Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Puzzle Pieces and Identity

Since Asperger's is an Autism Spectrum Disorder, or ASD, the "logo" for its accompanying support movement is the same as the general Autism Awareness symbol.

Sometimes it's just two pieces, sometimes three, but you get it. You usually see those ribbon-shaped magnets or stickers on cars with this pattern.

I saw a disturbing thing, though. Someone casually mentioned that they wished "the autism awareness movement hadn't adopted the puzzle piece logo." Saying things like that is like saying "I wish breast cancer awareness hadn't chosen the color pink." What else would we use? Most of the colors for ribbons and awareness movement logos are taken! Breast cancer, heart disease, prostate cancer, ovarian cancer, POW/MIA, Support Our Troops, and so on - they all have something. So should we.

The puzzle-piece logo is an interesting choice. A good choice, but interesting nonetheless. Autism, you see, is a puzzle. No one really understands it fully. In fact, scientists and doctors and other such professionals still can't agree on whether or not Asperger's is a "syndrome" or a "disorder."

Personally, I believe it's a bit of both, but then again I like compromise where appropriate. But to me, having Asperger's is just another part of my identity and therefore part of who I am.

Things that are facets of my identity:
  • my biological sex
  • my gender identity
  • my sexual orientation
  • my ethnicity and cultural heritage
  • the way my brain functions

Notice that none of those are things I can choose or change. What follows are things I can choose or change, and therefore not innately facets of my identity:
  • my spirituality or lack thereof
  • my morals
  • my personality
  • my interests and hobbies
  • my job or career
This essentially should prove that attacking people with Asperger's or any ASD is as bad as racism, sexism, or homophobia. It's like making fun of people for having depression or anxiety disorders. It's like making fun of people who stutter or limp or were born with only one arm.

No one chooses to be autistic. Trust me, even if you could, you wouldn't want to. Just like no one chose to be a black American around the 1950s and no one chooses to be a woman in the Middle East.

If a person claims to "hate" autistic people, that person is actually very nearly committing a crime. In America, we have something called "freedom of speech," but less commonly known is that the government also defines what is "unprotected speech," or more accurately, things you cannot say unless you wish to be fined or imprisoned, or at least investigated.

Unprotected speech includes "hate speech," as well as other things it's illegal to say:
  • Threatening violence against any individual - if it can be proven you have the means to act on your words, your words alone are considered motive and you can be charged accordingly.
  • Threatening any government official, law enforcement officer, or member of the armed forces in any way
  • Advocating violent overthrow of the government*
  • Advocating complete anarchy by means of violence (similar to the previous point)
  • Saying you are a doctor when you actually aren't
  • Like above, saying you are (or otherwise impersonating) any government official, law enforcement officer, or member of the armed forces in any way
  • Shouting "Fire!" in a crowded movie theater**
  • Threatening or using speech to marginalize or otherwise discriminate against any individual on the basis of race, culture, ethnicity, biological sex, religion, or disability***
And if I am denied a job because of my Asperger's, that is illegal as it violates the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), which states that unless it can be reasonably proven in a court of law that my disabilities would prevent me from performing my necessary duties, I must be considered for employment alongside all other qualified candidates.

That means that if my potential employer is really convinced I won't be able to do my job because I have Asperger's, they'd need to make a legitimate case against me that would hold up in court. Generally, employers are so afraid of violating the ADA (along with many, many other equal-opportunity laws) that this doesn't happen.

In a perfect world, people with mental differences would be fully accepted and integrated just like black people - at least legally. I mean, look at it this way - we have tons of laws saying black people are equal to white people, and it's in our goddamn Declaration of Independence (officially considered a legal document), but racism still exists. It's all but illegal, but it still exists.

If John Doe says "I hate that n***** down the street - one of these days I'm gonna kill him," that's not only cause for neighborly concern, but also a reportable crime! Hell, if he said "guy" instead of the n-word, and the "guy" in question was white instead, it would still be illegal!

So why is it okay to casually use words like "retarded?" It's just as marginalizing, especially because people with ASDs are not technically retarded. We are mentally handicapped in certain ways, but we are not retarded. There's a difference, and it's very complicated and definitely not for this post.

* advocating that the government be "replaced" in some way by peaceful means is legal and, in fact, intentionally allowed in the Constitution - the Founding Fathers wanted a safety net in case people in the government ever got out of control!

** this applies to any other crowded area, but the actual law forbids causing a public disturbance which would result in dangerous conditions, such as people potentially being trampled!

*** recently, on a state-by-state basis, this has been amended to include sexual orientation and sometimes even gender identity, a huge step forward!

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