|Photo © Lluís Ribes Mateu | Flickr / Creative Commons
[Painting of the Ancient Greek demigod Hercules and the giant Antaeus, c. 1570,
Oil on canvas. from the collection of the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art.]
Emily Paige Ballou
This is the reaction I wrote in response to the article The Kids Who Beat Autism, originally published in the New York Times Magazine in 2014. While I have no doubt that the parents and therapists profiled believe they have these kids’ best interests at heart, I was—and am—angry and frustrated at the celebration at their “recovery” on the part of people who are not the ones who are actually going to bear the consequences for the rest of their lives.
I’m sad for the kids who are.
The parents, teachers, and therapists and researchers without a clue who celebrate “recovery” because they still wrongfully define autism as a fixed set of permanent inabilities, rather than see autistic people as complete human beings, intrinsically capable of learning and growth—
- Are not the people doing the work of passing, and are not going to be the ones to find out first-hand just how long it isn’t actually sustainable.
- Are not the people who get told we’re too articulate to be autistic but have to ration our hours of speech per day.
- Are not the developmentally disabled women who suffer a sexual abuse rate of around 90%, no thanks to the compliance training that teaches us that allowing others to control our bodies is desirable behavior.
- Are not the kids pulling themselves through school without disability accommodations.
- Are not the kids getting their supports and accommodations pulled out from under them when they lose a diagnosis.
- Are not the kids getting chided and belittled because their challenges and oddity are now seen as choices of defiance or misbehavior.
- Are not the people being lied to about who they are.
- Are not the people who are going to wake up one day 20 years from now with no idea who they are or how they got there.
- Are not the people who will spend a year and a half having a meltdown with no idea of what’s happening or why.
- Are not the kids being taught that accepting yourself as you really are and as you really work, would be the worst possible thing.
- Or that the “best outcome” possible for you is to spend the rest of your life pretending to be something you’re not. Even if that means leaving you with anxiety, depression, or obsessive-compulsive disorder.
- Are not the people who are going to have to re-learn where they belong in space and time and how to live there.
- They will not be the people giving these kids a community and a support system years from now. They will not be the ones who know what to do when they start having breakdowns and burnouts.
They will not be the ones supporting their kids in learning self-acceptance when all their passing skills fail because they are actually incompatible with functioning in the long term.
They will not be the people there to pick up the pieces.
There is, indeed, hope for the kids featured in this article, for joy and authenticity. This article could’ve come with a spoiler alert; autistic adults know the end of this story. We know it many times over.
It’s just not that these kids live out their lives as non-autistic people.