The trend towards autistic fascism

 


I’m aware that this article will likely incite outrage in some (how very dare anyone, even if they’re autistic themselves, ever be critical of any autistic people?) and – maybe – be received as a blessed relief by others who have been burned by the angry judgement of some autistic people. These judgemental autistic people are the ones I feel the need to write about here.

Before we carry on, here are a few quick definitions for reference:

Ableism: according to Access Living, “is the discrimination of and social prejudice against people with disabilities based on the belief that typical abilities are superior. At its heart, ableism is rooted in the assumption that disabled people require ‘fixing’ and defines people by their disability.”
Gaslighting: according to Medical News Today, “is a form of psychological abuse where a person or group makes someone question their sanity, perception of reality, or memories. People experiencing gaslighting often feel confused, anxious, and unable to trust themselves.”
Neurodivergent: according to Disabled World, is a “person is defined as one whose neurological development and state are atypical, usually viewed as abnormal or extreme. The term was coined in the neurodiversity movement as an opposite for ‘neurotypical’.”
Neurotype: According to Wikiversity, “is the name given to one individual form of wiring. The so-called "normal" neurotype is referred to as Neurotypical (abbreviated NT) and is what we once thought of as being the most common, or "typical" form of wiring, hence the name.
Neurotypical: according to Neurocosmopolitanism, “often abbreviated as NT, means having a style of neurocognitive functioning that falls within the dominant societal standards of ‘normal’.”
Social model of disability: according to SCOPE, is the view "that people are disabled by barriers in society, not by their impairment or difference. Barriers can be physical, like buildings not having accessible toilets. Or they can be caused by people's attitudes to difference, like assuming disabled people can't do certain things.”
Tone policing: according to Feminism India, “is when someone tries to diminish the validity and importance of a statement by attacking the tone in which it is said and presented, instead of the message itself… It is yet another tool used to protect privilege instead of understanding the structures of oppression that exist in our society.”

There’s a vibe among autistics seeking social equality to blame neurotypicals for all their problems. They cite the social model of disability as evidence that all their problems are caused by neurotypical people failing to accommodate them. This blame is accompanied by intense outrage. Further, a seemingly growing number of militant equality-seeking autistics seek to dictate how all neurotypes must communicate. This involves having to accept their bluntness without complaint, and it being right and proper for them to angrily harangue people who don’t use the language they approve of. They permit only their view of autism. Talk of possessing innate struggles that cannot be explained by the social model of disability is shouted down. Talk of concepts beyond their ideological understanding of autism (such as sensory underload) is also shouted down. Talk of identifying as specifically PDA and saying that pathological-type demand avoidance is unique to PDA is shouted down. In fact, these militant autistics claim PDA as their territory, angrily asserting that the label is not just unnecessary, but insulting because only their type of autism exists.

Autism can be viewed as a neurological territory in which some, militant inhabitants have extremist dogmatic views of:

> how autism must be perceived
> how autistic people must be treated
> how autistics are permitted to speak to neurotypicals
> how neurotypicals are permitted to speak to them
> that only autistic people may theorise about autism

These militant autistics do not question their righteousness, or rightness in shouting down anyone voicing opinions contrary to their dogma. They assume the right to express rage and disgust at “non-conformists” (be they neurotypical or neurodivergent). If a non-conformist asks them, no matter how politely, to be more gentle, they are shouted at for being “ableist” or “tone policing”. If anyone suggests that they’re mistaken in their judgements, they are accused of “gaslighting”. The end result is that no one can challenge them at all without being accused of ableism, tone policing and/or gaslighting: terms that are never clearly defined, but freely used. It’s left to the accused to guess what their terrible crimes might be.

This stance of assuming the right to condemn; dictate language-use; deny contrary opinions; demand preferential treatment; and claim territory feels uncomfortably fascistic. Robert Paxton, widely considered the father of fascism studies, defines fascism as "a form of political practice distinctive to the 20th century that arouses popular enthusiasm by sophisticated propaganda techniques for an anti-liberal, anti-socialist, violently exclusionary, expansionist nationalist agenda.”

Historically, autistic people have been oppressed by being viewed as less than human and consigned to the social scrapheap. Harmful “cures” like bleach enemas, and “therapies" such as ABA (applied behavioural analysis) have been routinely forced onto autistic children. ABA is essentially dog-training autistic children how to communicate like non-autistic people by suppressing their natural selves. It’s is now known to cause long-term psychological damage such as PTSD and tics. Neurotypical researchers are even seeking ways to detect autism in foetuses so they can be aborted.

Autistics seeking to end oppression from neurotypical society and to be treated as human equals claim the right to communicate in their natural autistic way. This is entirely understandable. Of course people should have the right to communicate as they wish and not be forced to suppress their natural selves for the ease of neurotypical people. They argue that non-autistics need to learn to drop prejudice against their communication-style. While this is certainly a valid argument, it is not maybe so black and white. Being non-autistic entails natural sensitivity to tone and nuance, meaning that autistic communication style can feel painful. Further, many people, including autistics, cannot process blunt communication without pain. Conditions include:

> Neurological rejection sensitivity
> Anxiety
> Low-self-esteem
> Depression
> Imposter syndrome
> PTSD, including from domestic abuse

Should not mutual respect and compassion govern communication on both sides?

