Autism Unveiled Week 5
“Who am I?”
I am an art student currently studying animation and painting at Ball State University. Through my art, I attempt to challenge society’s perceptions of marginalized communities—including other animals—as well as explore the intersections between issues such as ableism, sexism, and speciesism.
“How is autism part of me?”
Autism is a part of me because it affects how I navigate and perceive the world. It helps me to notice details and find alternative solutions to problems, yet it also can overload my senses and processing abilities, causing a lot of anxiety and leaving me mentally and physically depleted at the end of the day. My propensity towards black-and-white thinking can also trigger my depression. I do not like the terms “high-functioning” and “low-functioning” when applied to autistic people because they reduce a person to a singular experience and without any sort of context. We all have challenges as well as skills and so have moments when we are “low-functioning” and moments when we are “high-functioning.”
Autism has also influenced my interest in visual art because I am a visual thinker, and I tend to communicate better through imagery or symbols. While I can speak, I was speech delayed and remember when I was unable to express myself verbally. Knowing exactly what I wanted to say, yet being unable to express it in a way that those around me could understand was not only frustrating, but made me feel vulnerable. That experience has shaped the way I empathize with other animals, who are underestimated and undervalued because of humans’ inability or refusal to understand them. It is important to me to emphasize that “different” does not mean “lesser.” Society’s inability or refusal to understand us does not make us broken. To “fix” my autism would radically change who I am.
“You cannot fix what is not broken. Autism is not a disease. We are not incomplete puzzles—we are whole human beings. We are not tragedies—we are products of neurodiversity. Eliminating autism means eliminating us.”
Loner is a personal reflection of the isolation I felt while growing up autistic. Despite exhibiting the characteristics of autism during childhood, it was not until September of 2012 (at the age of 22) that I received a formal diagnosis.
During my years in public school, I was given a difficult time by several teachers who took it personally that I was quiet in class, did not make eye contact, and did not smile often (which was due to my blunted affect, a common autism trait). I struggled to fit in socially in school, and I remember during parent-teacher conferences being described by my teachers as a “loner.” That particular school system had a one-size-fits-all education model, which was detrimental to me and my younger brother, who has ADHD and Tourette’s syndrome, and younger sister, who is also autistic. Society expects neurodivergent people to conform or assimilate into neurotypical culture, and when we fail to meet these rigid expectations, we are considered to be defective. They lock our minds in cages and wonder why we do not soar.
This painting explores how ableism and speciesism overlap. Other animals are considered to be ‘less than’ because their brains are not wired the same way as humans’, and autistic people are dehumanized because of our differences in neurology. The ear tag strips animals of their dignity as sentient individuals, and similarly, the puzzle piece is often used to marginalize us. Autistic people and other animals are seen as incomplete, or parts of a whole, rather than as individuals with our own thoughts, feelings, and intrinsic value.
Both disabled people and other animals are valued only in our utility to others and in others’ ability to understand us. Autistic people and other animals have neurology that deviates from what is considered to be ‘normal’ or ‘ideal,’ and so our way of thinking and perceiving the world is viewed as deficient instead of just different. Furthermore, society correlates sentience with speaking ability, and so nonverbal individuals—including other animals—are assumed to be incapable of having thoughts or feelings and are often taken advantage of because of their inability to express themselves in ways that others readily comprehend.
Chelsea Dub, Indiana, U.S.A.
Chelsea is part of the Autism Unveiled Project – 6 weeks of posts by Autistic people commencing on April 2, 2015, World Autism Awareness Day.