Sometimes autistic people chime in to tell someone, “Hey, the thing you’re doing purportedly on our behalf is actually harming. Please stop.” The respectful response would be, “Oh I’m sorry! I didn’t realize that was problematic and will stop immediately. What’s a better way I could proceed?” – and then actually take the actions accordingly. Unfortunately, some people just won’t accept any remark that they aren’t actually doing the good thing they think they are and then double down on their initial action, even going so far as to make those objecting the problem, even if they were supposed to be the “beneficiaries” of the unfavorable action.
When it’s a celebrity getting called out, the response can have far-reaching effects. If the celebrity chooses to cling to how correct they believe themselves to be despite the affected community’s outcry, fans of the celebrity who don’t have a vested stake will frequently come to their defense at the expense of those to whom it matters most.
I’d like to break down an article written a few years ago to demonstrate how valid concerns can be dismissed and the affected person vilified with language use. Unless specified otherwise, all quotes are from the article listed immediately below.
William Shatner Under Fire for Spreading Autism Awareness by bobb on 05/04/2017
“Earlier this week, the White House and autism organizations around the world celebrated the 10th annual World Autism Awareness Day. Actor William Shatner, best known for his role in Star Trek, changed his profile icon and tweeted his support into the related hashtag to draw awareness to the disability.”
The beginning of the article is designed to set up William Shatner in the positive role and show that he has support, though it doesn’t say which “autism organizations” actually celebrated the “awareness day”. Note that support from the White House—in which the sitting president at that time was Donald Trump—was the very first thing that the author wants us to hear, as it will come up again later. All positive words like “celebrated” and “support” are used to describe the actions of the White House, the nebulous “autism organizations”, and Shatner.
“Today, he was inundated with outrage from social justice warriors likened his support for autism awareness to hate speech. They further expressed their anger towards organizations like Autism Speaks, which sponsored the event.“
Now the author moves into very negative phrasing for people who were pointing out the harm of Shatner’s actions. We’re primed to feel sorry for person “inundated with outrage” using a loaded term (“social justice warriors”) often used to vilify people who care about equitable treatment for all members of society. The goal of portraying autistics with real concerns as angry, overreacting people is already obvious from this point.
“Autism Speaks is one of several global organizations that supports finding solutions across the spectrum and catering to the needs of individuals who suffer from it and their families. Critics refer to the search for a cure as a form of ‘eugenics.'”
Autism Speaks (AS) often refers to us and our families as “suffering” because of our neurotype and approaches us as a problem to be fixed and want to wipe out autism. Many autistic people view our challenges more from the social model of disability1 instead of the medical model. Any group that looks at us as a problem IS a problem; and yes, when the goal is to eradicate your neurotype through “research”, that’s by definition2 eugenics.
“Shatner fielded a host of complaints from critics who demanded he preach “autism acceptance” rather than awareness—some of whom made it a crusade to dedicate themselves against Autism Speaks. He was linked to an article on Forbes3 decrying awareness for the disability. The hysterical article based most, if not all, of its criticism towards the organization on its founder’s longtime personal friendshipwith (sic) President Trump.”
This is more loaded language that primes readers to disregard the content of the article using inflammatory terms such as “host of complaints, “demanded”, “crusade”, “hysterical”, “criticism”. If there was group dedicated to making your existence out to be a problem, you might also have some strong opinions. Calling the above mentioned article “hysterical” is incorrect and says more about the initial article’s author and their unwillingness to consider autistic viewpoints.
A minority of the article—certainly neither “most” nor “all”—that had been linked to Shatner is about how the AS leader is linked with the then sitting president, though it’s understandable that it would be mentioned when it is brought up. It’s interesting that it’s apparently fine to bring up the White House when it supports this article’s narrative, but not when another article points to associated problems.
Next the article goes on to quote Shatner’s response to autistic people who are trying to explain to him that his actions are counterproductive:
“’Instead of being the social warrior fighting against a charity; find an organization you do align with and become their advocate,’ he tweeted. ‘I supported an awareness day hashtag that appears to be scorned by a group that doesn’t want awareness.'”
Does the author then mention that autistic people actually HAVE our own organizations and that autistic people mentioned this to Shatner? No, that’s just left hanging.
“When one critic told him that the reason Autism Speaks is bad because it isn’t run by autistic individuals, Shatner responded: ‘I run a charity focused mainly on raising money for equine assisted therapy for disabled children. I’m not a child and I’m not disabled.’”
It is absolutely not okay to run groups that are purportedly to help a particular demographic without actively involving adults of that demographic that are able and willing to advocate on their own behalf. For example, I shouldn’t start up a group to try to help black men, fail to actually involve any black men in the functioning/purpose/etc. of the group, and completely ignore/block any commentary/suggestions from black men when I’m told I’m hurting more than helping. This is no different. I do hope that Shatner doesn’t dismiss any concerns—should there be any—regarding his own charity from the affected families like he dismisses autistic people about organizations that affect us.
“While a search for a cure to autism seems like a condemnation of autistic individuals—it isn’t. No one’s suggesting they haven’t a right to exist.”
Actually, yes, AS has shown4 clearly over the years that they want to eradicate my neurotype.
“Who wishes to be autistic and wishes hardship onto others?”
There are two separate ideas here, and they really show this article’s bias. I’m fine with being autistic, and quite a lot of us are. The question as posed, however, assumes hardship—whether it’s that we have hardship or that we cause it. If it’s the former, then maybe LISTEN instead of dismissing when we tell you what you (in this case Shatner) are doing that hurts us and then DON’T DO IT. If it’s the latter, I refuse to apologize for the inconvenience you feel by the fact that we don’t share your neurotype and have difficulties with the barriers society puts in our way.
“It would be akin to having a deaf child and refusing to provide them with hearing aids.”
Many deaf people embrace their deafness and don’t feel the need to be hearing. Some deaf people do want the assists. First, that’s their choice, not a hearing person’s choice to make for them. Secondly, for those of us who do want some form of assistance, AS offers Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) a highly problematic and abusive “therapy” that autistic people have come out heavily against, are centered on preventing us in the first place, and make us out to be tragic and burdensome.
“It’s encouraging that we may one day find a cure through science.”
No, it is not at all encouraging to think my neurotype is so devalued that the article’s author—whose bias is shown very clearly here—and others would rather us be not who we are altogether. It’s a difference in brain wiring, not a disease to be “cured”.
“However, some people—like the ‘self-advocates’ criticizing William Shatner—are discouraging such research for the sake of feeling special by setting themselves apart from ‘neurotypicals’.”
Point missed entirely, and if this closing remark doesn’t show the author’s disdain for us, I don’t know what does. We aren’t trying to feel “special”; we want to be treated with basic respect.
I don’t know if “bobb”, the author of this article, is a particular fan of William Shatner or not, but it’s abundantly clear that they don’t hold any respect or regard for autistic voices.
2 http://2 https://www.google.com/search?q=eugenics+definition