Dear Joshua Coleman,
Something that has always bothered me a lot about the antivax camp is how it is common for you all to not only believe vaccines cause autism but insist that you are working FOR the autistic community with this mind set. Just this week, you insisted that you love everyone, including people on the autism spectrum, but you hate the autism and want the person recovered, cured, or you want to prevent autism from happening in the first place.
Newsflash: If you hate the autism, you hate the person.
Would you like to know why I say this? Because, I have read a great deal about autism and talked for years with people on the autism spectrum. And I have a child on the spectrum. I have friends on the spectrum. I have friends with children on the spectrum. I teach children on the spectrum. I know that adults on the spectrum almost universally see their autism as part of who they are and they like who they are. They don’t want to be cured. They don’t want to be prevented from existence. They want to be accepted. I know my own child wants to be accepted for who she is. I know the children I work with want love and acceptance. Autism is part of the very being for autistic individuals. Science tells us vaccines do not cause autism and the autism community is telling us they want to be accepted for whom they are. Antivax ideas have been debunked again and again. It is not for us in the neurotypical world to judge them. We must listen to them and accept them.
From an essay on The Mighty:
But in “curing” autism, they’re removing every part of me that’s autistic. Take that away, and I’m not me anymore! My autism affects every part of who I am. It colors all my experiences.
Persons on the autism spectrum do not see themselves as a person WITH autism but as an AUTISTIC person. This is why you see so many persons on the spectrum using Identity-First language.
In the autism community, many self-advocates and their allies prefer terminology such as “Autistic,” “Autistic person,” or “Autistic individual” because we understand autism as an inherent part of an individual’s identity — the same way one refers to “Muslims,” “African-Americans,” “Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgender/Queer,” “Chinese,” “gifted,” “athletic,” or “Jewish.” On the other hand, many parents of Autistic people and professionals who work with Autistic people prefer terminology such as “person with autism,” “people with autism,” or “individual with ASD” because they do not consider autism to be part of an individual’s identity and do not want their children to be identified or referred to as “Autistic.” They want “person-first language,” that puts “person” before any identifier such as “autism,” in order to emphasize the humanity of their children.
So, it is with great sadness that I say to you, Joshua Coleman: you are wrong. You are wrong in comparing autism to cancer. You are wrong in believing your antivax protests are for the benefit of autistic persons. You are wrong.
For those of you who don’t know Joshua Coleman, let me introduce you. Josh lives in the Sacramento, California, USA area and has two sons. His first son, Otto, woke up paralyzed one morning at about age 12 months. At some point, Josh started to believe his son’s condition resulted from a vaccine injury. He has been an active antivax campaigner ever since. He travelled with the Vaxxed movie team for a long time, on their bus, as a videographer.
Lately, Josh has been organizing protests to vaccines where he and his friends dress up in costumes or printed tees and use signs he created to protest at events like ComicCons or Immunization Conferences. They also like to protest celebrities, like Kristen Bell and Jimmy Kimmel, who stand up for immunizations. He has been to San Diego Comic-Con and numerous other events. He calls his protests V is for Vaccine and has set up a website to show the public how to make the protest signs. Of course, I have already addressed how the signs not factual.
Recently, he created a live post on Facebook where he tells us that autism is an injury and a disorder. [scroll up for links] He tells about an encounter with a person “in the neurodiversity movement.” He says “the neurodiverse are people on the autism spectrum who believe that having autism is just like being black or Chinese.” “It is not really an injury, it is just like, it is normal, that autism is normal.” “I believe and most people believe that autism is, quote, a disorder, it is an injury, it is an impairment.” He goes on to say how just because he wants to stop autism from happening he does not hate autism. Rather, he feels that autism is like his father’s cancer: you can love the person and still hate the health issue.
Back to you, Josh. Let’s go back to the Autism Self Advocacy Network, which is a large group of autism supporters, advocates, and actually autistic individuals, none of whom you have ever actually met.
One argument I encountered in one of the more cogently-written papers in favor of person-first language expostulates that because cancer patients are referred to as “people with cancer” or “people who have cancer,” as opposed to “cancerous people,” the same principle should be used with autism. There are some fundamental flaws with this analogy, however.
Cancer is a disease that ultimately kills if not treated or put into long-term remission. There is absolutely nothing positive, edifying, or meaningful about cancer. Cancer is not a part of a person’s identity or the way in which an individual experiences and understands the world around him or her. It is not all-pervasive.
Autism, however, is not a disease. It is a neurological, developmental condition; it is considered a disorder, and it is disabling in many and varied ways. It is lifelong. It does not harm or kill of its own accord. It is an edifying and meaningful component of a person’s identity, and it defines the ways in which an individual experiences and understands the world around him or her. It is all-pervasive.
Joshua, spend some time talking to actually autistic individuals outside your Vaxxed movement. You will see that there is a huge difference between how antivax parents talk about their children and how autism advocates and provax persons talk about autism. Visit the The Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism and learn from people who are autistic and/or have autistic children and KNOW vaccines do not cause autism. You could also learn from the Ed Wiley Austim Library, from which the narwhals derive.
You will also see that autism is a spectrum. Sure, there are some people on the autism spectrum who have very high needs and have not been taught to use the potty and have not been afforded the benefit of assistive communication technology. Some of them use aggressive, socially unacceptable behavior as a means of communicating frustration and confusion and anger. They do this likely because nobody helped them find another way to communicate, not because this is what autism is like. With assistive technology, picture symbols, or sign language, they could learn to communicate. They could even learn to use the potty but it takes effort. It takes therapy. It takes patience. Special Education teachers, like myself, can help. Most persons on the autism spectrum don’t meet your stereotype of autism. Most persons on the spectrum can communicate and are potty trained and do not bang their heads. (Note: these are typical stereotypes of autism commonly used in the antivax community.)
Most people on the autism spectrum fall in the levels 1 or 2. 31% of those diagnosed on the autism spectrum also have an intellectual disability. One third are non-verbal which means they have very limited verbal abilities but can learn to communicate with technology and/or sign language. Many autistic adult bloggers are “non-verbal” but communicate just fine with technology.
Here is a look at the three levels of autism:
Most autistic persons fall in levels 1 or 2 but you seem to only talk about level three and even then you only seem to speak of the most highly disabled persons. I feel the autistics you know likely did not have very good therapies as children. That is a tragedy. Most autistics, including my own child, are not like your stereotypes. My child requires some support, occasionally substantial support, so I would call her a 1.5. The vast majority of persons on the autism spectrum fall in levels 1 or 2. Those in level three very often have co-morbidities (other diagnoses) which affect their abilities.
You do not speak for my child. You do not speak for the autism community. You speak only for antivaxers who irrationally blame vaccines for autism.
Your words are hurtful.
Your words are harmful.
You hate autism. And, you also obviously hate people on the spectrum.
Please, spend some time learning what autism is like from the point of view of the actually autistic. #actuallyautistic will help you find them.
Learn. Grow. Be a better person.