Spare Me From Autistic Exceptionalism
Here we go again, with a (somewhat) high-profile autistic disclosure that seems only to serve to communicate all the wrong things for me. This time it’s a Big Brother houseguest revealing her diagnosis in the season finale, having hidden her diagnosis during the game to avoid potential for stigma and/or pity.
Standing up, Britini gave an empowering speech proclaiming, “When I was 22 months old, I was diagnosed with autism, and I have been living with autism every single day. I did not disclose that to all of you in the house because I wanted to be seen as me. I wanted you guys to get to know me for me. Britini for Britini. Not as a label. Not as a diagnosis. I am so much more than what my disability is. And I am so proud of the journey I have had to be standing on this stage right now. This is an anomaly that I am here. And I just wanted to say thank you all for accepting me with open arms.”
That’s fine so far as it goes, although it does prompt questions about whether or not her fellow houseguests indeed were getting to know her for her, or if they were getting to know a masked version who for the sake of the game was passing as neurotypical.
What actually bothers me about the disclosure, though, is what she went on to say as she was questioned about the decision.
I just wanted people to understand that individuals who are neurodivergent are capable of doing absolutely everything we set our minds to. We don’t need to be coddled or treated differently. Autism is my superpower[…]
I’ve said it before, over and over: autism is not a superpower. At best it’s a collection of trade-offs in which there can be some useful benefits (e.g. hyperfocus) that nonetheless come with some real costs (e.g. not noticing that you need to eat or pee). It’s also incontrovertibly false that autistics “are capable of doing absolutely everything we set our minds to”—although to be fair, because neoliberal capitalism, that’s just as false when applied to literally every other individual or group, too.
(Also, not for nothing, but one person’s “coddling” is another person’s accommodation—which literally is being “treated differently” in order to provide real-world equity.)
“So many people have said to me,” she said, “that my story has given them hope for either their son or daughter, themselves, or someone they know who is also neurodivergent.”
That’s the sort of pollyannaish hope that just sets up people for some pretty profound disappointment later on, not to mention the potential for self-blame, if not self-harm, when it doesn’t at all turn out the way these sorts of disclosures claim.