Contributor: Paige Mead, second-semester junior history major at Agnes Scott College in Decatur, GA. Deeply interested in disability history, particularly in 20th century United States, and how that past is still influencing the present and the future.
Trigger Warning: mentions ableism, abuse, murder, war. (Not graphic.)
I spent period 1A in the art room most days, a senior in high school with an “internship” that I was never really asked to do anything with. Inevitably I drifted to a quieter place, to the art room during the AP Art class. No matter what was going on, the decibel level never rose above a level of quiet peace. Sometimes, I came just to listen to something without chaos. Sometimes it kept the sad away, a darkened room with soft lighting shining enough to see without my eyes hurting, and enough to prevent the darkness getting to me from dim, shadowy corners populated by uncleaned glue drips and dustballs.
There were other places where I could go and stop trying so hard to seem allistic, where being autistic was not a violent and shameful thing. Those places were where no one minded, but these solaces were few and this was my prime location. The only dangers of stimming here were maintaining my balance on a tall stool and ruining whatever I was drawing by the motions of my hands, or by accidentally making the table twitch.
In the art room, I could think in flowing abstract designs. I did not have worded thoughts when drawing if hyperfocusing enough. The drawings blossomed from simple lines to complex patterns and details, first in black and white on foam board, to typing paper, to ultra-fine tipped Sharpies that exploded across tougher bristol-board sketchbooks in almost psychedelic swirls and flower-like shapes that looked almost from a dimension achieved through hallucinogens.
It was the only thing I could do with my hands that involved fine motor skills. It was the only thing that let me use no words.
No one fought me in this room. No one tried to force “normal” or “neurotypical” on me.
That was as it should have been. That is how it should be. Battlegrounds against autism are sometimes fought by people who believe it is a disease and a travesty, either because they want to be saviors or because they want to rid the world of disease. Battlegrounds should not even exist. To be autistic is still to be human, and to be autistic is not the violent and shameful thing my first years after diagnosis made it out to be. To be autistic is not to be diseased. There is not an external force causing it, something that cannot be taken away and leave the same person in its place.
Words that are used in military strategies should never apply to autism. We are not victims who need saving. We do not need to be fought against. Autism is not a shapeless entity bent on destroying people and families. Autism is part of us, the autistic people. We do not need the endless propaganda saying it is a war against the tragic and the terrible. The only tragedies are that autistic voices – and other disabled voices – are often ignored, overlooked, or have attempts made to ignore them, and that when autistic people and other disabled people are murdered by caregivers, the sympathy and the media gravitate toward the perpetrators.
And who of us are the collateral damage? All of us autistics and disabled fellows who are told our lives are worth less. The children who grow up having an unnecessary battle fought against not just the disability, but part of themselves. All of us who are dismissed as knowing nothing of our own disabilities. The disabled individuals whose lives are cut short.
The art room had one last meaning to share. Hung on the wall, a painting of a meadow of flowers with some broken-down military machinery, reads:
What if they gave a war, and nobody came?
To those trying to combat us – don't. Stop combating me. Stop combating us.
To those on the sidelines: Help stop combating us. When those who believe there should be something akin to a war against autism keep trying to continue it, don't show up to support them.
What if they gave a war, and nobody came?