Autism scares us, understandably: the idea of having a child who doesn’t relate to his or her parents, who cannot return our love in the way we hope, is deeply unsettling. There’s a cruel arbitrariness to it as well, and parents, in their desperate search for reasons for the unreasoned, may latch on to any explanation.
I’m not a parent of children with autism, but I have worked with lots of children across the autistic spectrum and I can categorically state there is nothing scary or unsettling about them. Children with autism are all individuals and all relate to their parents and the world in different ways. Making blanket, judgemental statements about their social interactions and the ways in which they experience and express emotions serves only to further the stereotype of autistic people as unfeeling oddballs, and the disablist discrimination that goes with it.
It may be “understandable” that people are scared of autism, but only insofar as it’s understandable that people pick up on prejudice and fear of difference in a society where any deviation from what is considered “normal” is stigmatised. Autism is only “unsettling” if you buy into the dehumanising view that autistic and other disabled people are weird and somehow deficient.
What is scary and deeply unsettling is the idea that children are somehow to blame for these attitudes, that they are the inevitable result of autism itself, rather than of prejudice and ignorance.
Check out the Autism Positivity Blog for different perspectives on autism.
Photo of knitted, rainbow-coloured ribbon for Autism Awareness Day by mattbeckwith, shared under a Creative Commons licence.