Wednesday, June 04, 2008

New York Magazine on the Autism Rights Movement

See this long, interesting article. An excerpt:

The first person to articulate the autism-rights position, Jim Sinclair, has produced only a few page-long essays. In his seminal invective, “Don’t Mourn for Us,” from 1993, he wrote, “It is not possible to separate the autism from the person. Therefore, when parents say, ‘I wish my child did not have autism,’ what they’re really saying is, ‘I wish the autistic child I have did not exist and I had a different (non-autistic) child instead.’ Read that again. This is what we hear when you mourn over our existence. This is what we hear when you pray for a cure. This is what we know, when you tell us of your fondest hopes and dreams for us: that your greatest wish is that one day we will cease to be, and strangers you can love will move in behind our faces.”

The term neurodiversity was put forward by Judy Singer, an Australian whose mother and daughter have Asperger’s and who is on the spectrum herself, and was first published by the American writer Harvey Blume. “I was interested in the
liberatory, activist aspects of it—to do for neurologically different people what feminism and gay rights had done for their constituencies,” Singer said. Singer, Blume, and Sinclair, voices in the wilderness in the nineties, are now part of a thriving culture: There are Websites and T-shirts, and slang like NT, or “neurotypical” (a playful slur for the non-autistic), Aspies, and auties. The neurodiverse present regularly at autism conferences. Some of the first wave of activists are parents of autistic children, but more recently, autistic adults have been advocating on their own behalf. The Internet has made the climate even more hospitable to an autism-rights position, allowing activists to locate one another and communicate at their own pace. The Web, Singer said, “is a prosthetic device for people who can’t socialize without it.”

These activists argue that autism is not an illness but an alternative way of being. The preferred terminology among disability activists is to speak of a “person with
deafness” rather than a “deaf person,” or a “person with dwarfism” rather than a dwarf. But Sinclair has said that “person-first” terminology denies the centrality of autism and has compared “person with autism” to describing a man as a “person with maleness.”


Blogger Maddy said...

It's certainly a very heated debate. I wonder what a 'person with femaleness' would be like?
Best wishes

4:42 PM  
Blogger EkC said...

I agree with Maddy; it is certainly a very heated debate. In fact, there is currently a very lively discussion about it on the website I work for. I suggest checking it out - it's really interesting to read all the different Disaboom members' opinions on People First Language.

1:28 PM  

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