Neurotypical Awareness: Some Clarifications of Intent
April 5th, 2013 by Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg

I’m really gratified by how many people have shared my Neurotypical Awareness memes and all the great comments that these memes — you should pardon the expression — have inspired. Based on some of the comments I’ve seen over the past week, though, I feel it necessary to clarify a few things for people who are unfamiliar with my work and approach.

The intent of the Neurotypical Awareness memes is not to parody individuals or their concerns. For instance, I’m not saying that raising an autistic kid is easy, and I’m not saying that being autistic is easy, and I’m not saying that people should be quiet about it. Physically, socially, economically, emotionally, and in many other ways, it can be very difficult — because of the nature of the condition and because of the obstacles that the world puts up. What I’m doing is parodying representations of autism — by professionals and organizations and media outlets — that constantly beat the drum about how autism is nothing but tragedy and grief and loss and deficit, or conversely, a grand opportunity for Special Inspirational Achievement and Overcoming the Odds.

I don’t think those extremes help us. And those are generally the extremes at which most mainstream autism representation works. The same is true for mainstream representations of most — if not all — disabilities.

It’s clear that a number of people feel uncomfortable about these memes. My feeling is that this discomfort is a good thing. If people are uncomfortable when reading them, then what I’m doing is effective. People should feel uncomfortable when the shoe is on the other foot and pejorative attitudes are directed at them or at those they care about. I want people to have the experience of how it feels for disabled people to deal with these kinds of messages day in and day out.

The problem, from my perspective, isn’t that people get offended. The problem is that people get offended and then don’t question why they’re offended and why I’d want them to feel that.

Several people have said that I’m just being negative. But that’s not me. I don’t do negative for the sake of negative, and I have no interest in paying back the non-disabled world for the way it treats us. I don’t think about life that way. My only interest is to shine a light on our cultural memes about disability and on their impact.

In other words, this isn’t therapy. It’s social commentary. And if it makes you uncomfortable, then I’m doing my job.

© 2013 by Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg

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