It should perhaps be borne in mind that, 1) autism, by its very nature, affects social communication, and, 2) equality is about existing on common ground. So while it is unjust for neurotypicals to dictate how autistic people communicate, is it fair for autistic people to demand that neurotypicals (and other neurotypes) may not feel hurt by their natural bluntness? Social communication is a two way thing. If one party cannot process what the other has said then communication has failed.

Isn't there a glaring oversight in a group (who by definition have social communication difficulties) assuming the right to dictate how everyone has to communicate? Is this not like blind people telling sighted people how to see?

Neurotypicals are, arguably, being demonised by autistic militants: painted as evil monsters that should be kept in place and punished for their innate, universal wrongness. It’s assumed right to shout at neurotypicals if they fail to use autistic-approved language. Neurotypical-led charities for neurodivergent people, such as PDA Society, are subjected to abusive trolling purely because of the neurology of their leaders (and regardless of the effectiveness of their work). The very word “neurotypical” is, in fact, used as an insult, and neurotypical people are effectively viewed as subhuman. Formerly oppressed autistics have seem to have become the oppressors.

On top of this, people of other neurogroups, such as delayed sleep phase and ADHD, are shouted down by militant autistics if they claim to have innate issues that social accommodations wouldn't fix. However, can the social model of disability truly account for all issues experienced by neurodivergent people? Some of us arguably have innate issues that no amount of societal accommodation can alleviate. Take sensory processing differences where the noise of our own family can be intolerable. So, yes, while neurodivergent people would definitely benefit from societal accommodations, many of us possess additional difficulties that no amount of social restructuring would lift. Take, for example, PDA where we cannot do things that we want to do or are necessary for maintaining our health and well-being because our demand avoidance paralyses us. PDA avoidance frequently prevents things like getting a drink of water when thirsty, or attending vital medical appointments.

As touched on earlier, if someone asks a militant autistic, no matter how politely, to be more gentle, they are shouted at for being “ableist” for the assumption that they could communicate differently, and “tone policing” them for challenging the tone they used. Any further debate is met with increased outrage and, sometimes, accusations of “gaslighting” them for trying to make them think they were wrong.

Here are some examples:

“How dare you be so fucking ableist expecting me to speak in pretty flowery language!”

“I’m not listening to you any more, so don't bother trying to gaslight me.”

“The way the group is being run coddles ableists for making ableist comments and tone polices autistics for being blunt”

“I can’t believe you’re tone policing me. I have typically blunt autistic language. A lifetime of getting trouble for this from NTs was bad enough. Its really fucking annoying when I get it from autistics too.”

It’s worth revisiting the definitions of these three "crimes" (tone policing, ableism and gaslighting) militant autistics accuse people of in their bid to silence them:

Ableism is “the discrimination of and social prejudice against people with disabilities based on the belief that typical abilities are superior.”.
Ableism does not refer to requesting autistic people to respect others’ feelings.

Gaslighting is “a form of psychological abuse where a person or group makes someone question their sanity, perception of reality, or memories”
Gaslighting does not refer to someone simply posing a contrary view.

Tone policing is “when someone tries to diminish the validity and importance of a statement by attacking the tone in which it is said and presented, instead of the message itself… It is yet another tool used to protect privilege instead of understanding the structures of oppression that exist in our society.” 

Tone policing does not refer to someone saying autistic blunt-speaking can be difficult for some listeners to cope with. Yes, comments like this refer to tone, but this is not the same as “tone policing”

Further, used in this context, all three of these accusations (ableism, tone policing and gaslighting) can be seen as not just inaccurate, but arguably hypocritical:

Is it not ableist to assume others can cope with bluntness?

Is it not gaslighting to make people believe themselves criminal for arbitrary language-crimes against militant autistics?

Is it not tone policing to escape discussing an issue by attacking the tone in which it is delivered?

In seeking to correct this imbalance of human justice, are autistic people swinging things too far in their own favour? For example, by dictating how social communication must take place, and assuming the role of dictators who may never be questioned (without any compassion for the sensitivities of anyone but themselves), and that everyone must accept their bluntness.

Yes, autistic people have been, and still are, subjected to mass prejudice, suppression and bullying by neurotypicals. This does not though mean that it’s good or right for them to turn the tables and subject neurotypicals to prejudice and bullying of their own.

Paolo Freire, in his 1968 Pedagogy of the Oppressed, describes how oppressed people seeking to regain control lose their humanity if they turn on their oppressors. He argued “when the oppressed seek to regain and deepen their humanity, they must not in turn oppress the oppressors, but rather help to restore the humanity of both.”

Equality and justice surely lies in finding common ground on which all neurotypes can meet, unjudged and respected by all? Coming as we do from different neurological territories, and from individual journeys of experience and understanding, our languages and cultures will naturally differ, but might it not be possible for all of us, regardless of neurotype, to accept different ways of speaking and thinking and embrace our shared humanity as valid however it’s expressed? Surely no neurogroup’s perspective is more valid than another’s? And, surely, we will be stronger if we come together without prejudice from any side?


 


Comments

  1. Thank youuuuu for saying this! Yes, yes, yes.

    Makes me think of the Rumi quote:
    "Beyond ideas of right and wrong the is a field. I'll meet you there."

    We need more conversations happening in this field. The unchecked militancy feels is strangling conversations, depriving deeper learning on both sides. Its like an unchecked ego which is in charge of the debate.

    ReplyDelete

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