Ages ago, I wrote a couple of blog posts about the concept of getting healed for autism. I was strongly opposed to such an idea when a well-meaning person suggested it to me. Then I read about the perspective of parents of severely disabled autistic people who apparently would have a better life without autism, and suddenly I wasn’t so sure. I remained adamant that I don’t need fixing, but I couldn’t help worrying about promoting views that dismissed the suffering of people with higher support needs.
But after a lot of reflection, I realised that speaking up for the right to exist as an autistic person doesn’t have to be the same as denying support to anyone who needs it. When we speak against treatment, we aren’t saying that autistic people do not need help. The problem is that so often “help” is all about forcing someone to be more neurotypical, and less about easing suffering*. And if, through finding a better quality of life, someone overcomes some of their autistic traits, then so be it. But the priority should always be their wellbeing, not their social image.
I understand there are some severely disabled autistic people who may have a better quality of life without some of their autistic traits. I understand why they, and their family and carers, may need a lot of support. But there is a fine line between help that equips someone to manage situations they struggle with, and “help” that forces them to be someone they’re not in order for people to accept them.
The sad thing is, there are still people who think it’s sad that autistic people work, play, and learn differently to neurotypicals, because the world is conditioned to see anything outside of neurotypical norms as lesser. There are still people who aren’t explicitly against autistic people, but complain when we struggle with eye contact, express ourselves in an autistic way, struggle with things that neurotypicals find easy, etc. There are still “interventions” and “treatments” (two words that I am always suspicious of) that ignore autistic needs and communication in favour of enforcing compliance and masking. And there are still too many resources that speak over autistic people instead of promoting what we are trying to say.
By speaking out against these issues, I am not trying to romanticise autism. Rather, I am trying to raise understanding and acceptance. I am not a sick, broken, or otherwise damaged neurotypical person. I am an autistic person trying to break free from years of masking my natural traits out of shame, and being encouraged to believe that being autistic is lesser. I write about these issues to help make the world a safer place for all autistic people because we deserve to be ourselves without shame.
*EDIT (10/3/22): it may be worth adding that autistic people with high support needs very often have co-occurring disabilities and medical conditions that do cause suffering. While these things are common in autistic people, they are not autism itself.