Sunday, June 18, 2006

Autistic and Proud

Today is Autistic Pride Day. I understand 2006 is only the second year for this celebration. Not surprisingly, I get the feeling that we have not come to terms with what "autistic pride" should be about. I sense some caution in the part of the autistic community, as if the appropriateness of autistics being proud of ourselves is unclear.

Some debate has already occurred. Joel Smith made some good points regarding what autistic pride should not be, and suggested appropriate ways to celebrate it. Ballastexistenz explained that did not snub Autistic Pride Day in 2005, and also echoed Joel's points in the broader context of disability pride.

To try to conceptualize the issue, I have looked up what "pride" means to other movements.

Gay Pride.- "The gay pride or simply pride campaign of the gay rights movement has three main premises: that people should be proud of what they are, that sexual diversity is a gift, and that sexual orientation and gender identity are inherent and cannot be intentionally altered." (Wikipedia)

Black Pride.- "Black pride is a slogan used interchangeably to depict both the movement of and concept within politically active black communities, especially African-Americans in the United States. The slogan has been used by African-Americans to denote a feeling of self-respect, celebrating ones heritage, and being proud of one's personal worth. Black pride as a national movement is closely linked with the developments of the American Civil Rights Movement, during which noted figures such as Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, A. Philip Randolph, Stokely Carmichael, and others protested the conditions of the United States' segregated society, and lobbied for better treatment for people of all races... A related movement in the 70s to dispel the notion that black people's natural features, skin color and hair was inherently 'ugly.' The movement asked that men and women stop straightening their hair attempting to lighten or bleach their skin to 'look more white.'" (Wikipedia)

Disability Pride.- "Fundamentally, Disability Pride represents a rejection of the notion that our difference from the non-disabled community is wrong or bad in any way and is a statement of our self-acceptance, dignity and pride. It signifies that we are coming out of the closet and are claiming our legitimate identity. It's a public expression of our belief that our disability and identity are normal, healthy and right for us and is a validation of our experience." (

Deaf Pride.- "My own definition is that: *deafness is a disability which is so unique, its very nature causes a culture to emerge from it.* Participation in this culture is voluntary (I enlisted in 1989). Being a part of this culture has given me a sense of pride. I am no longer alone. I share a language, ASL, with many other people in the Deaf community. I share a history of struggle which is well-documented; not only are stories related to growing up deaf passed along within the Deaf community, but there are countless books as well (my personal favorite is Jack Gannon's Deaf Heritage). I enjoy ASL poetry and Deaf puns/jokes which cannot be translated into written English; they are unique in that they can only be understood within the framework of ASL. I enjoy attending plays and community events which focus on many Deaf issues. I also share many of the mannerisms of other Deaf people: the "deaf applause" cheer, a repertoire of visual expressions and signs which relay concepts far quicker than mere words ever could, a tendency to be more physically-oriented (i.e. tapping my foot, tapping someone's shoulder, blinking lights, etc, to get someone's attention), and so on. Last but not least, I bask in pride when I see Deaf people becoming more and more successful in the world..." (

I find the parallels with all these other communities remarkable. In this context, let me try to define what I believe autistic pride is:

Autistic Pride is a movement based on the following premises: (1) That autistics should be proud, not ashamed of who they are; (2) That neurological diversity a gift and a necessary part of human nature; (3) That autism is inherent and pervasive, and cannot be removed without also destroying the autistic person; (4) That autistics have worth and are valuable members of society; (5) That autistics should not be forced to act "normal"; (6) That efforts aimed at curing, defeating and exterminating autistics are inherently misguided.

I also sense there is some doubt as to whether it's appropriate to feel proud of autistics who have done well for themselves, because not all autistics reach this level of achievement. But I don't see anything wrong with celebrating Nobel-prize winner Vernon Smith, for example. Or even someone like Bill Gates (if he were to come out of the closet). This is no more wrong than it would be wrong for the Black community to celebrate Martin Luther King on the basis that not every black person gets to be like Martin Luther King.

And we should be proud of our strengths and talents, which are unique to each autistic individual. There is nothing wrong with this either.

Finally, I want to emphasize that pride is the opposite of shame. We should not be ashamed of who we are. We should not be ashamed of what others perceive as quirks or shortcomings. There is no reason to be ashamed of hand-flapping, fidgeting, rocking and so on. In the words of Autism Diva, the kid is rocking, not robbing a bank!


