I love Temple Grandin. She is a great advocate for acceptance and nurturing of difference in all human beings, not just those on the spectrum. As such, when I saw a link on The Autism Site of a snippet of her interview with George Stroumboulopoulos I was compelled to click on it.
Because I love Temple, I was able to overlook her definition of autism in the interview as a neurological disorder. I think she uses that definition based on the medical classification of autism being outside the norm of typical neurological functioning. Being neurotypical is viewed as a good thing in this framing, while being anything else is viewed as problematic.
In Temple’s personal testimony on her own life and comments on the lives of others on the spectrum, she provides a message of value and appreciation for those on the spectrum. Different is not the same as damaged or less – it is merely different. And while it remains true that those on the spectrum have historically had to navigate a very neurotypical world, the incidence of those being recognized as being on the spectrum is increasing dramatically. Our world is becoming filled with folks that are anything but typical – is that such a bad thing? Is that something we need to fix or try to prevent? That is what the term “disorder” connotes…in a word it says something is wrong with those on the spectrum.
Of course you have heard this from me before. I don’t like the labeling of autism as a disorder. Perhaps that is because I believe that a piece of me dances on the spectrum, or that I have two beautiful grandchildren who dance there with me. I reflect upon some of the most creative thinkers, brilliant scientists, and gifted artists our world has known and I can see where they too danced on the spectrum. Today, these folks would have carried a label based on the medical community’s classification of their functioning, but they lived in a time when this particular label was not available. Hence, they were given other labels that were available in their time – eccentric, anti-social, retarded, etc. Albert Einstein, my eternal crush, was believed to be on the spectrum. Einstein was different, but still he was celebrated because of the brilliance he brought to the world. That brilliance according to today’s medical terminology would be a neurological disorder.
Don’t get me wrong, I understand that there are benefits to those on the spectrum to carry such a label. Such a label equals funding and access to services. It can open the door to understanding and outreach. I get it. But still I cringe when I see or hear certain things.
While I can forgive Temple Grandin’s offering of the medical definition of autism, I cannot forgive The Autism Site for the title of the summary used to summarize the clip. It read, “Temple Grandin Overcoming Autism.” Overcoming autism? As if it was a stutter or a fear of heights – something to overcome. That irritated the daylights out of me. Temple Grandin is fabulous. She is fabulous because of who she is and what she stands for. She is a phenomenal woman who is on the spectrum and to say that she is “overcoming” the beautiful mind that makes her who she is asinine. Autism is not a defect and Temple is an example of the beauty that those on the spectrum bring to the world.
To be fair,the rest of the summary was not offensive. It was just the title on that specific site that made me foam at the mouth. The Autism Site has a heightened responsibility to get it right and to advocate for the beauty and gifts that exist on the spectrum. Wayne Dyer said, “Change the way you look at things, and the things you look at will change.” Change the way you look at the spectrum and those on it and you will see that what I am saying is correct. The spectrum brings us beautiful difference and it challenges us to think about how many ways the world can be interpreted. When it comes to autism there is nothing to overcome except a lack of understanding.
Day one thousand three hundred and fifty-two of the new forty – obla di obla da