One of my friends was having a difficult conversation with her friend online. You know how this ends up. We argue online with a person we used to know in high school, or an acquaintance from some meeting, or someone we don't know at all, friend of a friend. We vehemently make our points. We argue our positions vigorously. Neither party is persuaded to the other party's position. The argument fizzles.
It's still important to have these discussions. Other people are reading, not commenting, but reading. And thinking more about the issue than they would have otherwise.
But one dynamic exists that should make us consider our approach carefully. It's something most of us haven't thought about because we haven't had to.
There are people who are thought of, not as individuals, but as groups because of a characteristic that they were born with. These characteristics include certain skin colors, certain sexual orientations, physical disabilities, and certain neurologies. We think of them in noun-groups: Blacks, People of Color, Gays, Lesbians, Deaf, The Disabled, Autistics. These groups are defined by the shared characteristic, but they are also defined as the "Not-Normal." Normal is white, straight, hearing. Normal is physically able. Normal is neurotypical.
Being autistic is seen as Not Normal. Autism is defined by the ways it is Not Normal. Therapies exist to make autistic persons Normal. If we cannot stop ourselves for a minute and consider the crushing nature of being seen as Not Normal for an entire lifetime, we will never understand the pain it causes.
When you are seen as Normal, you have advantages accorded to you simply by your birth. You are allowed to move, talk, behave as you do by nature. Your thoughts and opinions are given credence because you are seen as Normal. You have access to relationships that are equal. You are not viewed as a threat. You are not a candidate for institutionalization.
For someone who is seen as Not Normal, simply by virtue of birth, access and opportunity are narrowed. People judge them, try to fix them, and make decisions for them their entire lives. Even as adults, they are told they don't know best. Scientists, researchers, businessmen, charities, and organizations can tell them what is best. If the persons defined as Not Normal speak up too much, make too much noise, demand too much, even the children, they face the threat of physical restraint, electric shock, or institutionalization.
So the idea that there is an equal position between one person who is seen as Normal and another person who is seen as Not Normal is simply untrue. There isn't an equal sharing of ideas, with the perceived Normal merely stating their opinion and the perceived Not Normal stating theirs.
There's an underlying pain. Neurotypical persons think they're making an objective, logical argument about an issue. Autistic persons are feeling real emotional pain. This isn't just a neutral argument. It's a very real reminder that they do not have equal access or opportunity, that they do not have the advantage of an equal seat at the table, where their ideas are granted automatic credibility, that they should be careful not to be seen as a threat. They are treated as the Not Normal. They are in real pain.
The question is can we see that? Will we see how viewing autistic persons as Not Normal and trying to change them to Normal encourages abuse? How teachers, students, and partners pick up on that? How it fosters abuse by teachers, bullying by fellow students, abusive relationships, restrictions on how to live and who to marry and whether they should have children? Can we think about how our children, our friends have been or will be treated? How that affects their chances for an equal say in relationships, at work, in society?
We must first be able to imagine that kind of pain. Then we can do something about it.