The following is a guest post by ASAN Vancouver Chapter Leader, Alanna Rose Whitney.
Shades of Slander
By Alanna Rose Whitney
Okay, so, the Autism Spectrum is legitimately a thing and there are a lot of people out there who just don’t seem to get it.
Some equate the word “spectrum” with the concept of a scale, which is not what that word means. I guess they’re thinking of a line that runs the gamut of shades from red through to violet. Thing is, hearing the word spectrum should instead be conjuring an image of a colour wheel…
ID: Image shows six icons; the apple pinwheel, the adobe colour wheel, red-green-blue and magenta-yellow-cyan Venn diagrams, the ASAN logo and a colour spectrum.
The whole point of using “spectrum” is that it’s an alternative to the out-dated practice of ranking autistics on a line from high to low functioning, verbal to non-verbal, or any other irrelevant criteria.
The very idea of the “Autistic Spectrum” is that our neurotype can’t be defined by a one-dimensional range from black to white with grey in the middle – there are a vast multitude of hues where any given autistic person can be situated on any given day. Much like the wavelengths of light and colour which we all see differently, each autistic person is a variation of the same theme, always in flux, constantly changing and evolving, every individual experience bringing new depth to the chromatic masterpiece that is Autism.
ID: Image shows a rainbow cloud composed of handfuls gulal, or multi-coloured powder dyes that have been thrown into the air by a large group of people who are celebrating Holi (glimpses of these people are visible within the flying colours). Photo credit to ‘White Massif,’ an event management company in Bangalore. http://whitemassif.com/7-awesome-holi-party-ideas/
Some fail to grasp the importance of a spectrum that unites us all because they are blinded by a sense of belonging (and simple stubbornness); there are many who don’t want to let go of an identity they finally fit into perfectly. I get that, and anyone is totally free to identify however they want – on their own time…It’s really not cool to dismiss those of us who find functioning labels hurtful.
Anyone who is aware of the harm caused by the negative connotations associated with such language shouldn’t propagate the use of terminology that segregates their own people and promotes ableist ideals.
The following links are good perspectives on why functioning labels are bad:
So, basically, it would be really helpful towards achieving equality, acceptance and equal rights if the entire Autistic Community could agree to ditch the old labels and settle on a new term that’s prismatically, kaleidoscopically inclusive.
That’s the spectrum.
ID: Image shows two circular spectrums. The first is split into eight sections of different colours with the saturation on a gradient towards white in the centre. The second shows the word ‘spectrum’ fit into the aforementioned sections of the same circle. Instead of a gradient, the second image has the letters each in one of eight colours and the space behind them in the opposite colour.
If we separate ourselves into different classifications of autistic, whether that’s using functioning labels or adamantly sticking with “Asperger’s,” it is guaranteed to encourage the kind of ableist behaviour that will allow others to use our differences to maintain a caste system based on their own arbitrary values.
Like I said, people should call themselves whatever they want on their own time, be whoever they want to be… but please, everyone – stop condoning practices which help to put the rest of us into boxes we’ve had no hand in creating and have no desire to be trapped by.
Yes, everyone is entitled to their own identity, but no; being autistic does not give any one person a free pass to trivialize the discrimination that others have experienced. And, F.Y.I., that’s exactly what many are doing when they insist on using functioning labels or person-first language.
ID: This diagram shows the same circular spectrum as in the first of the pair of colour wheels in the previous image. Added to it around the outside of the spectrum in blocky lettering are eight section titles and within each slice of the circle is text that indicates a sliding scale from one state to another (two words or terms with an arrow between them).
The eight sections are as follows:
Emotional Sensitivities = empathetic > stoic
Physical Sensitivities = sensitive > stalwart
Physical Conditions = tough > tender
Motor Skills = dynamic > static
Disability = prolific > expendable
Neurological Conditions = impulsive > compulsive
Communication = articulate > expressive
Filtering & Processing = perceptive > perplexed
Note: The above image is a visual representation of how different hues can be related to different types of autistic qualities. It displays only eight categories with a straightforward scale attached to each which by no means covers every autistic experience. The idea is that any person can simultaneously be in many places within the spectrum and that each point of reference is constantly fluctuating. This is just an example of how the spectrum can be seen.
Autism is neurological. It’s irreversible and immutable.
We are autistic; we are autism.
It’s not possible to separate a person from the essential aspects of their being and personality. Yes, autism can be hard and disabling, but it also has a myriad of multi-faceted benefits. Those two sides of it cannot be separated either.
No one is with their autism anymore than they are with homosexuality or heterosexuality. No one is with their autism anymore than they are with their gender or nationality or religion or political beliefs.
I am an agnostic living with astigmatism. Note the difference.
ID: The last image shows a line of circles that each contain a small section of one of six abstract paintings. Each one is different but all of them show a spectrum of colour.
Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. I can’t disagree with that, but this is about more than how we all take our eggs in the morning; it’s not a debate between scrambled and sunny-side-up (or nothing at all because eggs are sensory minefields) – it’s about a whole diverse group of people who have been oppressed and pigeonholed for centuries.
This is about human rights. This is about respect.
Together we can shift the winds of change towards acceptance and understanding, and away from analyzing and evaluating the functionality and worth of other human beings like we’re specimens in a lab.
Instead of examining and ranking each person by the potential for remuneration, let’s opt to value each other for the uniquely colourful creatures we are. Humanity is a spectrum, our planet is a spectrum, the whole universe is a spectrum; autism is a spectrum.
Let’s embrace the rainbow.
Alanna’s original post can be found on her Tumblr: http://alannarosewhitney.tumblr.com/post/113254781979/shades-of-slander
30 Days of Autism is a project designed to fight stigma, promote civil rights, and increase understanding and acceptance for those who process and experience the world differently.
© Leah Kelley, Thirty Days of Autism (2015)