  1. I appreciate the way you put this in perspective alongside the meaning of 'pride' in other context. Nice post.

  2. If a drunk gets sober, is he destroying himself?
    If my son learns to talk by removing mercury, have I destroyed him?

  3. "I also sense there is some doubt as to whether it's appropriate to feel proud of autistics who have done well for themselves, because not all autistics reach this level of achievement."

    Which is just as unreal and also envious (one of the seven deadly sins isn't it?) as the line pushed by Autism Speaks, the ASA and Autism Canada. I point to all the successful autistics out there for my daughter so that she will very correctly have role models. Role models are just that - something to aim for. You're only going to be just like them if you have their talents - and who does? I can admire Voltaire without feeling I should damn him because I can neither think or write with that degree of lucidity.

  4. Thanks NM and Alyric for your sensible comments.

    John... come back when you have some evidence that autism is an induced temporary neurological state, just like being drunk.

  5. Joe;
    Asking questions is always easier than answering them, especially when you don't have an answer.
    Every cured child and improved child is perfect evidence that autism can be a temporary state if parents learn the truth about mercury.
    You are welcome to come to Londonderry, NH and observe my son while viewing old videos of him when he was in a vegetative state. The difference will be easy to discern.

  6. Joe,

    I agree with 1-4, but must disagree with including 5-6 as part of a definition of autistic pride. Instead of reflecting the nature and inherent worth of autistics, these last two reflect the impact autistic pride should ultimately have on society at large.

    Great post.


  7. Thanks Brett. I think (5) is applicable to pride as well. Autistics can force themselves to act normal because they feel there's something wrong with their natural behavior.

  8. Joe;
    There IS something wrong with autistic behavior. Mercury is screwing up their brains. It's far better to treat the mercury poisoning than to let the autistic person go through life with those behaviors he would be well rid of.
    Society can make allowances for it, accept it, ignore it, what's the use? The person who can't help the odd behavior would be much happier if his parents took steps to allow his brain to work right.

  9. This is a fantastic post; I love the connexions you have drawn together.

    (t just occurred to me -- has anyone noticed that getting happy-excited and flapping bears resemblence to the Deaf hand-waggling applause?


  10. There IS something wrong with autistic behavior.

    That's your opinion. (And I am sure glad you are the one with this opinion, and that you make it public).

    Mercury is screwing up their brains.

    Also your opinion, which scientifically makes no sense.

    The person who can't help the odd behavior would be much happier if his parents took steps to allow his brain to work right.

    I have an autistic son, who is not mildly autistic by any means. Yet he's a very happy boy. I think it is highly unlikely performing dangerous experiments on him would make him even more happy. I don't think I need to take drugs or whatever to be happy either.

  11. "I also sense there is some doubt as to whether it's appropriate to feel proud of autistics who have done well for themselves, because not all autistics reach this level of achievement."

    You bet there is is some kind of "sense" about celebrating the achievements of people on the spectrum. It is there because unlike other "differences," I.E. deafness, when someone overcomes a perceived insurmountable challenge and become successful (on whatever level) they are applauded and encouraged to offer their experiences as encouragement, etc. to others. But should a parent talk about what their child on the spectrum has achieved, the claws come out. Bitter and hateful generalizations are made. Guilt heaped upon them by the very community that is supposed to be supportive. I can only speak from my experience and what I've seen, but my family finds itself outsiders, both of the NT world and the ASD world. Too dysfunctional for one and too functional for the other.
    I hope that there is some kind of shift in both communities. Otherwise I suppose we'll be forced to choose between keeping their ASD underwraps (shhh...don't tell anyone, keep pretending that you're "normal...") and total isolation. Doesn't sound very inclusive to me. So far it seems that autistic pride is only extended just so far and my family remains beyond its reach.

    "We should not be ashamed of who we are. We should not be ashamed of what others perceive as quirks or shortcomings. There is no reason to be ashamed of hand-flapping, fidgeting, rocking and so on."

    We should not be ashamed of what we/they have achieved either.
    We should not be forced to hide our accomplishments (or those of our children) in the closet. Prejudice cuts both ways.

    Despite how it may appear, I appreciate the post joseph. My remarks are not directed at your observations or concept of autistic pride. But between how it is and how it should be there remains a great disparity. Thanks for the link to Joel Smith's remarks and thank you for your thoughtful blog.

  12. Thanks Susan. I get what you say.

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