The American Press Association is a media source which I was taught has always sought to report news ethically and responsibly, mindful of best practices in cultural competence. Appropriate language establishes an accurate picture of an event using the information available. This process helps to develop a story for those not present to bear witness.
Statistics, connections to historical events, and who the current event helps or harms are all expressed in both subjective, emotional and objective, factual ways to demonstrate the human impact (subjective experience) of the objective subject. The facts, however, are communicated in a way that allows the audience to draw their own conclusions given the evidence.
In modernity, language continues to evolve as it has since the advent of the written word. So why is it that in the field of journalism, language and structure which frames autistic people in a menacing, dehumanizing light is still considered acceptable?
Language that represents autistic people as burdensome, dangerous, and lacking in autonomy must change.
I am Autistic. We are Autistic. We are not “afflicted with Autism” nor are we “suffering from autism.” While we may face our own individual difficulties, we as human beings often possess great strengths.
Autism isn’t cancer. It is not some terrible malady or a disease. When media uses language that frames Autism as such, we take a step into the Darkness that is cure culture. The ugly side of neurotypical behavior which seeks to erase autism, forgetting that we are Autistic human beings who would be erased with a “cure.”
We do not walk into a room with some separate physical entity attached to us named “autism” like it’s an embarrassing friend we drag around to humiliate our loved ones— because Autism is the core of our nature as Autistic people.
Autism is a neurological difference. By definition, it is our very wiring. It is one of many beautifully different neurotypes. Do we have our struggles? Yes. So does every human being to have ever lived.
One of our most disabling struggles is public perception, and the media has had an insidious role in propagating the myth that our existence is a scourge on society’s peace.
As long as the media continues to frame our existence as a plague, epidemic, or an ominous “rising tide” like we are a threat to society on par with global warming, people will fail to recognize our value to humanity.
Journalism is a necessary hallmark of a free and just society, but bad journalism that fails to report on a marginalized population’s humanity is propaganda that merely panders to and reinforces the prejudices and fragility of people who wish we didn’t exist.
According to the Society of Professional Journalism’s (SPJ) Code of Ethics, it is the responsibility of journalists to:
Be vigilant and courageous about holding those with power accountable. Give voice to the voiceless.
When it comes to autistic people, though, I very rarely see autistic voices represented. Instead, nonautistic parents, caregivers, “experts,” educators, and other “do-gooders” are uplifted as heroes in salacious inspiration porn for showing basic human decency to someone autistic.
That combination of search terms is going to take you to sites like Jill Escher’s National Council on Severe Autism, where she gives a voice to parents who frequently talk about their thoughts of murdering their autistic kids or engaging in a murder-suicide, or articles written by the handful of racist, self-loathing, misogynistic “dark web” autistics who seem to be full-time Twitter trolls.
- Disney’s Encanto: They Don’t talk about Bruno, but We Autistics DO - February 1, 2022
- A Letter to Black and Indigenous Autistic Teens - January 4, 2022
- Autism and Going to the Doctor: How it feels from the inside - December 7, 2021