Site icon Sarah Boon

“Suffers from autism”

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Quite often I tend to tweet things in the moment if I feel a strong emotional reaction to it. This isn’t always wise but the nature of my neurodivergence means this happens from time to time. However, recently I tweeted about autistic people suffering from ableism rather than autism itself. Again this was an in the moment tweet where I didn’t realise I was making a generalisation about the entire autistic population with the use of my language. As that wasn’t my intention I deleted the tweet. Although many autistic people on Twitter agreed with me, there are certainly others who disagreed, and it got me thinking about the highly debated phrase “Suffers from autism”. 

First of all, let’s start with the definition of suffering, so it’s clear what we are talking about

“physical or mental pain that a person (or animal) is feeling”

https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/suffering

Naturally in this case we are focusing on the pain of people, rather than animals (There are already too many pointless mice autism studies that won’t add value to this blog post). So what we are actually discussing is if people experience pain from their autism or not. 

Autism is commonly looked at through the lens of two models of disability. The traditional and dominant medical model suggests that people are broken. Conversely, the social model argues that people are disabled by their environment and experience a form of discrimination called ableism. 

Taking into account the models of disabilities when looking at the phrase “suffers from autism” 

Autistic people will have a variety of views on this topic, so I cannot speak (and do not want to speak) for the whole of the community. I also suspect that some autistic people will agree with certain points from both the medical and social models. However, what I can do is share my views on it in a more coherent way than in a simple tweet as I did a few days ago. 

I view my autism solely through the social model of disability. Yes, I’ve suffered and experienced ableism, discrimination, and sensory overload in certain environments. However, I am always autistic from the second I was born until I take my last breath. However, I don’t suffer all the time and everywhere. In fact, when I’m in my own house, which I can make as autism-friendly as possible, I’m absolutely fine (unless NTs rock up and start expecting me to conform to social norms). 

This is why the medical model makes no sense to me from my own experience when it comes to my autism. All the suffering I’ve experienced from being autistic is when I’m in environments or social settings that don’t accommodate my needs. If my needs are met, I do not suffer. My brain isn’t broken but society’s default way of making others assume I’m a problem.

Even in the perfect environment, one thing I would still experience is executive dysfunction. However, although it’s frustrating, suffering is too strong a word to describe some of the difficulties I can experience. I would say it verges into suffering territory when I face discrimination and stigma from others because I have executive dysfunction. 

So to summarise my stance in one sentence, I suffer from society, not autism.

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