The recent release of Sia’s movie Music has stirred controversy and debate with and among the nonspeaking autistic community: my community. The uproar has subsided, but the conversation should not.
So let’s talk.
As a neurotypical: What if your actions were so misconstrued that you were physically subdued against your will, forcefully, even brutally? What if this happened not once, not twice, but again and again? What if this happened in front of your friends? What if this happened minus any witnesses because you were isolated in a solitary confinement of sorts? What if no one even bothered to ask you what was up, why you were acting in such a way? What if no one asked you your opinion about helping to prevent it? What if they didn’t seem to have any reservations about manhandling you, restraining you? What if this was business as usual for them, no apologies or remorse? What if they maybe even thought you deserved it?
Would you accuse them of harassment? Would you charge them with assault? Would you take out a ‘restraining order’ against them? (Poetic justice, that last one…)
Short of the last three options, this scenario unfortunately and misguidedly plays out way too often for way too many nonspeaking autistics. Nonspeakers are routinely mislabeled as ‘behavior problems’ and just as routinely mistreated with restraint and seclusion. Let me remind you: We are not animals. We are not monsters. We are not criminals. We are not insane. Even if we were, is this inhumane treatment necessary?
So aside from who we aren’t, let me spell out who we are. First and foremost we are human beings. We are people, citizens deserving dignity, respect, and the same rights as the rest of humanity. We are neurodiverse, yes, but this doesn’t make us any less equal, just different. Our brains work differently. We are simply square pegs that don’t fit into neurotypical round holes. And we’re ok with that. We embrace our squareness so let us be square. But remaining square in a round world requires some basic respect, understanding, and acceptance.
We need to be heard. We need to be listened to. We are the experts on us.
So hear this: Stop talking about our ‘behaviors’ as misbehaviors. Start trying to understand that we have significant motor and body control issues on any given day. These issues, if combined with sensory and emotional sensitivities in an unsupported environment, are bound to bubble up and overtake us at times.
Can this look like a tantrum? Yes.
Can this look like a meltdown? Yes.
Can this even look like an explosion? Yes.
Is it deliberate? No.
Is it intentional? No.
Are we horrified when it happens? Yes.
Are we mortified, embarrassed, and humiliated? Yes, yes, and yes.
Do we wish we could somehow stop ourselves? Yes.
The real question becomes are there other ways to handle these situations besides restraining and secluding our bodies? IT STARTS WITH NO LONGER RESTRAINING OUR MINDS AND VOICES. We are the ones with solutions. We have the answers. We are the ones who can partner with the world to temper and support our body responses when they become overblown, maybe even prevent it. We can eliminate this misguided scenario, together.
Why can’t you listen to us? Why won’t you listen to us? Would you have to admit you’ve been wrong? That you’ve been complicit in heinous practices at our expense? Are you trying to justify the traumatizing consequences with good intentions? Looking in the mirror can be hard. Truth can be brutal. But not as brutal as physically subduing us, isolating us, silencing us.
Because that is what the world is doing to us and somehow it’s ok.
Does the world not cry out for tolerance? Isn’t bullying unacceptable? Isn’t discrimination a crime, a human rights abuse? Or is this just applicable to race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, age, religion? But not to nonspeaking autism. Not to square pegs.
Noah Seback is a nonspeaker but NOT a nonthinker or nonfeeler. He lives in Atlanta with his family where his mission is to open hearts and minds to the neurodiversity of nonspeaking autistics like himself. Check out his blog at quirkthrives.com.