Autism within Queer Theory Contexts
Autism within Queer Theory Contexts
What does it mean when we are neuro-queering autism and queering other intersections?
I thought I’d write a blog post on the *need* for more supports for autistic therapy students, as well as the need for professionals to reach out to the autistic community. You see, it’s tough navigating the role I am in while I work for an advocacy organization, simply because our *rights* as autistics typically are taken away in therapy spaces on a systemic level. One of the reasons are lack of resources and lack of knowledge. So, there are a few terms and questions to bring up before I continue to type about Queering Neurodiversity.
- What does it mean to neuro-queer the autistic identity?
- What is Queer Theory?
“Queering can be a response to hegemony and fluidity of human variability can precede hegemonic identity categories. One might say that queering is a response to hegemony, precisely because there is the recognition that certain socially constructed normative constraints have been deployed to render “natural” certain socially bounded sexual logics. On this view, queering is really about bringing recognition to bear upon the ways in which fluidity of human variability has been framed as “deviant.” So, queering is about de-masking heteronormative ideology that attempts to place under erasure any radically authentic or genuine variability that is before or after what the logics of heteronormativity has established as the “natural” way of being. (personal communication),” (Fansler, Reed, Bauista, Arnett, Perkins, and Hadley, 2019).
The article above talks about many terms, and you may find them in there. I won’t list them all here. I found this article when looking for articles online that represent autistics as the experts. Which brings me to my next point. Below is a quote from the above article:
“Right from the beginning of our education we are taught about “populations” of people who have certain diagnoses. We regard ourselves as experts in who they are and what they need based on normative assumptions that have pervaded our profession in the same ways as in other health professions. These assumptions limit our ability to really know and understand those with whom we work. This fixed understanding of others is not limited to how we reduce our “knowing” of the disabled to their diagnoses, but is also saturated throughout our society in how we already “know” the other based on assumptions regarding race, gender, sexuality, class, and so on. These fixed categories also limit our recognition of their rich interlocking identities and their experiences of racialized gendered disability, for example,” (Fansler, Reed, Bauista, Arnett, Perkins, and Hadley, 2019).
And to sit through that reader, and process that for some is hard. I get it. I just threw a bunch of words at you, and what does this even have to do with autism? Well, the word autism alone itself is heavily stigmatized. When I first started autistic advocacy, I had no idea what queer theory was, and had never heard of the word. Before, I was advocating for intersectional feminism and was taught in social justice classroom lectures, and this just adds to that in ways that expands my knowledge. Education is based on theoretical concepts; in turn, some work and others don’t. Americans are heavily privileged within mental health culture in the world. Why? Because Americans are selfish, lazy, and egotistical. But therapists are also biased in how they are trained as therapists. Colonization has colored how we help people. People of color don’t experience culture in the same way, and we white people don’t value our own race in the same way. Systemic oppression and prejudice exist; there is no such concept as “reverse discrimination”. Therapists are taught to respect other cultures at a very basic understanding, but don’t address the implicit biases within the preparation to work with those populations. The minute someone doesn’t follow a norm, we all freak out and become uncomfortable. Yet, nowhere nearly as many people choose to sit within the discomfort and become receptive to growth. We as Americans are biased in our own culture, and even most white Americans don’t grasp cultural concepts, such as race simply because we were taught that those were not an important aspect in our identities. Once they sit within the discomfort and understand that being privileged isn’t a terrible thing, they then become more understanding and receptive of systemic oppression. Yet, ableism, racism, etc. all can be unlearned. Colonization is an unfamiliar concept to those who haven’t studied it, and yet white people colonized the US. What we consider to be effective for the therapy field may not be suitable for marginalized groups. We as white people are used to discussions about health while having our own biases, and that doesn’t help some groups of people, unless we truly put ourselves as therapists in the learning role.
“People of marginalized identities tend to be underrepresented in those who are music therapists, yet overrepresented in those with whom music therapists work (often referred to as clients, patients, service users),” (Fansler, Reed, Bauista, Arnett, Perkins, and Hadley, 2019).
