The public discourse about autism rarely focuses on this simple, frequently denied idea. We're almost never included in the discussion, except on occasions when we are paraded out in dunce caps to show off our pitiful existence in order to garner sympathy for our parents and caretakers. But what really gets me is that the most often provided targets of this pity parade are children. O, won't someone think of the children?
In my experience, the anti-vaccine camp is the most guilty of all the parties in performing this stunt. A particular example that has come to my attention recently involves a fellow referring to his child with autism as "damaged", in a Canadian newspaper. Owing to some interesting circumstances, I'm choosing not to name the paper nor the letter writer, for the safety of myself and my loved ones. But when I read his letter to the editor, I was instantly reminded of other examples of this. Jenny McCarthy's son, before his autism diagnosis when he was a "Crystal child", during his diagnosis and alleged "cure", and after it was revealed he never had autism at all. The children on Oprah Winfrey, squirming uncomfortably as they were held up by their mothers as an example of the "damage" vaccines had done to them, and countless other examples leap to mind.
It's not just the fact that they are humiliating these children in the public sphere that is problematic, or insulting them in front of all, with words like "empty", "husk", "broken", "sickened", "damaged", "stolen", "near dead" and "ill" being liberally applied. The very fact that children, particularly when it involves nonverbal children, are being used as pawns to advance the political/social agendas of adults is downright sickening. Children are not the property of their parents, to be displayed at their whim, or used as a bargaining chip in an ideological debate. They are individuals, and yet, their freedom and their power to decide their destiny is often marginalized due to the wishes of adults who hold power over them, whether it be parents, teachers, or caretakers. Especially concerning disabled children.
The reason that I am here today, writing this, is because my mother and father didn't use my neurological differences as a battering ram to force their viewpoints onto other people. I was not a trump card, or any other sort of metaphor or tool to them. I was their daughter, and their priorities to me were to protect, nurture, and respect my growth. Autistic children grow up to be autistic adults. But we cannot be happy, whole grown ups with autism if we grow up under the shadow of people who consider us to be broken, diseased, or political bargaining chips.