An Autistic Dream
By Sara Gardner
January 22, 2008
Almost forty-five years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had a dream that one day African Americans would enjoy equality, and today, Barack Obama is running for President. I believe Dr. King would be proud. Because of his dream, and the incredible drawing-together of blacks and whites alike to gain civil liberties for minorities, the United States of America is a very different place today than it was in 1963.I, too, have a dream.
A dream about acceptance and equality. A dream that one day autistics will not have to hide our true selves in fear and shame. A dream that one day parents will proudly say "my child is autistic" and look forward to understanding and support, instead of denial and exclusion. A dream that a man will say to his colleague, "I am autistic" and begin a dialog of communication and kindness, instead of back-stabbing and rumor.
I have a dream that research efforts will be spent on learning ways to communicate with autistics, rather than "cure" them. I have a dream that families will stop seeing their autistic children as typical children with a disabling flaw and begin to see them as they are: fundamentally different – neurologically different – and thus these families will start to see all the positive differences as well as the more difficult-to-understand ones.
Our brains are wired differently. Change our brains and you change who we are. I have a dream that one day, autistics will be judged – not by the size of their amygdala - but by the content of their character.But, unless autistics are willing to come out and say "I am autistic" this dream will never become reality.
Unless parents are willing to tell their children "you are autistic" this dream will die. Unless people are willing to stand up, and insist that autistics have basic human rights to freedom of expression – expression that just might include rocking and flapping and twirling around – then autistics will forever remain in the shadows.Families will continue to hide autism from their children and acquaintances. Adults will continue to hide their autism from their co-workers and friends. All without ever realizing that their condition isn't really "hidden". All without realizing that the "typical" people know intrinsically that there is something very different about them. And that they are being labeled whether they choose the label or not.
So, I say – choose the label of Autism. Choose truth. Choose reality. Autism is not a bad word. It's a neurological difference. Autistics have made, and continue to make, incredible contributions to our society. We need autistics. And autistics need to be accepted and respected. Dream along with me, that one day, "autistic" will be just another word, and not a pejorative. That one day on a playground, a child will tell his companion, "I'm autistic" and the other child will say "Cool! Come on, race you to the swings."
Sarah is a member of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network.