Is this not true, or what? And it’s not solely the music therapy field alone. It’s the psychology field, the occupational therapy field, the speech language pathology field, the art therapy field, etc. It’s harmful to the autistic community when an autistic does a lot of the advocacy in the therapy space during a session while they are the client, solely if the professional dismisses who they are. Education is important, and to learn is a choice, but it’s also a choice to be ignorant. One could consider that it is unethical because the therapist is not trained enough in how to work with autistic people. And yet, I may not be a therapist, but it's important for the therapist to remind themselves that they do not know everything about autism; it’s not the therapist's job to speak over or for the autistic client’s lived experiences; rather, it’s their job to encourage and foster acceptance of Neurodiversity in the space and in the environment. It is the job, after all, for the therapist to discover the client’s own needs, and how they can best support and help the client grow. What is considered a safe space these days for the marginalized identity? Autistic people are often times told how to behave by therapists and what we need to be in order to become therapists. This wonderful article that was published recently above challenges that notion that autistics cannot become therapists. There is a misconception with alexithymia, trauma, and regulation… that somehow autistics can’t become therapists. Yet, we as advocates put ourselves in very vulnerable positions and people often times take our advocacy for granted. They refuse to presume competency. They often times forget that we are people, and not robots. What do I mean by this? That is what disability objectification is, and it occurs more often than people realize. Presuming competency is defined as assuming that a person is capable of learning or completing a task, regardless of limitations. It’s key for the limitations to be accepted as well (and not put off in acceptance, ignored through acceptance, and/or minimized/dismissed). Why is this so important for the client’s growth? Assuming that the autistic person is still capable, regardless of limitations, is necessary to helping and supporting the client in that space grow in a way that is accepting of themselves, and also fosters change, confidence, and growth. I speak from lived experience. This way, change is not solely concentrated on conditioning the autistic behaviors while meeting their needs, and focuses on teaching the autistic basic behavioral expectations, such as respect, patience, kindness, etc., without the influence of “training” the autistic person to conform to societal expectations based on stigma that was created by non-autistic people. Presuming competency doesn’t just apply to clients, and this is important to talk about.
Hegemony is the understanding that one group dominates over another. Whether or not someone intends it, they are taught biases about things from moments in day-to-day lives. Everyone is taught these things at a young age, and they are to be unlearned. Instead of hegemony, demanded authority, compliance, conditioning, etc., autistics need to be met with patience, respect, receptiveness, and a caring heart. Uninformed cognitive bias does not absolve someone of biases, as lived experiences are spoken for all of the time. When people are told they are being racist, ableist, etc., it's because they are. People can unintentionally ableist, but this does not absolve them from the behavior. Intentional ignorance should always be reported. People can improve through listening to the minority group that they are oppressing. The person may be unintentionally biased, not necessarily a bad person. Therapists and researchers hegemonic-ally dominate the autistic population. So do parents. Parents and therapists have manipulated autistic behaviors for years. This is because of stigma and stereotypes. They think that autistic people can be egocentric because of their autism, rather than their personalities. Autism is blamed for multiple things itself, when the people who blame autistics for being misunderstood all too often don't reach out to the community that they are trying to serve. We note that services are being provided for people of color through therapists who aren't white. We have LGBTQ+ therapists who serve the LGBTQ+ population. We have therapists of different religious minorities who serve those clients within the various religious minorities. Yet, autistics have been systemically oppressed by their caregivers through the therapeutic techniques themselves and the individuals that serve them for therapy. Not everyone has to even go to therapy, and yet autistics are expected to "fix their behavior immediately" when all it is, is a misunderstanding on the other side about regulation, communication, tone, etc. in autism.
Autistics do not socialize in the same ways that neuro-typicals do.
Psychology research in general is silencing autistic voices intersectionally: "There’s some really uncomfortable ethnocentrism associated with this issue that makes people squirm,” Legare says. “We should all be doing a lot more squirming.”
Autistic voices from the autistic community aren’t heard in researchers nowhere nearly enough, and neither is the Deaf community, Blind community or the Down Syndrome community. Other neurological and developmental, as well as learning disabilities that are not Traumatic Brain Injuries, Alzheimer's, etc. are often times not led by a person in the community, etc., so they aren’t heard. We need to change research for the better. Autistic women and trans & non-binary autistics are underdiagnosed due to sexism, transphobia, etc. LGBTQ autistics aren't the only ones. Autistic POC aren’t included enough due to racism:
Tweet by Lydia:
"Just to expand on that. Autistic people who belong to any other marginalized community are significantly less likely to be identified/diagnosed as autistic for a multitude of specific reasons (e.g. transmisogyny, anti-Blackness, classism, misogynoir, lateral ableism). #FAT2020
That affects ALL autism research. If participants are selected to match available statistics about distribution of autism, then the participant pool will reflect the very same disparities that position autism as white+male, to the detriment of the rest of us. #FAT2020"}
Source: Lydia X. Z. Brown (Autistic Hoya)
It is an intersectional issue all around. This does not mean that we "communicate worse" than someone who isn't autistic. If anything, allies are encouraged to learn how neuro-typicals socialize so that we can be met in the middle. Autistics are people; we aren't objects and we certainly do not deserve to be infantilized. I am not a child, I am an adult. Autonomy isn't understood by the uninformed therapist. "Social disability in autism is context-dependent and emerges more in interactions with typically developing partners,” he said. “This likely reflects a mismatch in cognitive and communication styles that may improve with increased familiarity and acceptance... “We’re moving beyond the existing research, which has fixated on social abilities in isolated, standardized contexts, and addressing this blind spot of real-world outcomes,” she said. “Particularly in adults, this is the information we need," (Sasson, Morrison, 2017). Autistic people may not always have the disabled spoons to engage with a neurotypical, even non-verbally, in every moment of conflict resolution, relationships, and social engagement. We function differently, not less. Autistic people may not present the ideal tone because the tone of the voice may not be what is shown internally due to the challenges of regulation, communication, processing, etc. Autistic people may not present words in the way it's intended. I have to process every single word that comes out of my mouth. That can cause fatigue.
