One thing that has become clear to me, over the past few months of interacting with the wider discourse on Twitter, is that neurotypical people like to draw a line down the middle of the Autistic community.
It’s been said to me numerous times (in a shockingly short period of time) that, by virtue of the fact that I have a Twitter account and am able to camouflage into the neurotypical word, I shouldn’t get a say on the idea of a ‘cure’. That I have level of privilege woven into my quasi-neurotypical mask, and therefore cannot possibly understand why a cure would be better for people who are, in their words, ‘severely autistic’.
These are presumptive, deeply ableist claims that balance on a shaky foundation – the idea that with masking comes privilege, rather than a serious and life-threatening mental health crisis. As if that longing to be ‘normal’ and ‘accepted ‘ has never existed within us. As if we would never have been tempted by that mythical neurotypical pill.
And maybe sometimes we feed into that misconception. Once you find that ‘I Am Who I Am’ place in yourself, the last thing you want to do is go back to the darker corner. You want to sing your message of living your truth to the world, and you want to kick and scream against every single person who dares suggest otherwise.
The pride mentality is understandable. But maybe we need to take a slightly different approach.
The truth is – if someone had offered me a ‘cure’ that would make me completely neurotypical in the first twenty three or so years of my life, I would have torn off their hand to get it.
That’s not an admission of defeat on the topic of neurodiversity, or a surrender to the idea that a ‘cure’for autism is something that is wanted or needed. In fact, it’s one of the core reasons that I advocate so strongly against the very idea of finding a ‘cure’.
Looking back with the advantage of hindsight, anything done in that mindset of despair to change myself would have been catastrophic. I shudder at the thought of it being an option to other vulnerable young autistic people, ready to go in that moment of self-hatred, never giving them the chance they deserve to come through it and learn a sense of pride in who they are.
It’s so similar, in my mind, to the idea of LGBTQIA+ conversion therapy. There’s this idea banded around that we shouldn’t make it illegal because people should be allowed to pursue it if they want it. I’ve even had other LGBTQIA+ people present this argument to me – in the same vein that I’ve had autistic people argue that a cure should be available for people that want it.
These arguments fail to address the fact that the issue here is not being autistic or being LGBTQIA+. The issue is ableism, homophobia, transphobia and all those ways that the world crushes down on you, repeating again and again that you are wrong, that you are defective, that the word was not built for you; a world that demands that you cut off your corners to fit through the hole, when the true answer was to widen the hole altogether.
The fact that this is something I would have agreed to at my lowest moment, when I hated myself the most, is not a good endorsement of the thing in question. But that is what these ideologies rely on. And that’s why it is our strongest argument for stopping all research into potential ‘cures’ and burning it to the ground.
Should we stop seeking treatment for those things that so often have comorbidity with autism? I hear them wailing at my door. Gastrointestinal problems? Epilepsy? Anxiety disorders? No, of course we shouldn’t. But these things are not autism. Comorbidity does not equal causality, and it is absolutely possible to treat these issues and still be autistic.
My initial reaction, when faced with talk of a cure, is one of defence – to lash out, to spit out sarcasm, to bellow my pride to the heavens and leave them with no room to tell me anything more.
But maybe I’ll try another tactic in future.
That’s not to say that everyone should. Talk of ‘cures’ is harmful and upsetting, and everyone should respond how is best for them personally.
But maybe, in future (especially if it’s another autistic person I’m talking to), I’ll take a deep breath and tell them that I understand the desire for a cure more than they could possibly know.
And that, because of that, I understand more than most why we need to stop looking for one.