Autism, as well as anything else described in mainstream psychology as a “mental disorder,” is thought to be something a person is afflicted with, as if it is a disease that can be cured. Regardless of whether you have a negative or positive view of autism, you most likely see it as a condition that a person has, implying that it is external to their identity, rather than a part of who they are.
This is why some autistic rights activists prefer the term “autistic person” rather than “person with autism,” even though the former term might intuitively look to many as the more offensive term at first glance. But consider this- would a black person enjoy being called a “person with blackness?” Personally, I have no preference for one term or the other as I am generally a rather politically incorrect person. I enjoy using slurs and making fun of other groups in good humor, and want to give that same freedom to others who want to make fun of retards like me as well. I also believe it is about time for my people to reclaim the R-word! Just like the Ns did! But that’s a topic for another day.
Now, if I had to choose which of the terms out of “autistic person” or “person with autism” I consider more accurate, I would say neither. I would say the most accurate term is “person without neurotypicality.” I see autism not as something someone has, but as something they don’t have– this thing called neurotypical social conditioning. This, in my opinion, is the condition certain people have. Pun intended.
What neurotypicals call “autistics” are those people who, for whatever reason, have failed to become properly socially conditioned. They have failed to behaviourally reach the ranks of the neurological upper class. And this is what we are seen as- failures. Failures because we cannot socialise and behave neurotypically enough. But sometimes I wonder: Is it really that we are failed attempts at conditioning, or just that we simply don’t want to be conditioned?
It is usually assumed that autistic children are trying very hard to be “normal,” but are simply unable to. Because obviously, neurotypicality is the pinnacle of human existence that everybody wants to be! (sarcasm) From my own experience as a child, I would say that, largely, I simply rejected it. I resisted social conditioning. As I got into higher grades and college it became more difficult, but now that I am a 29-year old adult, I am starting to return to rejecting it once again. I can still put on a character for the sake of social interactions, but otherwise, I am freeing myself from conditioning!
I was largely non-verbal as a child- almost completely mute in school, but talked pretty much normally with family and most family friends. It could be described as selective mutism- I don’t remember exactly where the line between verbality and non-verbality was drawn. It was always assumed that I didn’t talk because I was “shy.” That is the label we are usually given. Yes, there was a degree of shyness and social anxiety, but that is not the full story. It was also largely that I did not want to socialise in manner they were prescribing me. I did not want to be conditioned and moulded into a charismatic salesman, a workhorse of the state, a docile obedient citizen who smiles like a jackass and does what he’s told. Of course, I did not have this advanced of a vocabulary at age 5, but this is just my analysis of the situation today.
When we are given the label “shy,” it is under the assumption that neurotypical socialization is something we desire, and that we are not achieving it because we are too anxious. It is positing non-shyness, sociability and extraversion as ideals that everybody should strive for. Well, have you ever considered that perhaps we simply reject these ideals? That we consciously choose not to strive for them? That, despite what many people think, autists are fully capable of making conscious, independent decisions?
I think a good slogan for a radical autism rights movement would be A Rejection of Social Conditioning. Or Resistance Against Social Conditioning. Whichever you think sounds catchier. Maybe the latter because it sounds more social-justicey?