equity, mental health, social justice

Thunberg and the Neurotypical Tendency to Pathologize Autistic People by Centring their Experiences of Our Lives.

Before I actually address what I want to today, I need to say the following: As a society we pathologize Women, and our anger is no exception to this.

In men anger is seen as righteous, important, it is valued. In Women any hint of it is enough to have people questioning our intelligence, our reliability, our rationality, our very ability to function. So we are careful with our rage, our anger, our fire lest we be deemed unfit by those around us.

In her beautifully articulated work Rage Becomes Her: the power of Women’s anger, Soraya Chemaly writes:

I have always understood that being seen as an “angry woman” — sometimes simply for sharing my thoughts out loud — would cast me as overemotional, irrational, “passionate”, maybe hysterical, and certainly a “not-objective” and fuzzy thinker.

When a woman shows anger in institutional, political, and professional settings, she automatically violates gender norms. She is met with aversion, perceived as more hostile, irritable, less competent, and unlikeable — the kiss of death … When a man becomes angry in an argument or debate, people are more likely to abandon their own positions and defer to his. But when a woman acts the same way, she’s likely to elicit the opposite response. For some of us… the risks of asserting ourselves, defending ourselves, or speaking out in support of issues that are important to us can be significant.

… This persistent denial of subjectivity, knowledge, and reasonable concerns — commonly known as gaslighting — is deeply harmful and often abusive.

(2018, p xvii & xviii)

I hate that I feel the need to preface this post with Chemaly’s words, but I am angry. And I have every right to that anger; the power of that anger and the knowledge behind it. I am justified by a lifetime of experience, and activism.


Lately the following article has been circulating: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/feb/23/great-thunberg-malena-ernman-our-house-is-on-fire-memoir-extract? on Facebook and elsewhere with neurotypical people praising Greta Thunberg’s parents for their strength, wisdom, and bravery. And holy hell am I getting sick of seeing it.

I tried to read the article, an excerpt from a book about their lives with Thunberg. I tried repeatedly. But never manage more than about a dozen paragraphs before I have to stop and put it away.

As parents of an autistic person, and especially one so high profile, their language carries weight. The words they choose have far reaching impact. And there is a responsibility they insist on denying.

The #ActuallyAutistic community has spoken out repeatedly in terms of functioning labels and the use of the term Aspergers. They are incredibly offensive. Labels like “high” or “low” functioning give voice to some while shutting down others, they give assistance to some while denying others, they are not useful or helpful and we have repeatedly requested folx stop using them. Aspergers is even more vile in that not only is it a functioning label, it is one named for a man who abused and violated autistic children in horrifying ways. It’s a term that needs to be wiped from the lexicon and lost to time.

This particular excerpt goes farther, and shares intimate details of Thunberg’s physical and mental health. The written equivalent of sharing a video of an autistic child during a meltdown, it reads like trauma porn… both which are things the autistic community has spoken out against in great length and at great personal expense. The entire article should come with a content warning as it can be intensely triggering and upsetting for neurodivergent folx for repeatedly dismissing this exhausting and emotional work, our experiences, and ourselves.

Any allistic parent of an autistic child has the responsibility to educate themselves, and to put neurodivergent voices above those that would pathologize our neurodivergence. It is their responsibility to listen and to learn from as many autistic voices as possible and to recognize that this is not their journey. And for those who have a platform to utilize, this responsibility is even greater.

So yes. I am angry. I am angry that yet another set of “autism parents”. (allistic parents who speak over and for those who are autistic) has been given a platform and instead of using it to boost Autistic voices they chose to centre themselves and their experiences of their neurodivergent child.

A meme featuring yoda which states:
learn about autism you will,
seek autistic voices you must.

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