Identity-First Language vs. Person-First Language
Maine Autism Collective understands autism is a significant and permanent part of an individual’s identity and life experiences. Using identity-first language (Autistic person) is the preference for the majority in the community. Person-first language (person with autism) suggests that the individual could be separate from their autism; this is not only false but perpetuates the myths of autism being a disease, an epidemic, or a childhood affliction one can ‘outgrow’. Person-first language adds to the stigma the Autistic community already faces while hiding behind respectful good intentions.
The neurodiversity movement promotes the understanding that humans are diverse and brains no exception. Autism and ADHD —among other conditions— are considered neurodivergencies and are a natural variance in human biology instead of medical conditions requiring treatments or cures. Efforts to understand and accommodate individuals who are neurodivergent is more beneficial for everyone.
Accurate Representation in Media
Media representation of Autistic people is improving but there is much work to do. Autistic people come in all shapes, sizes, races, and genders. Despite this, most depictions of autism are by straight, white, cisgender males. Relying on stereotypes to represent an entire community is inaccurate and harms those of us who may not fit that mold.
Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA)
Applied Behavior Analysis is often intensive, early childhood intervention that can consume up to 40 hours weekly for a child that is participating. The end goal is to make Autistic people indistinguishable from neurotypical peers by discouraging natural Autistic traits such as stimming. Instead of developing skills to communicate, play, and self-regulate in our own way we are encouraged to suppress them and blend in to meet social expectations. Children are taught that their bodies are controlled by adults who expect compliance for rewards; this increases consent issues in an already vulnerable population. Recent studies have suggested that ABA therapy will greatly increase an individual’s likelihood of meeting the criteria for PTSD.
Autistic children, like their non-Autistic peers, can be taught valuable skills without using ABA tactics. Alternatives to ABA include occupational therapy, speech therapy and AAC. music therapy, inclusion, and environmental accommodations. For those seeking more formal behavioral intervention, Collaborative & Protective Solutions is a trauma-informed model developed by Dr. Ross Greene who has a non-profit in Portland, Maine called Lives In The Balance.
Harmful ‘Cures’ & Medical-Based Interventions
Autism occurs before birth and is life-long. Anything being advertised as a ‘cure’ should be a red flag. Common protocols being promoted are chelation, MMS (Miracle Mineral Solution), hyperbaric oxygen therapy, raw camel milk, detoxifying clay baths, essential oils, and restrictive diets such as GAPS. The FDA has put out a warning against many of these experimental treatments.
Autism is not a medical condition but can often be accompanied by co-morbid medical conditions such as insomnia, pica, anxiety, digestive issues, and epilepsy among others. It is important to remember that these conditions are NOT autism; treating underlying medical issues may improve communication or self-regulation for an Autistic person because they are feeling better; it is not because their autism is being ‘healed’ or ‘cured’.