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Voicelessness. Ability versus Definition.

Chewy Charis's picture

Reading the Yergeau piece, I was struck the repudiation of the autists' own opinion. True, it's a common belief that patients lie, and an individual have selective memories and cannot give account to the whole truth of a particular situation. But certainly, they can access their own emotions? I mean, who are we to determine whether or not a person's feeling or reflection on his/her own experience is valid? The repudiation was again present in the video where the girl enacts aggressive behaviors toward autistics: "Autism, you mean Asperger?" ; "No, I don't see that you have autism at all" ; "Don't use Autism as an excuse. " The last one triggered a personal memory during a service trip, where I was one of the only two people of color and the only immigrant in the group. At group meetings that were supposed to enhance our experience, I pointed out several times that I felt like I didn't fit in and that I felt isolated. In the feedback forms I received, ALL comments said something like "Don't label yourself as isolated. Even if you are not from the same culture, you still can try to fit in."  "Don't label yourself with such negative terms," basically goes the message, "try harder." Hence it's not okay to express true personal feelings, not okay to point out the true reason for such feeling. The individual's analysis of the situation is only a symptom of his/her passive nature, and it's the individual's responsibility to fix the siutation, or rather, to fix himself/herself. (This reminds me of stimming, and "fixing" means make yourself uncomfortable to the point of pain in order to appear normal. Not in my case though.) Of course, in Yergeau's article, the situation is much more severe. It sounds like the denial of a group of people's personhood in order to maintain a fundamental theory. Yet as the autists are rendered voiceless by the diagnosis, they cannot defend themselves because they are not "trustworthy." Or if they are, they "cannot be" autistic. (Ironically, only capable to think about things in dichotomy is considered a trait of Autism--inflexibility and rigidity. Yergeau's point strikes again: If you are neurotypical, having this problem is okay; if you are neurodivergent, ths is a medical symptom.)  

The silence is also mentioned in the beginning of Straus' article, where he points out that given that people have difficulty communicating using the standard way, it's hard for them to talk to neurotypicals and equally hard to one another since they communicate in ways different from one another as well. But what stays with me from Straus' piece is the ability part, to focus on what autism enables a preson to do (similar to Deaf Gain). As Straus points out, Autism embodies some of the western world's values, autonomous individuality, and so are many other disabilties. However, the need for a limited, normal amount of possession of this value defines anything beyond the norm pathological. Also, any embodiment of the wester fears are also pathological. It's quite sad that we have to restrict ourselves to such a standard in order to function, that we are unable to face our fear and have to put it aside and label it as otherness or pathology. Hence, where's the body, that is non-standard, multi-dimensinoal, and unique?  

I was very interested in the Asperger's syndrome, so I happened to look into these:

1. 50 questions AQ test.

2. a video made by a young woman who identifies as an Aspie. 



smalina's picture

Like you, I was disturbed by the idea that people with autism wouldn't be able to understand or even name their own emotions, reactions, or truths--doesn't this seem like the one thing that any marginalized or oppressed group does, universally, get to claim? This theme of not being the expert on oneself seems to come up a lot in the history of disability, as people must so often relinquish all control to a medical "expert," who can determine "what is really going on." If people with autism cannot claim their own marginalization, their voices, claims, and struggles cannot be valued or validated. This made me think about the history of women seeking medical care and being deemed as simply "hysterical" or "worked up"--an issue that still lingers in the medical field, resulting in things like high rates of progressed Lyme Disease in women in particular, simply because doctors do not trust women to know themselves. It seems like this tactic of undermining the self-knowledge of the "other" enables those already in power to maintain this position, as they assert themselves as the only ones who can offer "guidance" and "order" to those who simply cannot provide it for themselves.