Feel-good stories fly around social media like air hockey pucks around the table. They go viral: click click click click clack clack click click clack kajing! Goal! All over the internet!
A disproportionate number of these feel-goodies, it seems to me, involve ASD, usually children with ASD. The waitress who brought a new hamburger when an autistic girl thought hers was broken. The garbage man who rewarded an autistic boy obsessed with watching the truck collect dumpsters. The young autistic adult who relates to the world through Disney movies. And so on. You’ve seen them, I’m sure.
A partner to the feel-good stories are the empowering badges, which often appear as Facebook statuses. “This is national autism awareness week. Post this for an hour so that everyone knows autism exists.” “I pledge never to bully anyone with autism. If I don’t see this as your status, I’ll assume you don’t care about bullying or autism.” (I’m exaggerating for effect, but not exaggerating that much.)
I have nothing against feel-goodies or empowerment. On the other hand, when these tidbits are shared by persons outside the ASD community, I feel patronized. Most adults have no inkling what it’s like to live with a person with autism, and cannot fathom how it feels to be responsible for the future of a person with autism. From their hideaways in neurotypicality, they have our token children to help them shed a few tears of gratitude. It’s a catharsis.
I would like to say, please, get your catharsis from fiction. Try Shakespeare, or a melodramatic movie. Or read history, long-ago victories and defeats.
Autism isn’t fiction. It isn’t feel-good. It’s our reality, a reality that’s spreading every day. If you want to feel good about an autistic child, forget the heartwarming videos and articles. Start advocating. Start questioning why autism rates are rocketing skyward and we’re not doing anything to stop the epidemic. Remember that the reason you smile at those feel-good stories is that you don’t have to deal with the non-feel-good moments that fill the rest of the time.