“If autistic people were inherently poor at social interaction, you’d expect an interaction between two autistic people to be even more of a struggle than between an autistic and non-autistic person. But that’s not what we found.”
---Dr. Noah Sasson, associate professor in the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences
What's even more concerning is the arguments that keep occurring in the molecular biology field about how the autistic brain is an "injury". Autism is not a disease, disorder, or illness. If anything, the autistic brain is the greatest untapped resource for non-autistics on earth. It isn't a deficit, and it is not caused by vaccines. Autism is not some worn down tennis shoe that can get dirty and separated from a person's foot while being left in the mud. It is not a shell surrounding someone, either. Neurodivergent brains are a proven fact, and autism isn't a brain injury. It's a natural variation in the brain and a disability. Therapists often assume that autistics experience emotions, as well as regulation in the same ways; however, this couldn't be further from the truth. Alexithymic autistics do not regulate in the same ways as other autistics. The amygdala, which can be found in the parietal lobe, is bigger in the autistic brain, which is why autistics are more sensitive.
¹ BaribeauD.A. et al. Transl. Psychiatry 9, 72 (2019) PubMed. ² DajaniD.R. et al. Neuroimage Clin. 21, 101678 (2019) PubMed
Moving on, I think that professionals need to start reaching out to the autistic community. Why? Because autistics are the experts of ourselves. Studies that have shown how much others need to give credit to autistics for self-reflection, processing, etc., and this needs to be recognized.
"Findings generally support the notions that autistic people are autism experts through their lived experiences and reduced tendency to view autism through a deficit-defined medical model compared with non-autistic people. Autistic participants exhibited more knowledge about and less stigma toward autism, and more often described autism internally, or in terms of the lived experience of being autistic, than non-autistic people, (Killespie-Lynch, Kapp, Brooks, Pickens, Schwartzman, 2017).
Researchers need to include their primary sources. Primary sources aren't parents. They aren't other professionals. The primary source for the autistic community is autistics themselves. Not a neurotypical person who doesn't have the lived experience of not being autistic themselves.
Psychology Today has an article that proves that teaching an autistic to mold their autism harms their mental health. "However, there remain long-term consequences for individuals, and for society, as a result of the way in which normalizing autistic behaviours has historically been promoted as a helpful, rather than a harmful, endeavor. And perhaps it is the broader socio-cultural climate that created and perpetuated these ideas of normalization that is the most harmful of all. Even for those of us not subject to childhood interventions, including the authors who were diagnosed in adulthood, these embedded norms, patterns, and rules, which were acquired either deliberately or unconsciously in an attempt to fit in, are difficult to shed, shift, or even identify," (Bullus, 2020).
“We cannot expect that teaching autistic people to be non-autistic, and therefore inauthentic, will be good for mental health.” --Erin Bulluss, Ph.D.
De-masking involves a process such as below:
Girl 👧 pointing to different text boxes. Text below. Also is showing non verbally what this all looks like.
How some people respond to social stress.
PS. Thank you for the likes!
Face turns neutral
Losing eye contact
They’re trying to engage but it’s visibly difficult.
Their tone of voice may sound animated despite looking disinterested.
Or become monotone
May become shy/ask questions that seem irrelevant.
May find it hard to hear what you’re saying.
May appear completely disinterested
May explain structure of thinking over and over in an attempt to help you understand.
Change in volume/tone of voice
May not answer questions
May respond in a way that is perceived to be rude or tense
May use their body in a way you’ve never seen before
Your friend is overstimulated and exhausted
Offer them an exit
Use clear language
Lower your voice
Don’t ask questions
Gently ask them to open their hands if they might hurt themselves
People with ASD are wonderful!
Just because we struggle socially doesn’t mean we don’t care!}
Activists have gone out of their own ways to explain things, and professionals need to be more receptive to feedback from autistics, simply because one autistic individual won’t have all of the answers. I think when people are tone policed, it’s counterproductive to the process. The oppressor needs to be okay with hearing that they are wrong. Why? Because they won’t always be right, but even when we’re wrong, they need to point it out in a way that is productive to the process. I’ve had people remind me that I’m not “trying hard enough”, while not assuming that I spend a large amount of energy every single day just trying to take care of myself. The largest challenge that I have faced being autistic has been with supports around me. Accommodations aren't a burden, meltdowns aren't a burden, and neither is your client. I would like to see more professionals being accountable. Stop punishments, stop seclusion and restraint, electroconvulsive shocks, prompting that is and can be harmful (BCBAs I'm referring to you, and this includes errorless teaching), forced eye contact, stimulation suppressing, meltdown shaming, etc.
Thank you for reading.