Temple Grandin believes that “high-functioning” autistics are talented, intelligent, and necessary to human survival, while “low-functioning” autistics cannot function or live independently, and thus should be cured in the present and prevented from existing in the future. Both I and others have thoroughly deconstructed the false dichotomy of high and low functioning, but suffice it to say that such claims not only reinforce ableist hegemony, but also reinforce a capitalist notion of success and value in that only people who can produce are worthy of inclusion in society; all others are burdens.
It felt strange to run across this critique of Temple Grandin. It’s a reminder that our heroes aren’t perfect; they’re human. And just because you can identify with some of what a person says doesn’t mean that you’ll agree with everything.
The debate over the concept of high and low functioning autism is interesting. There is clearly a need to speak about it, judging from the frequency that it comes up. It’s not like anyone will deny that the divide exists; there are those of us who can pass, and those of us who can’t. There are those caught in the middle between the two. And there seems to be scuffle over who gets to speak for whom.
There are those who care for those who can’t pass. They shelter them, nurture them. Feed them, clothe them. Wash them. They love them.
There are those who care about those who can’t pass. They defend them, advocate for them. They fight for them. They love them.
There are those on both sides who want to speak for those who can’t. And there are those on both sides who believe that those can’t pass can still speak, can still communicate in some way. That when it comes time to speak, their voice must be heard, even if it needs help to do so.
It bothers me when anyone speaks for someone else without them, because that means they’re really speaking for themselves. They may believe they are saying what the one who cannot would say, and they may be right, but the words and the voice are still their’s. They might say, my son likes it this way, or they might say, what your daughter really wants, and they might be right. It doesn’t change the fact that those are not the words of the ones who cannot pass.
I thought I was going to have to argue about it to figure out where I fell, but it turns out that it’s something that doesn’t need words. One doesn’t need to be told where the line is. One knows, and one knows where one falls in regard with that line, and one is, one assumes, alright with that. Words would have to move a person from one side to the other, but everyone already knows which side they think they are on.