Autism Awareness Month
April 1st, 2013 by Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg

Well, Autism Awareness Month is upon us.

Aren’t you excited? I know I am. So much to look forward to!

And guess what I got for the first day of Autism Awareness Month? Today, in celebration of this wondrous occasion, the admins at The Thinking Moms’ Revolution (an anti-vax site that runs on the dual premises that vaccines cause autism and that unproven biomed treatments can cure it) banned me from their Facebook page.

Yes. A page about autism banned an autistic person on the first day of Autism Awareness Month.

Way to go, Thinking Moms!

And what had I done, you ask? I had not gotten into a nasty argument about the spurious claim that vaccines cause autism. I had not gotten nasty at all. To the contrary: Over the course of two days, I had participated in a very civil discussion about the following graphic:


Source: Facebook

[The graphic shows a photo of a baby sleeping, being held by a man whose mouth, chin, and nose are visible. The text reads “3.2% of boys may not achieve their dreams, travel the world, live independently, serve their country, become a leader, fall in love, be a husband, a father, or raise a family because of autism. 1 in 31 boys. Prevention, early detection, & effective medical treatment gives hope for a better future for our boys. Take ACTION now for a better future. Please SHARE.” ]

What do I mean by civil? I mean that I was respectful, well-spoken, and on point. I was not hostile, I did not call names, I did not cast aspersions, I refrained from profanity, and I took the time to think before I wrote. I began by leaving a comment along the following lines:

If this is the message people are sending out to boys and young men with autism, they are going to get exactly what they pay for: an entire generation of people who think that they’re incapable of achievement or happiness. People rise (or sink) to the level of our expectations, and they hope or despair for their lives accordingly. This kind of extremism does not build a better future for anyone.

I was told, of course, that the graphic wasn’t about me, because I am older and because I can read and write. I’ve been in enough of these conversations to understand the inevitability of that response, so I countered by noting that their 1 in 31 statistic includes people everywhere on the spectrum — those of us who can communicate online and those of us who cannot. I suggested that it was unfair to pad the statistics for their graphic using all of us and then tell us that they’re not talking to some of us. I noted that, in this case, the text is talking to all of us, and so all of us have the right to respond.

I was then told that because the word “may” appears in the text, the graphic is not alleging that every autistic person will share the same fate. I responded by noting that one could put the word “may” in for any population — after all, 3.2% of the non-autistic people reading this post may never achieve their dreams, or travel the world, or marry, or have children — but that it doesn’t take away from the impact of the graphic. The graphic still generates fear and pity, and it attaches that fear and pity to autism.

I know, I know. What a hideous thing to say.

I was banned after that.

I expect anything better? Sadly, I didn’t.

I bend over backwards to be civil. I really do. It’s central to my sense of myself as a writer and as a person. Anyone who knows me knows that. However, I never go into these discussions thinking that my civility is going to save me. I go into them thinking that my civility is what’s important to me, but that it probably won’t mean much to people who can’t handle disagreement in the first place, and who would rather shut it down than have a rational discussion.

Having a rational discussion is what it means to be a thinking person. And frankly, I’d like to see a revolution in the way we speak to each other. I’d like to see much more rational discussion across disagreement. But that assumes that people want to hear it.

Banning a person who exercises civility in disagreement makes it abundantly clear that the Thinking Moms don’t want to hear what we’re saying. Any claim they make to rationality or social justice is literally in name only.

Am I surprised? Of course not. I’m just taken aback by the irony of it happening on the first day of April.

Happy Autism Awareness Month, everyone.

Update: The offending graphic has been removed from the Thinking Moms page. Thank you to everyone who came over and spoke up!

© 2013 by Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg

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