A war is being waged on the autistic community. This war is, like any war, not existing outside of the realm of politics and not existing within a vacuum, but rather is one informed by politics and affecting politics. The war on the autistic community is but one front of the larger scale cultural conflict between the white supremacist, cis-hetero, capitalist paradigm against all that do not conform or, otherwise, let their non-conformity be commodified and exploited. The primary difference between the war on the developmentally disabled, however, and the war on other such groups is in the tone of the propaganda insofar as the vitriol towards the developmentally disabled is wrapped in a false pity and a performative pretense of caring for their well being. The goal of the belligerents is not to kill or displace those with autism, but, rather to “cure” them (such euphemistic language is popular among eugenicists and authoritarians of all stripes). But what, one might ask, is so wrong with searching for a cure? A great many things, the bulk of which will comprise the body of this essay.
First, to understand the wolf in sheep’s clothing that is the cure advocacy community, one must examine the context of cures. Cures, generally speaking, are an anathema to disease. One seeks cures for cancer, influenza, polio, chicken pox. Disease is broadly defined as a condition of the body that is not externally caused which impairs normal functioning. Initially, one could be forgiven for assuming based on this definition that autism is a disease: after all, what of those autists who can’t use the restroom without assistance and who have meltdowns at any sound of a firetruck? Surely that can’t be normal functioning.
However, this logic falls apart when one examines whether these variables are part of normal existence. Lions do not drive fire trucks, nor does one normally observe the latrine in nature. These are all social additions by civilization. Were the “severely autistic” individual to have been born in nature, free of any civilized influence, one could scarcely even notice that they are autistic. No normal functioning of the body is impaired in the case of “severe autism” (the phrase is in quotation marks, as autism is not a binary spectrum and viewing those with more autistic traits as having “severe autism” is problematic for a number of reasons that would make up their own essay; however, I use it as this is the language of the uninitiated and of the enemy) as is the case with polio or chicken pox. If one contracts chicken pox and it is not cured, one will almost certainly not survive in nature. However, one cannot transmit autism nor die of it. Furthermore, those that qualify as “severely autistic” are a statistically small percentage of the autistic community. The rest may not even have those impairments listed as examples, or, if so, may be capable of coping with them in ways considered to be normal. The average autistic person may simply be bad at social communication (something humans are uniquely advanced in) but otherwise perfectly well functioning bodily, or may stim to relieve stress and avoid eye contact but otherwise perfectly healthy. Is this, then, a disease? Is the inability to make eye contact or the necessity of stimming for some individuals a transmittable symptom worthy of eradication? Certainly the verbose but sometimes poorly worded and somewhat insensitive rant is a menace to society, one that requires immediate attention. Against even the slightest intellectual scrutiny, the notion that autism is a disease and, therefore, necessitates a cure falls apart.
So what, then, is autism classifiable as? This much is a hazy subject. Compelling arguments can be made for autism as a social disorder and for autism as a variation of naturally occuring neurotypes, but this is the subject of another essay. I am personally of the opinion that autism is a naturally occuring divergence in typical neurocognitive development and behavior with recurring interests and shared experiences and, that, consequently, it is more useful to view autism as a sort of neurological cultural group than as a social disorder or a disability. Nonetheless, the generally accepted opinion regarding autism is that it is a developmental disability that is genetically transmitted. Even if one makes the argument that, in the natural world, an autistic individual would have similar survivability to a non-autistic individual, the existence of a society that autistic individuals react to negatively and vice versa grants them a disability on a material level (this too deserves its own essay). However, even when viewed as a disability, one sees in autism recurring patterns of interest, of ways of speaking or otherwise communicating, of thinking. Ask a room full of autistic individuals who among them has at one point had an obsession with one of the following: dinosaurs, trains, fantasy or science fiction, politics, history, bridges, or botany. See how many hands shoot up into the air. Consider the language with which autistic individuals use to describe themselves and their autism, with such jargon as “stimming,” “neurotypical,” “special interest,” and the adoption of spoon theory from the larger disabled culture. Consider ways of thinking, even, common tendencies within those with autism to feel uncomfortable lying or tendency towards prescriptivism and our proclivity for categorizing and compiling information compulsively. In other words, one sees in autism a culture. Regardless, one should note, then, that, generally speaking, one doesn’t seeks cures for disabilities and for those with genetic disorders and for cultures not native to one’s land, but, rather, accommodations. So who searches for a cure for those disabled by genetics? Who advocates for the purging of culture?
And here, we encounter the question of eugenics, or the engineering of human genetics by eliminating “undesirable” traits from the genetic structures of people or simply by preventing individuals with certain traits from being born. Why do we speak of eugenics in an essay about curing autism, one might ask. The immediate answer is simple: as the only way to “cure” autism presently available is to prevent autistic individuals from being born, any talk of curing autism will inevitably turn towards eugenics. The very act of preventing the birth of an autistic child on account of their autism and their autism alone is a form of manipulation of the human gene pool at large, and, therefore, eugenics. Much cure research is focused on isolating “the autistic gene” and eliminating it, a more blatant form of eugenics. What’s wrong with eugenics, one asks? Simply that the very act of picking and choosing which of the human genome to include and modify in an unborn baby, in addition to being unnatural, also will inevitably lead to selection of certain arbitrary traits and the elimination of traits deemed societally unfavorable. If we view autism as a culture, as I pointed out may be apt, and accept the premise that autism is not viewed favorably by society (and no other premise can be accepted by those who examine such pesky things as facts), then this entails, in essence, the elimination of a whole subset of the population. If the elimination of entire populations of people known as undesirable doesn’t immediately set off claxons in one’s head, I advise them to reread any history book on the events of the early 20th century and the actors in such events, namely fascists.
