Appearing Indistinguishable vs. Being Yourself

Neurodivergent K wrote an interesting post on the tyranny of indistinguishability. I think I have quoted one of this blogger’s posts before, on the same topic, but this one again has interesitng points.

Unlike what people believing in the indistinguishability logic assume, it’s not like, once you’ve reached this goal,, you’ll always continue to appear indistinguishable. In the preemie sphere, people often talk about catch-up, when in fact a lot of preemies do not just have developmental delays, but developmental differences as well. Same with autistics, but more so: all autistics are not just delayed (in fact, I’d argue against the idea that we’re delayed at all), but rather different. Suppose that an autistic, who we shall name Joey, started early Lovaas-style ABA at age three, and, he being a pretty good student, reached the goal of indistinguishability by age six. Now I know that ABA proponents often argue that autism will not go away by age six, and some even argue for ABA for adults. I reckon that if it were truly effective in its aim of indistinguisability, it’d not be needed for life. Anyway, Joey makes for a pretty average-appearing first-grader thanks to his ABA. So the government decides to cut his services (I will get to this later) and he is mainstreamed. Joey performs on grade level in first grade, even though it takes him more effort to complete his schoolwork. Effort doesn’t count, and Joey continues his schooling in second and third grade. Once he reaches fourth grade, his teachers and parents notice he is lagging behind. Bring in the ABA therapist again and make him appear indistinguishable again?

Autism parents who advocate lifelong ABA would say yes. I and other autistic advocates say no. After all, as Neurodivergent says, you can appear like a crappy excuse for an NT or you can be the best person you can be. Besides, effort does matter to the autistic. Suppose Joey is restarted in ABA and, through his façade of indistinguishability, slides through middle and high school, or so it appears. His parents don’t care about effort, so even though he is increasingly depressed and exhausted, he is pushed until graduation. Then he leaves his parents’ home and goes to college, where he crashes and suffers major depression, anxiety and other mental health symptoms. These are so severe that he needs to quit college and ends up on disability.

This story is not mine – I was not involved in Lovaas therapy and was not diagnosed till adulthood. I was, however, similar to Joey and other autistics in that normalcy was expected of me. Effort can’t be seen and the people around me likely didn’t realize how much it cost me to appear like a lousy NT. I am still trying to find out how to be my best self.

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