I've been noticing something that's been bothering me a lot, and that is the way the phrases "autism community" and "autistic community" are used.
I find that when these phrases are used, in all sorts of media, they tend to refer to parents, siblings, grandparents, friends, and lovers of autistic people, as well as doctors, therapists, behaviorists, staff, and other professionals who work with autistic people. Who is not likely to be consulted when some journalist or blogger needs the perspective of "the autism community"? Actual autistic people.
Guys, I think this is a problem.
For those of you who like analogies (and I really do), imagine if whenever someone used the phrase "the gay community," they were actually referring to PFLAG, a group for straight allies. That would be not so good, right? Because as lovely as PFLAG is, they are by definition mostly straight people (not that gay people can't be parents and friends of other gay people, but I don't think that's what PFLAG is for) and therefore not a good choice to be the voice of "the gay community."
But actually, the way the phrase "autistic community" gets used is even worse than that hypothetical situation. Because PFLAG is at least genuinely supportive of gay rights. On the other hand, a lot of the parent-and-professional groups that get referred to as "the autistic community" really want autism -- and therefore, autistic people -- to go away forever. In my opinion, this is not good community-building sentiment.
I think this is fairly self-explanatory: if you want a community to be eliminated from the planet, you are not part of that community. You are not even an ally. Hell, why would you want to be part of that community anyway? You obviously don't like us very much.
If you're reading this and wondering whether it really matters how people use the phrase "autism/autistic community," let me tell you what I believe the misuse of this phrase does.
It perpetuates the idea that autistic people as a group can't represent ourselves and need non-autistic people to speak for us. It centers the concerns of neurotypical people in discussions of autism, when really it is our needs, our concerns, our rights that should be prioritized. It means that there are people claiming the support of "the autistic community" for positions that a lot of autistic people find morally offensive. It's one of the tools people use to keep our voices from being heard. In other words, yes, it matters. This is really bad news.