But certainly fascistic eugenics is not the position of cure advocacy groups like Autism Speaks, one might retort. How could groups purportedly representing the best interests of the autistic community be fascists? To this, I’d point out that they don’t need to be fascists to be dangerous nor to advance the rhetoric or ideas of fascists. Even the introduction of the ideas of eugenics into the conversation surrounding autism is a victory for the far-right, and this conversation, if allowed to be influenced further, will affect individuals that aren’t autistic as well. But beyond the realm of conversation, more concerning and telling of Autism Speaks’ and other cure advocacy groups’ true allegiances is the former’s willingness to allow a chapter of the Soldiers of Odin, a known white supremacist and anti-immigrant biker gang, to march with them. When called on it, Autism Speaks dragged their feet on “researching” the Soldiers of Odin and eventually uninviting them. Consider also that the President, who as we know is at the very least friendly towards the fascist right, has publically suggested the latest in dangerous autism cures in a speech: drinking turpentine. Consider that, according to donation statements released to the public, donations to Autism Speaks from Trump’s party (which after 2016 has become openly far-right in policy) spiked dramatically, even setting new records (https://www.opensecrets.org/orgs/totals.php?id=D000047522&cycle=A). To call these combined facts a coincidence would be to insist that one is crying wolf when the wolf is already gnawing at one’s leg. These are merely examples available on public record; digging into the bowels of reddit forums for “autism parents”, fascists, or cure advocacy will find a disturbing amount of overlap and even a burgeoning shared community that shares misinformation and hate speech towards autistic individuals. The fault lies not just in large organizations, however, but even in individuals. The neurotypical author of To Siri With Love, Judith Newman, publicly admitted in an interview that, as soon as her son turns 18, she plans on securing legal rights to give him a vasectomy without his consent. Putting aside the blatant abuse of both the child and his civil rights, this is a clearly eugenically motivated statement. In other words, cure advocacy, even if one gives their intentions the greatest possible benefit of a doubt, necessarily make common cause with eugenicists, and, consequently, fascists.
The unfortunate existing connection between cure advocacy and eugenicists aside, surely one can’t enjoy being autistic, one might say. Surely it is difficult being autistic. If one could take a pill to stop being autistic, wouldn’t they? Putting aside that a pill to cure autism doesn’t exist and likely never will, consider the following: do those “afflicted” with autism want a cure for themselves if they are in such great suffering? According to one study and countless blog posts from the autistic community on Tumblr, overwhelmingly not. But the opponents of a cure are “high functioning,” one might retort, they don’t represent the interests of those truly suffering. Once again, one is wrong; in one post, a “low functioning” individual, speaking on behalf of her fellow low functioning comrades, stated:
“When you claim I need to be “cured”, I do not call you out and say mean things about you because being confrontational hurts me, not because you are right. You are not speaking for me in my silence, you are speaking over me…..The “high functioning” autistics that argue for rights for me DO speak for me…..You, who are not autistic, do not stand for me.”
And why should the autistic community wish for a “cure?” Autism is all we have ever known. It is an integral part of our identity, if not the majority of what one might call an identity. Putting aside my previous arguments for autism as a culture, autism has shaped every aspect of the autistic community’s experience. Autism colors our thoughts with particular ways of thinking, interests, cognitive inflexibility. Autism may color our actions as well and our reactions to the environment certainly. To wish for a cure is to wish for an annihilation of everything we have ever known. For many individuals with autism, their autism is not a matter of suffering either, nor even a barrier to success, as evidenced by Dan Harmon, Daryl Hannah, Albert Einstein, and the other long list of massively successful and influential individuals who either are confirmed as having autism or suspected of it.
What about the parents, who know their child best and who struggle with their upbringing? I won’t even merit this narcissism on the part of privileged able-bodied autism parents with an extended response (note: I use the term autism parent not to describe all parents of autistic children as a whole, but specifically those who pontificate over their suffering and center their struggle with their child as a central part of their public identity). Other parents manage to struggle with their autistic children without wishing to “cure” them or to prevent them from reproducing as is the case with Judith Newman. There isn’t even a consensus among parents on the issue of a cure, and, even if there were, the very fact that their children have made it overwhelmingly clear that they neither want nor in some cases need a cure would mean that choosing a parent’s right to “cure” their child means superseding the child’s right to self determination and autonomy. In polite society, these are called oppression and violations of civil rights. If there is a legitimate material inability to provide for the child, this is an issue of the parent and, depending on context, the lack of comprehensiveness and liberality of disability legislation and benefits, not the child. Any parent not prepared to do anything for an able bodied child (or even a child with a different disability) and love them unconditionally is called a bad parent, and one that wishes the elimination of certain aspects of a child’s identity that the child has no control over is called, depending on the nature of their behaviors, either hateful or even downright abusive. Why then do we not apply the same logic to autism parents? Why aren’t the rhetoric of eugenics and the breathless confessions of parents on message boards to wishing they could kill their autistic child treated as hate speech? Simply because, in the view of able bodied and minded society, the autistic community is not worthy of the same respect as neurotypical individuals.
