The Meaning of “Autistic”


I am not comfortable in large crowds. The idea of going to school is constantly daunting, and I feel unsafe around a majority of my classmates. And I feel that I have a sound reason to feel this way. I am autistic.

That word, “autistic.” A middle school boy’s favourite insult and a parent’s worst nightmare. We’ve all heard of autism, and whether through personal experience or through a man telling you the evil of vaccines, autism is becoming visible in the public eye. But believe it or not, this doesn’t mean autism is accepted or normalized. One could argue the opposite, in fact.

On Monday, November 3rd, 2014, a woman by the name of Jillian Meredeth McCabe threw her autistic son, London Grey McCabe, off a bridge. A horrible act, of course, that anyone would be shocked to hear of, it seems. Yet I was not shocked. This is not an isolated incident.

It seems a fairly common practice for allistic parents to deem their autistic children too difficult to care for, and end their lives. In Prince Rupert, April of this year, Angie Roberston shot dead her son, Robbie, and then killed herself. In June of 2013, Dorothy Spourdalakis and Jolanta Agatha Skrodzka plotted to murder Spourdalakis’ autistic son with sleeping pills, and later finished the deed with a kitchen knife. So, yes, autistic people are at risk, and often from those they need to trust most, it would seem. But the violence does not start with murder, and several smaller acts can also be seriously harmful to autistic people as a whole.

Consider what I mentioned earlier: the word “autistic” as an insult. If you insult someone by calling them autistic, you give the word negative connotations, and contribute to the stigma against autistic people as a whole. You may not be the one wielding the knife, but you are supporting a culture that sees autism as a bad thing, and justifying the actions of the knife-wielder.

Another problem is society’s treatment of actual autistic people. Let’s use stimming as an example. When I am in a large crowd or otherwise uncomfortable situation for too long, I become overstimulated. In order to calm myself down, it helps to engage in stimming behaviour such as rocking, hand flapping, or twirling my hands- all that stereotypical autistic stuff. But if it is deemed inappropriate in that situation, gross-looking, or bad by an allistic person, I am often forced to stop at the sacrifice of my mental health.

Autism is visible in our society, yes. But one could not truthfully say that it is accepted. Until parents learn that autism is something to be celebrated and not feared, and until middle school students stop constantly putting down autistic people, I will not feel safe, and I doubt other autistic people will either. Look at your own actions, and decide whether or not you care about the wellbeing of autistic people. If the answer is no, change that.