Why using ‘autistic’ as a pejorative term really isn’t cool.

I realise that this is possibly along the same thread as my previous blog post about autism, but I would like to draw people’s attention to one particular thing: using ‘autistic’ as a pejorative term is stupid. Very, very stupid. I have seen it on Facebook. I have seen it in theatre reviews. I have seen it in the media. I have seen it in ACADEMIC WRITING ON THEATRE, the last of all places I would expect to find it. If you are going to describe something as ‘autistic’ or doing something ‘autistically’ [hey, Windows doesn’t think it’s a word — maybe that’s telling you something] or any of its variants, you more than likely have very limited knowledge about what the autistic spectrum may entail.

I am aware that I sound very aggressive. But for a number of people, it just seems to me that if I or any other person with autism do not act like Sheldon Cooper, or Dustin Hoffman from Rain Man, or just generally do not act very much beyond the remits of what people consider to be socially acceptable, then I or that person do not fulfill their criteria of what ‘autism’ is. Message, folks: Sheldon Cooper has never been officially diagnosed with autism or AS, and just because he acts ‘weird’, that does not give you the licence to become amateur psychologists. And the same goes for describing someone, anyone, as autistic just because they appear ‘strange’, ‘weird’, or ‘creepy’ to you. It’s almost as if autism itself is a stigma, and something to be ashamed of. Have you stopped to consider how hurtful that might be to someone who actually IS autistic? I remember reading a review of Macbeth from its US tour, that described Harriet Walter’s Lady Macbeth as being in ‘an autistic frenzy’ in the sleepwalking scene. I can partially understand where that comes from (the zealous washing of hands recalls stimming), but eh, the wife of a murderer driven by immense guilt to madness and suicide? Isn’t that a bit of an extreme case, and isn’t it a bit simplistic? I can only wish that the theatre reviewer would be a lot more careful with his adjectives.

In fairness, the shirt is pretty rad.

To me, it’s comparable to ‘that’s so gay’, which is an incredibly offensive term on its own. Feel free to scoff, but when your autistic traits are so integral to your identity, as much as your sexuality is (whether you’re gay, straight, bi, asexual, trans*, etc), it’s hard not to think of it as an ignorant, ill-informed assessment. Autism is not ‘weird’. It may have its pitfalls, but more importantly, it makes me who I am, and that person isn’t going to change any time soon. As Feminist Aspie astutely puts it, ‘I’m sick of hearing that I and others like me can’t live a full life. We can, and we do. We just need a little help sometimes.’ I couldn’t put it better myself — a little understanding and compassion goes a long way.

So, I ask you to think. And to be a bit more careful when you’re choosing your words. It’ll save me slamming my head into my desk (again), at least. And while we’re at it, let’s stop using the R-word too. That also sucks.

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