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Oppose the use of alarmist rhetoric about autism

STATEMENT ON "EPIDEMIC" RHETORIC WITH RESPECT TO AUTISM

by Jim Sinclair and Susan J. Golubock

The word "epidemic" is commonly understood to refer to a rapid and extensive outbreak of a disease, most likely an infectious disease that is transmitted from person to person.

An epidemic is a public health emergency. The word raises alarm, often even panic and hysteria, in the population. People become frightened, and desperate to protect themselves and their children from catching the epidemic disease.

Autism is a disability, but it is not a disease. Autism does not make autistic people sick. Non-autistic people cannot catch autism through contact with autistic people.

Autism may be increasing in frequency. Or there may simply be increased awareness of how common autism has been all along.

If autism is truly increasing in frequency, there are a great many possible explanations for why this would be happening. But an outbreak of contagious disease is not one of them.

When inaccurate and alarmist rhetoric, such as "epidemic," is used about autism, it has a number of harmful effects on autistic people:

* It arouses strong feelings of fear toward us, below the level of conscious reasoning. Even if people consciously "know" that autism isn't contagious, if they're told we have an epidemic disease, they may still feel frightened at the prospect of themselves or their children coming into contact with us.

* In addition to arousing feelings of fear, it also encourages feelings of pity toward us as helpless victims, rather than respect for us as capable and functional human beings.

* It relegates us to the role of "patients," passively waiting for medical intervention to "cure" us. Our own perspectives about our lives are filtered through the lens of "symptoms"--our self-awareness and self-reports are viewed as pathological products of diseased brains.

* It does not allow for any exploration of how we can--and frequently do--lead happy, meaningful, and fulfilling lives. Healthy people with disabilities can be extremely happy, functional, and fulfilled. Acutely ill people are not expected to be happy, functional, or fulfilled.

* It limits the scope of research and intervention to a purely medical model: prevention, cure, and elimination of a disease, rather than education, support, and access for people who are living with a disability.

We therefore protest, reject, and refute use of the word "epidemic" in reference to autism, as well as any other terminology that defines autism as a disease, or defines us as sick, dangerous, helpless, pitiful, or hopeless people.

We expect and demand to be addressed and referred to with respect, as fully valid human beings, living fully valuable and meaningful lives.

STATEMENT ON "EPIDEMIC" RHETORIC WITH RESPECT TO AUTISM

by Jim Sinclair and Susan J. Golubock

The word "epidemic" is commonly understood to refer to a rapid and extensive outbreak of a disease, most likely an infectious disease that is transmitted from person to person.

An epidemic is a public health emergency. The word raises alarm, often even panic and hysteria, in the population. People become frightened, and desperate to protect themselves and their children from catching the epidemic disease.

Autism is a disability, but it is not a disease. Autism does not make autistic people sick. Non-autistic people cannot catch autism through contact with autistic people.

Autism may be increasing in frequency. Or there may simply be increased awareness of how common autism has been all along.

If autism is truly increasing in frequency, there are a great many possible explanations for why this would be happening. But an outbreak of contagious disease is not one of them.

When inaccurate and alarmist rhetoric, such as "epidemic," is used about autism, it has a number of harmful effects on autistic people:

* It arouses strong feelings of fear toward us, below the level of conscious reasoning. Even if people consciously "know" that autism isn't contagious, if they're told we have an epidemic disease, they may still feel frightened at the prospect of themselves or their children coming into contact with us.

* In addition to arousing feelings of fear, it also encourages feelings of pity toward us as helpless victims, rather than respect for us as capable and functional human beings.

* It relegates us to the role of "patients," passively waiting for medical intervention to "cure" us. Our own perspectives about our lives are filtered through the lens of "symptoms"--our self-awareness and self-reports are viewed as pathological products of diseased brains.

* It does not allow for any exploration of how we can--and frequently do--lead happy, meaningful, and fulfilling lives. Healthy people with disabilities can be extremely happy, functional, and fulfilled. Acutely ill people are not expected to be happy, functional, or fulfilled.

* It limits the scope of research and intervention to a purely medical model: prevention, cure, and elimination of a disease, rather than education, support, and access for people who are living with a disability.

We therefore protest, reject, and refute use of the word "epidemic" in reference to autism, as well as any other terminology that defines autism as a disease, or defines us as sick, dangerous, helpless, pitiful, or hopeless people.

We expect and demand to be addressed and referred to with respect, as fully valid human beings, living fully valuable and meaningful lives.