June 18th is Autistic Pride Day, a “celebration of the neurodiversity of people on the autism spectrum” to express pride in autism and understand it not as a “disease” but as a “difference.”
It might seem odd to celebrate autism. As a parent, and a parent writing at the end of a day on which my son had a very tough episode in our car, I can’t say enough that life raising an autistic child is not easy. Certainly, it’s not easy to be Charlie: My son has little language and sometimes goes to extreme measures to communicate his frustration at everything.
It is necessary to remember that, as an autistic person — an individual with a disability — my son has rights: He has the right to an education. He has civil rights: As a suit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on behalf of a man with Asperger’s Syndrome underscores, you cannot discriminate against someone on the basis of her or his disability.
Maybe my son won’t ever go to a rally and proclaim his rights as an autistic person. But we need always to remember that he, and all individuals on the autism spectrum, have the right to be treated not only fairly, but humanely and with dignity and acceptance of their differences.
The Independent reports that in 2010 an 18-year-old autistic man with severe learning difficulties was “unlawfully deprived of his liberty” after being regularly placed in a seclusion room more than six times a day at a residential school for “children with complex needs.” The young man is described as “[suffering] from a sensory impairment and often [choosing] to walk around naked because touch is a vital way for him to communicate”; he is self-injurious and has injured caretakers. Still, placing him in a padded room 192 times in a single month, the equivalent of 6.4 times a day, was a stopgap solution — was not a solution — and an act that very likely contributed to his behaviors worsening. The school’s staff should have immediately reaccessed their procedures and found other ways of addressing his behaviors.
The judge in the above case ruled that the man’s “article 5 right to liberty and security under the European Convention on Human Rights had been breached.” It’s important that the man’s “liberty” is specifically mentioned: As Dora Raymaker writes, “Autistic Rights are Disability Rights are Human”:
While autism makes us different, autistic rights is really about those things we all need, autistic or not, disabled or not, minority or not: food and shelter, respect and love, and empowerment to live our own lives in freedom, happiness, and health.
Our goal is for Charlie to have a good life, surrounded by those who love and care for him, living and working in the community and treated with respect and understanding of his differences; of the person who he is.
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Photo by Jeff Filman.