much of the narrative about the minority is produced by majority and people whose ultimate goal is not to educate the world about minority but to make money.
In short: once again, we are not dealing with a problem stemming prom “special traits” of one particular minority but a broader, oppressive social structure. Social structures upheld by majority culture can not be fixed by fixing people in minorities but by building a truly equal society where individuals can live according to their minority identity and still remain as equal members of society. In a culture permeated by homogenizing efficiency and capitalism this is not an easy task.
Plight of minorities is heightened by the fact that finding help when help is needed, can be extremely difficult. Even suicidal members of majority report major difficulties in finding help and support. From minority perspective, ”help” that ignores minority traits and is based on majority worldview, simply fails to help. For instance, autistic psychology has a few significant differences to neurotypical psychology. When in acute distress, an autistic person may find neurotypical expressions of compassions distressing, dour and intrusive. It is as if help was being offered in one’s second or third language -and when one is absolutely exhausted, translation effort is too much to ask, even if everyday communication with majority works reasonably well.
In my opinion, remedies to this dire situation are simple…but only in principle. In practice, I am not holding my breath, because as usual, the changes needed are the sort of things that majority is most reluctant to do. Identifying as autistic should be facilitated instead of current gatekeeping. That, in turn would be easier to accomplish if representation and autism expertise were transferred to autistic people. Social security network should be strengthened, not dismantled. Autistic are, after all, among first people to fall through saftety nets, sometimes straight into oblivion. Basic information about autism should be common knowledge. Discrimination and marginalization should be ended.
As long as these big issues remain unaddressed, one should not expect miracles from means targeting individuals in distress. In daily life, we are individuals, though, and more importantly, little help is far better than nothing.
So I’m going to finish this essay by giving a few tips to those who want to keep autists of their lives safe:
1) Resist eugenistic thinking that is still popular in medical science. Wipe carefully from your mind the belief, that the world would be a better place without autism and autistic people and that autism is something unwanted, something that should be “cured” or at least “alleviated. Such ideas represent darkest hatred. People who identify with majority have nor moral right neither sufficient knowledge base to evaluate life in minority as worthless or as “suffering” that could be humanely eased by destroying the minority. It is wrong to support -against objections from people in minority- scientific research or other activity that lists destroying minority by eugenistic means, be they gene therapy or selective abortions. To put it simple: if you do not believe, that existence of autism and autistic people continuing to be born, there is no way you can be our ally. You are force contributing to our suicidality.
-Strive to see autism through what is good in it. Do not pressure autist to be different. Make sure you understand them correctly instead of just interpreting through your majority perspective. Avoid both depressing and oppressing by praise (eg. talking about how superspecialawesome we are) and exotizing. If you do not understand something, accept it and remember that it only tells about your limits, not that there is nothing worth understanding.
-Instead of seeing masking as a prerequisite for being socially accepted, see company of right people and acceptance of neurodiversity as prerequisites for being socially accepted.
– Searc reliable -meaning mostly autist-produced- information. At minimum, any information should be approved by autists. Avoid information from neurotypical-identifying “experts”, “autism advocates and educators” unless autistic people explicitly tell you that it is a reliable source. One can not understand minority experience correctly by relying on outsiders’ interpretations about what it is like to be autistic and what we need. And yes: if you are responsible for wellbeing for one autist, you totally should know several others who can help you and provide insight when needed (also Kaiao is happy to help).
-Help autist find and connect with autistic community. That alleviates feelings of loneliness and being an outsider, and the experience that nobody really understands them. Tell the autist in your life, that among fellow autists, they don’t have to worry about if bringing some topic up is acceptable or whether they are somehow too much if they open up about what is troubling them. For example, to us, suicidal thoughts are not just statistical data but something that just about everyone understands either based on personal experience or experiences of their close friends. Autistic people won’t be scared off by talking about autistic experience.
Autistic people do want to live. All we need is a world that is willing to give us the space, freedom, peace and acceptance we need to be our authentic selves. Homogenizing dictatorship of majority harms us, because like all people, we are wide as oceans. Instead of world of people we just mostly open towards Takiwatanga. As human beings our needs of time, space, freedom and acceptance are simply human and not at all “special”. They can not be too much to ask.