Monday, 12 June 2017
Tough Talk 2 : Autism, Love, Humanity and Verbal Violence
The photo shows a wooden door. On it hangs two hearts. One is larger and made of a weave of grey sticks. The other hangs within that, a white heart. It was a photo I took when visiting a beautiful scented garden, on holiday with my much loved partner.
It symbolises, for me, the love inside of every person. Without doubt.
I'm autistic. For the first ten years of my life, I could not use words to communicate meaning to people. I could copy words, but it was just a sound. I could write words, but they were just a pattern.
Some would say that I could not possibly have understood God. That, to understand God, and love, one needs a grasp of language. An intellect. A sense of self. A sense of what non-autistic people need, and think, and want. I had none of those things. But...
I knew God existed. I felt his love. I learned about God, and Jesus, from pictures. Pictures were, and still are, my brain's language, and God speaks picture. He speaks love. He speaks the very language of the person he created. God was there. Right there with me.
Today, I read some of a book by a theologian. It was so bad that I actually dropped it in horror.
It is verbal violence, arrogance above all other arrogances, for someone to declare people like me to appear to be non-human. Appearing non-human because we could not speak as others do. Non-human because surely people like us can't actually BE human, eh? To write that there's nothing human to see, so we have to trust Jesus knows what he's doing when he says we're humans too? Goodness me. Oh my. Is that what some think Jesus said? Really?
It is verbal violence, and arrogance indeed, to assert that when we get to heaven, God will cure us of autism whether we like it or not. To declare that those of us who worked for years to learn language...who are still sometimes non-verbal... are 'high functioning' and therefore know nothing of supposedly-'low functioning' autism. Hands up all those who want to be described as 'low functioning'? How absolutely awful. What on earth is 'high functioning'? We know how many supposed 'high functioning' people die horribly early. So much for that pointless label. Our deaths too often a result of the hate, the othering, the exclusion.... the careless verbal and physical violence so many of us endure so many days of our lives.
And it is appalling to speak for us, without permission or insight, only to declare our apparent inhumanity...our brokenness... as if we can have no experience of God of our own, no love, no caring. As if we are not beautifully and wonderfully differently made.
We show caring in different ways to others, sometimes. It can be in honouring silence, in respecting space, in carefully tailoring eye contact not to overwhelm other autistic friends. Our language is not 'broken'. It is different.
We are not 'broken'. We are autistic. Autism is not a low IQ. It is not a violence. It is not a lack of empathy. Look at the diagnostic list. Those things are not on there. Even lack of speech is a different thing to autism. Yes, some have all of those. Some of any population have all of those. But autism is not those extra things.
I cannot speak for all. I do not try. But I am a professional, working for and with autistic people. Living life with my autistic family and friends and colleagues of all kinds. And I have had a lifetime of living in an autistic mind.
I will not have any theologian writing books that question our humanity, unchallenged. It is not yours to question. Do you know where questioning the humanity of a group can lead? This is no intellectual game. This is life or death for a vulnerable group.
I am here to say that you should go and find everyone you can...and listen. Listen with your eyes. Listen with your heart. Listen with your soul.
Learn our ways. Learn why they are our ways. Be in our space in respectful ways. In ways that honour own neurology, our communication choices.
Walk with us on life's journey.
Help protect us from sensory and social overload pain.
Enable our 'voices', in whatever form those take.
Love us as we are, and honour that of God which is autistic.
For you will hear a much loved child of God. You will see humanity. And you will feel love.
You are loved. As you are.
You are human. So am I.
And God loves us all.