In Nick Walker's essay, Throw Away the Master's Tools: Liberating Ourselves from the Pathology Paradigm, he discusses the importance of language in shifting our perceptions about Autism. Because the prevailing belief systems about Autism are deeply negative in nature, stigmatizing, based in exclusion, so is the language that we use to describe Autism and Autistic people. Even the terms used to describe the majority, words like "normal," are built to depreciate the value of the Autistic life. They are built to reinforce the dominant perspective, built to keep Autistic people from building themselves. Autistic people need non-oppressive terminology of their own, to describe their experiences. We all need it, actually. Nick's essay has many brilliant points, and I assign it to the world as mandatory reading. I will now begin to dismantle the word intervention.
Intervention is one of the first words that parents hear upon learning that their child is showing Autistic traits. Pediatricians write the referral. Parents of all developmentally delayed, and or disabled children are sent directly to Early Intervention as a primary check in point. It begins with assessments, evaluations, and we hold the child directly up to the in vogue criteria of "normal."
We have just realized that our child is not developing "normally."
We need to intervene between that negative in nature Autism, and the child.
We have the best chance at success if we start the process as early as possible.
We can train the child with our approved methods of repetition.
We can rewire brain synapses so that the Autistic child falls within the bell curve of acceptable.
We parents are told we must intervene in order for our children to hopefully, someday, perhaps by kindergarten, be mainstreamed and included.
We believe it.
Intervention is the first tool we are given as parents, and it is directed squarely at the most vulnerable in the Autistic population, our children.
We begin to hammer away at those Autistic traits.
We begin to carve the child into an image of the majority.
We do this with out considering the damage done to their person.
We do this sacrificing what the child intrinsically has to offer.
Think about the language within the intervention process. Think about the word therapy and how it is applied to the whole approach we take in rearing Autistic children. They aren't taught to communicate. They are given Speech Therapy. They aren't exercising and learning to move their bodies. They are doing Physical Therapy. They aren't stringing beads within the sheer delight of childhood. They are practicing fine motor skills in Occupational Therapy. They aren't making connections, relationships, and friends. They are working on social skills. They aren't learning how to be their best Autistic selves. They are having their every single behavior analyzed, so it can be groomed and manipulated into a "normal" and acceptable person. The message sent to Autistic children is anything but subtle.
We are teaching them that they are inherently wrong and need to be remedied with special therapies.
We are pathologizing our Autistic children's childhood.
From babes, the time and place they exist in, the period of life where foundations are built, we imposingly intervene in their natural building process. Deciding what they should know and when, tiring them out with emotionally and physically exhausting schedules, pushing Autistic children to use our materials and methods, we override the way they learn. What right have we to decide how a person should develop? The word intervention is used, as if it is our duty to interrupt the sacred unfolding of life. As if we know better than the stuff that makes us. How do we dare? It is a word only the privileged would be arrogant enough to use. It describes the majority well.
I fully acknowledge that Autistic children, and other disabled children, need support. They need refined and thoughtful teaching methods. They need opportunities for physical play and exercise. They need the freedom to enjoy being a kid. They need friendships. They need their personal timelines of development respected. They need goals of growth that align with their interests and abilities. They need help becoming their best Autistic selves. Every child needs these supports. Some need more and some need less, but there is no means to measure human need. We all need support. Though I am open, I cannot yet think of a better word.
I will not intervene in the diversity of life.
I will support it.
You have just realized that your child is Autistic?
We will send out Early Support.
Your first tool will be our support.
Support is inclusive.
Support is accepting.
Support builds up.
Intervention is damaging to the psyche of our children.
There are infinite ways to help our Autistic children with out burdening them with the shame of being told they are wrong. Our true duty is to care for our own and we haven't been careful with our words. A change in our language is a powerful way to begin the greater changes we must make in our perspectives and actions. We need to examine the terminology we use, as it set the tone for everything. It sets the foundation of our children's lives. We are not serving Autistic children if we project the idea that their beings need an intervention from wrong. Autism is not wrong. Disability is not wrong. Our children are not wrong. Our words?
As Nick Walker says, we need to "recalibrate our language."
I intervene between you and your words.