The “Othering” of Autism

The “Othering” of Autism

When going to the cinema, I love the previews almost as much as actually getting to see the movie. But on this weekend’s movie trip, the pre-movie advertising proved to be infuriating.

Before a trailer for the documentary “Bully” was an advertisement for “autism awareness.” I was excited because finally, awareness campaigns are being placed in front of the general public. The narrator of this video spoke about the man behind him and said, “he is autistic” and briefly described the disorder. The narrator then said, “and he just so happens to be a great opera singer.”

Right then and there, I tuned out — and I was angry. Because did the narrator not mean to say, “he’s a great opera singer, and he just so happens to have autism”?

There is such a negative implication with the word autism, and I wonder how all the negativity impacts children with autism and their families. We often hear “I hate autism” or “autism is bad,” and most children with the disorder know “I have autism.” So if “autism is bad” and “I have autism,” by the law of syllogism, isn’t the phrase “I am bad” also true?

Ten years ago, many people might have heard the term “autism” but had no idea what it meant. Today, people can’t walk into the grocery store and not notice a child with autism. Autism is more prevalent (1 in 88 children diagnosed, according to the CDC), and we can praise organizations for raising awareness about it, but we should also urge these groups to stop and think about how they are saying their message before they toss it up on the big screen.

The “othering” of autism occurs when we are basically telling children with autism that we love them, except that “other” part of them we hate. If a child has autism, it is a part of who they are, and they take it with them everywhere. So do you really want your children with autism to carry the “I am bad” thought through every walk of their lives? And do you really want to antagonize the fear the general public has about autism, and to continue the idea that people with autism are “others,” that they are too different from you or me?

To combat the negative stigma of autism, consider always putting the child first. For example, he’s fun-loving, he’s intelligent with computers, he loves music, he’s a great writer, he’s a terrific reader, he’s a great opera singer. And he also has autism — this part always comes last and if necessary. To put autism first distances the public away from the “others” with autism, and by that point it doesn’t matter if he’s a great singer because now all they hear is “he’s autistic.” People with autism are just that — they are people.

Consider raising awareness of that idea before you put the wrong message up on the video screen.

Photo by HelloImNick

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