So, suppose one were to violate the civil liberties of 1 in 59 members of the United States and mandate a cure in the interest of public safety, or, more likely, suppose that such a cure would become commercially available and prescribed by doctors or sold over the counter. What would a cure mean then? Assuming that a pill were invented to cure autism in those already living, it would, at the very least, mean the death of the individual as their acquaintances have come to know them. The individual would still be alive functionally, but the rest of what one might call their essence or personality would be either gone or irreparably changed. Charitably speaking, a pill would lead to confusion as a neurodivergent individual tries to adjust to being neurotypical for the first time in their lives and tries to reconcile memories of another way of life and thinking and interests with the current living. More likely, however, all unique aspects of the autistic person’s social personality (in other words, all areas autism actually affects and is observable through behaviors) would be gone, leaving, in essence, a social automaton, remembering only the niceties. But such conjecture is useless because such a pill does not and will not exist. Autism is discovered to be a genetic disorder, so to cure autism is to prevent an autistic child from being born in the first place. In other words, a cure for autism, realistically, is not only socially, but also functionally inseparable from eugenics, and, thus, genocide.
But surely an exception can be made in this case, or, at the very least, given the facts, the option for a cure should at least be made available, one might say if somehow the violation of civil liberties and the inherent moral repugnance of genocide was not enough to convince the uninitiated. To this I ask, what facts? What crisis is being prevented by the effective genocide of autistic individuals? Is it school shootings? Only one of the shooters was diagnosed or could be diagnosed with autism, Elliot Rodger, and, on average, people with disabilities including autism are three times more likely to be the victims of crime than those without disabilities. Is it crime? No statistical correlation between autism and crime has been established by any reputable studies and the studies that exist on correlation between autism and crime only show variations on the nature of crime, not the rate of crime (although autistic individuals are more likely to be arrested and charged with a crime regardless of actual innocence than neurotypical individuals). Autism is, as mentioned, not transmittable either, so autism is no pandemic, and nobody with any level of intellectual honesty would give any merit to the argument that autism is caused by vaccines (even studies funded by and conducted by those trying to make a connection between autistic individuals and vaccines showed no correlation, making this a uniquely unanimous conclusion to those who put any weight in such things as facts; this is without getting into the chemistry of thimerosal [a variant of harmless ethylmercury that used to be in vaccines but was removed from all but a variety of the flu vaccine that people said causes autism] or the utter nonsense that is the justification for the conspiracy of vaccines). It follows, then, that the crisis of autism is an entirely fabricated one, and its need to get eradicated stems not from any genuine concern for society, but from hatred and distrust on the part of the neurotypicals.
In summary, a cure for autism is not a cure for anything other than autistic individuals, and, thus, advocating for their extermination from society. The opposing side has made their commitment to this clear, with the overwhelming majority of both government and NGO funding towards autism related research being directed towards a cure and with even groups purporting to be advocates like Autism Speaks including the search for that cure in their mission statements and their budget statements (only 3% of money raised by Autism Speaks went to autistic families; 63% went towards advertising, fundraising, and lobbying and 32% towards cure related research).
This is not a matter of benevolence: the cure advocacy groups have made their focus on curism, and, thus, their commitment to the impossibility of societal acceptance and lack of regard for autistic individuals and their safety known. This is not a matter of medicine: there is no cure but prevention. This is not a matter of necessity: no need exists for a cure for autism. This is not a matter of choice: most autistic individuals overwhelmingly don’t want a cure and those that would “cure” them would do so without their legal consent anyhow as demonstrated with the author of To Siri With Love. This is not an apolitical issue: curists often are sympathetic towards other arguments for eugenics and, thus, have some fascistic leanings, and, as mentioned earlier, Autism Speaks has made common cause with Neo-Nazis before. The question of curing autism is not really a question of curing autism, but a question of whether or not one believes autistic individuals have a right to exist or not. Either you support that right, or you don’t. Either you are in favor of eugenics, or you are in favor of the civil and human rights of autistic individuals. There is no in between. The path forward is not that of a cure, but that of acceptance by society and, consequently, that of the vanquishing of those opposed to that acceptance. This path mustn’t be taken because there are many great individuals who had autism who may not have existed had a cure been known: the rights of autistic folks to their existence should not be dependant on their ability to prove themselves exploitable. What justification must there be to oppose genocide and eugenics, to oppose fascists and to defend the victims of fascism? This path towards acceptance, and, necessarily, the path to war against those who oppose it, must be undertaken simply because it is the right thing to do.
Death to all eugenicists! Down with Autism Speaks and other curists! Victory to autistic folks!