Recently, I stumbled across a blog post by Rudy Simone, an esteemed author on the Autism Spectrum, entitled "Why I No Longer Identify Myself as an Aspie." Horrified, but intrigued, I set out to read it, my heart dropping in disappointment with each paragraph.
She reasons that because her symptoms have been "managed," and because she's eliminated gluten and nearly all preservatives from her diet that she's essentially cured herself:
"I tell them that I was on the [A]utism [S]pectrum but no longer feel I have enough traits to identify as such. It’s not that I’m embarrassed, I was a loud and proud [A]spie, but honestly, I truly don’t feel [A]utistic anymore, just strong, unique, awkward at times, a bit eccentric I guess, a little gifted and trying to make my way in the world like all my brothers and sisters, on and off the spectrum."
Now, far be it from me to criticize how folks want to self-identify, but so much of her reasoning is problematic. She essentially boils an incredibly complex neurobiological condition down to a "gut issue," and criticizes spectrum folk who don't follow her dietary example, quipping "You cannot heal the gut with Taco Bell, donuts and [R]amen noodles." She's not necessarily wrong about how our diet can exacerbate certain symptoms--the link between gastrointestinal problems and ASD is pretty well-established--but the blasé way in which she approaches the issue is extremely classist.
From her own research, she estimates that roughly 85% of the adult population of Aspies is underemployed, and wholesome, nutrient-dense foods are not cheap. If we don't have adequate support systems or financial means, most of us can't afford a "whole food" diet, and not all of us would choose it even if we had the means to. Time is a huge privilege as well--if you're working overtime or more than one job in order to make ends meet, chances are you don't have much time or energy to do extensive meal planning or preparing. What we put into our bodies is our choice alone, and it really takes a lot of nerve for someone who should be an ally to shame folks who don't make the same choices they do based on an extremely reductive "Autism is a gut issue" argument.
Unsurprisingly, her article got a lot of heat from her readership and fan base. She wrote a follow up to her original post, arguing that because she followed her own advice from the books she wrote, her traits were "minimized" to the point where she "can meet new people and spend days with them and they have no idea [she's] on the spectrum." I guess maybe she forgot that a major characteristic of women on the "high functioning" end of the Autism spectrum is that we are better able to blend into social situations--that we're social chameleons, as ASD expert Tony Attwood described us. There's a particularly strange moment where she lashes out at her critics by stating: "It just doesn’t make sense that you don’t want the information to work for ME. Or that you want it to work, but not so well that I don’t feel qualified to use the label anymore. We’re really splitting hairs now. Frankly it’s nobody’s business what I call myself."
Now, I didn't read any of the comments on her post, so other than her general descriptions of the responses, I don't know exactly what folks' reactions were. I can't speak for anyone else, but my own reaction really didn't have anything to do with her information or tips "working" for me--it's the idea that she thinks Autism can be cured (Jenny McCarthy much?), that it should be cured, or that curbing or "fixing" some of our more obvious traits is a desirable thing. I'm not necessarily saying that Aspies shouldn't challenge themselves to grow and change, but I think it's extremely crucial to examine why we're changing or modifying our behaviors. Are we doing it for ourselves, or is it for someone else--our guardians, our partners, our families, our friends--or is it a survival tactic in order to function in a neurotypical world? I think we Aspies see so much of this "lessening AS symptoms as desirable" trope so much in our culture--on television (the character arc of Temperance Brennan on Bones, the relationship dynamics between Sheldon and all the other cast members of The Big Bang Theory), in movies (What's Eating Gilbert Grape, Forrest Gump), in fiction and nonfiction written by neurotypicals, as well as groups and organizations that purport to speak for us--that it becomes incredibly hard to swallow from someone who is one of us.
No matter how much you grow or change, no matter your diet, no matter what texturelicious items you pack into your sensory management bag, it doesn't change the reality of your brain chemistry and synapses. Maybe the delineations between NT and AS aren't so clear cut (and so much of how we qualify and quantify AS behaviors is arbitrary anyway), but I think it's extremely disingenuous, almost dangerously so, for someone to say that they've cured themselves of their Autism. Even if it is a personal decision to self-identify as you choose, it has real consequences socially and politically, particularly if you're someone of note within the community. Her books saved me in a lot of ways, particularly Aspergirls--she wrote with wisdom, experience and compassion, and helped me to voice things that I had previously be unable to communicate in my relationships. It's difficult for me to not feel betrayed by her "cure"; I don't wish to be overdramatic, but I am really struggling to retain respect for someone who has essentially turned her back on the AS community. Saying that your Asperger's is "cured" isn't growth--it's assimilating yourself into inspirational ableist tropes about "overcoming" disability, and it’s a blight on all your work within the field.
It's bullshit. And the Autism Spectrum community really doesn't need any more of that in their lives.