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The Autism Spectrum According to Autistic People

Autism neurodiversity

Last week, Miami Police Department unveiled their new “Autism Awareness” wrap on one of their squad cars. It’s bright, it’s shiny, it has puzzle pieces, and it came with a big check made out to Autism Speaks.

photo of a garish car hood with

Autistic people have quite a few things to say about this truly astonishing vehicle.
awareness thanks I hate it

For starters, there is the design of this car, which seems to have been conceived by someone who has never met an autistic person.

To a few of us, those colors may seem fun and stimmy. But for the vast majority of autistic people, this squad car– which looks like a unicorn vomited the entire 1990s– is a violent assault on the senses.

Here is a brief list of everything that makes this car’s paint job an abomination unto autistic brains:

  1. That yellow
  2. That green
  3. That pink
  4. The lack of symmetry with puzzle pieces scattered haphazardly everywhere
  5. Erasing and infantilizing ableism and racism that happens at the hands of police with a political PR stunt that makes police seem less intimidating
  6. The word “autism” is crooked
  7. The word “awareness” is barely legible because of the clashing puzzle pieces behind it and the R is having some kind of personal crisis so it really seems to read “awazeness”
  8. Miami is a sunny place, so the car will frequently be in very bright light. This is basically a mobile migraine
  9. Seriously, what kind of a puzzle is this? Have you never even done a puzzle? If a puzzle piece is a totally different color from the piece you’ve connected it to, something is wrong. LOOK AT THE BOX, Neurotypicals!
  10. Most of us hate the puzzle piece symbol because we associate both it AND Autism Speaks with attitudes that have resulted in our persecution and mistreatment. In fact, this entire car and political stunt seems to be a shining beacon of miseducation and misunderstanding.

Picture of a rainbow puzzle which reads

https://twitter.com/theLadyLovage/status/1299180717365174274?s=20

awareness car reaction facebook

Here’s a visual representation of how this car might look to an autistic person in sensory overload:

sensory nightmare awareness car

The childish appearance of the car also got a lot of comments from the autistic community. The car’s design perpetuates the assumption that autism is a diagnosis of childhood.

The fact is that most of the autistic people the police interact with are going to be adults whose behavior has been misconstrued.

Autistic People Gave the Miami PD a Crash Course in Awareness

Autistic people let the Miami PD know that they were not adult children who could be lured by candy colors into the creepy clown car by police who have a strident history of abusing them:

https://twitter.com/QuiescentDork/status/1298895625229086720?s=20

This is where we really need awareness in police– but looking at the childish colors on this cruiser, we don’t feel reassured that the police are really aware about autism.

Too many autistic adults have been approached by police officers over our “suspicious” behavior. While there are conflicting accounts of whether or not Elijah McClain was autistic, or “just different,” we know that the police were called on him because he was flapping his hands. Somehow, police perceived him as threatening, but it is clear to all autistic people that his differences were gentle, beautiful, and kind– and not in any way harming society.

Neli Latson was simply sitting on the library steps while being autistic and Black when someone called the police on him for “looking suspicious and possibly having a gun.” The unnecessary escalation and abuse of power led to Neli being manhandled by an officer, which triggered him to a meltdown where he fought back. Neli then was put in prison and suffered a cycle of abuse.

Too many of us have been shot, or threatened, or arrested over a misunderstanding because of our atypical body language and responses– basically, because we have an invisible disability and a brain that is wired differently.

Will this car help with that? No one seems hopeful.

Autistic people are frequently beaten, brutalized, killed, or wrongfully arrested by police, despite all the autism “awareness” out there.

The 17 police officers who were involved in the arrest of Matthew Rushin, who is serving ten years in jail after a seizure or loss of consciousness caused a car accident, were all trained in autism response.

Not one of them put any of it into practice– except maybe to use that training to frame him for having malicious intentions.

The police and courts involved in the arrest and potential deportation of intellectually disabled autistic man Osime Brown – for not stealing a phone – are perfectly aware of his autism.

And then there was the time that a Miami police officer tried to shoot a seated autistic man, Arnaldo Rios Soto, who was playing with a Tonka truck, and shot his Black caregiver instead– who was lying on the ground with his hands up, communicating clearly that he was a counselor and his client was autistic and nonspeaking.

…He ended up having to write an essay about gun training and handling protocols.

While this car comes from a different department than the man who shot Charles Kinsey, all of Miami and indeed Florida is answerable to what happened.

If the Miami PD are truly committed to raising awareness about autism among their officers and with repairing our complete lack of trust in the police, they should be donating to causes which provide reparations, legal advice, etc to people like Osime Brown and Matthew Rushin – who have been jailed, denied medical care, and mistreated by police due to poor awareness.

Awareness is not bringing about action, and action is what we need. Especially from police departments.

Even some of our celebrity and organizational allies weighed in:

Autistic lives– especially Black autistic lives – are best supported by direct action to help those who were falsely imprisoned as a result of the same lack of awareness by police that birthed this ironic autistic-provocation nightmare-mobile squad car.

One of the best ways to create useful autism AWARENESS is to make people aware of those autistic people who are victims of police departments like this, who advertise their lack of awareness loudly and proudly.

A Stunt Exploiting One Group to Silence Another

Defunding the police and police brutality against Black lives is perhaps a story that eclipses even the COVID19 pandemic in America, with several other nations taking up the same charge.

What exactly does “defunding” the police mean? Here, BLM757 explains in an Instagram post and slideshow:

The slideshow:

Overwhelmingly, the autistic community would agree. Police are not the ones who should be responding to meltdowns, as even those departments with much training continue to escalate, arrest, and criminalize autistic people for meltdowns and panic that the police themselves cause.

We at NeuroClastic stand with BLM and other organizations fighting for equity and justice reforms and do not consent to being used and exploited as inspiration porn for police departments to try and improve their PR.

Very clearly, as all police departments engaging in similar paltry PR pandering will learn, Autistics speak for ourselves. The resounding message is that we are not complicit with your attempts to distract from your racism by putting your ableism on display.

Please consider helping Osime Brown, Matthew Rushin, Neli Latson, Arnaldo Rios Soto, or a group like Black Lives Matter who put their money where their mouth is and engage in action that improves the lives of those affected by police misconduct and brutality.

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