Recently on the internets, someone used the word autistic to mean completely unaware of the world around them. It touched a nerve. Some autistic people said so. There was a resounding “oh you’re so sensitive it doesn’t matter get over it” response and I got seriously mad. Especially when people said the word was just being used to convey a total lack of social awareness and understanding, which, they contended, is what autism is. Again, to be clear: This is what they said to quell the autistic people (and parents) who were taking issue with the use of the word autistic because it was being used that way.
Um, many/most autistic people do have social awareness and at least some social understanding (however problematic). Being autistic doesn’t mean you’re completely unable to relate to the world or unaware of what’s going on. It just so happens that all the autistic people I know are hypersensitive to those around them. We have to be. Autistics are taught to please people from a very young age, and to constantly do so, or be “corrected”, abused, neglected, abandoned, or even killed. There is a constant insistence for autistics to pass as normal and not rock the boat.
So this widespread misunderstanding hits a nerve in a big way. How can you say autistics are completely unaware of the world around us when autistics are punished every time we don’t conform to it? Whiplash, anyone?
The way everyone insisted that the misleading usage of the word autistic was not a big deal and that they didn’t have to understand, because implication: autistic people are not important & who cares about understanding them- that’s a huge red flag waving. Possibly the man meant an obsolete definition of autistic, yes, but pointing out that using the word autistic in that way is problematic, at the very least, shouldn’t be dismissed so carelessly. It shouldn’t be dismissed at all.
Using the word autistic to mean completely self-absorbed is problematic to autistics in the same way that using womanish to mean overly emotional and weak-minded is problematic to women. The same way that using blind, deaf, lame, crazy, queer, etc in a derogatory and truly inappropriate way is problematic to those who are blind, deaf, et al. Language matters. It matters immensely. It is a big deal.
The fact that this clash took place on the disability day of mourning contributed to making me so down and dark about it that I am just now posting a week later.
Language matters, people! Lives literally hang in the balance. Try, make some small effort, to understand. It’s that important. We’re important. Words shape minds, and words make a difference.