What are your qualifications?Jan 07, 2023
Yesterday, someone trolled me on social media.
That in itself isn’t the thing. That happens to autistic folks who joyfully resist the disorder narrative all the time.
It’s threatening to some, to read my writings or hear me speak about my autistic pride.
I was speaking about how so many people aren’t clued in to what an autistic person living without trauma looks like.
The picture society has of an autistic person is largely built around that person’s trauma.
The ways in which they stim, or move, or the sounds they make, or their behaviour being grounded in distress is often what people look for when they hear the word “autistic”.
Someone jumped in and asked me what my qualifications were. I knew where the questions were going to go, so I told them I was a gardening extraordinaire. They said “it shows”.
It’s confronting for some, when autistic folks show up on social media and share our experiences. Particularly when they love or care for an autistic person who is experiencing ongoing distress, trauma and suffering.
That experience is one that is so deeply embedded in displacement.
So many of us feel like we have these beautiful qualities, values, attributes, and they just aren’t what a capitalist society wants or needs.
The topic of qualifications is a triggering one for me, and I’d imagine many other proud autistic folks.
There is nobody more qualified to speak on my autistic experience than I.
Don’t get me wrong, there are incredible professionals out there doing fabulous work in the neurodivergent space; AND..
If they are not autistic or neurodivergent themselves, their work is second hand.
It is textbook, possibly (probably) based on observation of autistic behaviour via a non autistic lens, and behaviourism itself is problematic when it comes to knowing and understanding the depth and range of someone’s internalised experience.
I don’t even know where to start with my qualifications..the ones that are valued by society.
Yep, I’m university educated. I have several degrees. Some of them I don’t even mention and won’t.
I don’t bang on about them, and I don’t go on about my work experience.
When I introduce myself at the beginning of talks, etc, I cringe. It goes against every fibre of my PDA being and makes my stomach churn.
My organic nature is to resist.
I can’t help but resist a society that values the type of education that apparently qualifies a person who is not autistic to speak on and ‘educate’ on autistic experience.
My university education consisted of reading books that contained the same information that has existed for decades, if not more than a century.
I was then asked to regurgitate that information in some form to demonstrate my understanding of it. I now have a few qualifications and a student loan debt of over $100,000 to show for it.
I attended my graduation, and I threw away the photos of myself in the gown and hat, holding the tube.
I’m not ungrateful. I worked damn hard. I struggled. I didn’t know I was autistic and needed support. It took me seven years to complete my first degree that was supposed to take three years. I am proud I finished.
You know how much of what I do today is informed by what I learnt academically?
None of it.
Do you know that same sex attracted folks were pathologised in the DSM as having a mental disorder until 1973?
Remember how psychologists, psychiatrists and church folks were trying to treat the gay away?
I feel that. I felt it when I was reading my compulsory reading studying Psychology, Social Science, Politics and Education.
I see it today in the way we are still speaking about “autism” as this abstract concept that people still believe exists as a separate entity from autistic people.
With the most recent revision of the DSMV in 2013, the following statement was included:
“..In short, “Judgment that a given behavior is abnormal and requires clinical attention depends on cultural norms that are internalized by the individual and applied by others around them”. It is, at least in part, this consideration of culture that allows for advancement in our understanding of psychopathology (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th ed. Washington, DC, American Psychiatric Association, 2013).
Sixty years of work by gay rights activists, psychiatrists, psychologists, and leaders in the mental health community have shaped our current views about individuals from sexual minority communities and the care that they receive (“Gay Is Good”: History of Homosexuality in the DSM and Modern Psychiatry. Sara E. McHenry, American Journal of Psychiatry, 2022).
We are still confusing autism with co-occurring conditions.
We are still talking about autistic people as though they are second rate neuronormative folks..
Outside of the autistic community.
Autistic kin, I know it doesn’t always feel like it, but the work you do, the words you poor into your writing, your speaking and your advocacy is and will bring about incredible change and hopefully liberation from being published and noted as walking mental disorders.
Video is of KF, in PJs at 5am with headphones on at the computer, reading about nuance in autistic experiences across gender, race, sexuality and other intersections and wildly learning to inform my own work.
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