Monday, 25 January 2016

Treated like individuals, not as a person with autism?

" atmosphere where someone can be treated as an individual, not as a person with autism"

A quote from a President of an ABA autism charity.

I need you to listen.  Because this is important.

There are a million autistic people in the UK.  It is not a disease.  We are not ashamed of it.  It is a genuinely different brain design.   Some will have additional disabilities that make life more difficult.  For example a learning disability, or ADHD.  Autism is not a 'behavioural condition'.  It is a sensory and social processing difference.  Hugely accurate, loyal, honest, dedicated people who bring a lot to society.   But most of us have massive sensory processing difficulties.  This video, two minutes long, will explain them to you.  Turn the sound up.  Right up.  Watch it, and tell me how difficult it was for just two minutes.  Try that all day long.  You now have some understanding of why we behave differently in busy, noisy places.  Because of genuine sensory pain, not defiance.

"Positive behaviour support" is a form of Applied Behaviour Analysis, which teaches that the child's behaviour in that video is "problem behaviour".  It teaches that the child has to be rewarded to stay in the pain and behave nicely.  Do they? 

I want to be treated as an autistic person.  I am not ashamed of who I am, or how I was born.   And I am an individual.

Not only am I an individual, but I know literally hundreds of other autistic people.  All individuals, all happy to be respected as autistic.   Some, my family.  Others, my friends.  Yet others, colleagues, including clergy.  As you will be aware, I was for some years the autism expert for the Church of England.  The author of the guidelines for autism for the church, which can be accessed from  working with so many of the Bishops in the country.

Please,  I ask you not to use language that shames or 'others' autistic people.  In a world that is already filled with myths about how dangerous we are (no more than anyone else) and now incompetent we are (no more than anyone else), we need the love of the church.  We had horrible materials written by one of the preferred publishers for clergy, in which we were told that 70% of autistic people are abusive to their partner at some stage in their marriage.  From a study that showed that 77% of non-autistic people were abusive to their partner.   It reported only the figure for autism.  We get that all the time.  Demonisation.  The sense that we are evil, horrible, nasty individuals who are out to hurt everyone. Unless we have expensive behavioural training.  Well, no.

I've never met a nicer, kinder bunch of people than my autistic colleagues.  They have been there for me through my cancer treatment, they have supported me through my husband's brain aneurysm and my son's eyesight difficulties. They have cheered me and others along, prayed with me, cared so much about me and about others.  It breaks my heart to see autism portrayed in negative ways.  No, they are not at the 'mild end'.

I would ask that you pray for a world where we are seen as fully human, fully alive, and fully equal. 

We are autistic.  We are individuals.  And we are not ashamed.