Friday, April 19, 2013

Book Review-And Straight On til Morning : Essays on Autism Acceptance

And Straight On til Morning : Essays on Autism Acceptance
edited by Julia Bascom
Published by the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network 

We want April -- Autism Acceptance Month -- to matter, to help further acceptance and understanding of autistic experiences, happiness, and rights for autistic people of all ages and abilities. We will be publishing your Autism Acceptance posts and pictures all month long. If you want to participate, contact us at thinkingautism at gmail dot com. -TPGA Editors

In keeping with Autism Acceptance month, there probably isn't a more appropriate book to share than And Straight On til Morning : Essays on Autism Acceptance, which contains the work of wonderful Autistics and allies, including Zoe Gross, Shain Neumeier, Lydia Brown, as well as Kassiane Sibley, and Shannon Des Roches Rosa from TPGA.  Julia Bascomebook, it is available quickly, and very inexpensively at $2.99.

I was never much for any of the campaigns to wear a certain color, or a certain ribbon. When I was told that April is Autism Awareness month, I thought it was just plain odd, because we're pretty aware of autism. What's missing is the impetus from Awareness to Acceptance, and that's precisely what this book works to do. One contributor, Carol Quirk, reveals her personal transformation from the deficit model--by listening to autistics, and their families, she began to "presume competence." This shift in paradigm changes the way an ally advocates, from speaking for autistics, to listening and learning from autistics. And Straight On til Morning focuses on this shift and has a forward by ASAN President, Ari Ne'eman that is all at once, grateful for the changes we've seen with the growth of the neurodiversity movement, and yet remains a call to arms to work for Acceptance.

The opening essay Plants Outside the Shade, by Amanda Baggs,  is moving and poetic as she shares how she interacts with the world, "Objects have always been alive to me, and my interaction with them has always felt like communication."  And she reveals how rarely people have understood what she is communicating, because of how she conveys the message, "I seem to come with an entirely different set of assumptions about the world than most people do. The older I get, the more I realize there are huge gaps between how I see the world and how others do." 

Baggs description of accessing skills with her autistic brain reads like undulations of information, rather than having a constant level of ability, and she explains it so well. Her words left me wondering if this accounts for the difficulty some have when skills don't transfer to other environments; home versus school, or why routine is sometimes a solace.

Cheryl M. Jorgensen, PhD. an educator, walks the reader through the concepts of accepting autism as a "natuaral part of human diversity." Where the disease model fades away, and "having autism should not diminish a person's ability to live a full life in the community." In this realm a student's behavior is assumed to be a form of communication, not a behavioral issue.
What if we appreciated the unique talents of students with autism and recognized the contributions that they might make to our schools and communities?

While the tone of the book is generally pressing, after all this is advocacy work, we are left with a sense of purpose after most essays, but this is not without hard truths, and in my case more than a few tears. Killing Words by Zoe Gross, send a clear message with the title alone, and I was absorbed by Shain Neumeier's detailed account in The Judge Rotenberg Center on Trial. At the Judge Rotenberg Center, horrific, almost Medieval-type "therapy" is still administered to clients in the form of painful electric shocks to the skin in an attempt to punish self-injurious behavior (like tensing your entire body...while you are strapped down). In the trial, you can hear by the language of the defendants that they see these patients as "other;" There is no acceptance to be found here. JRC will be shut down with the help of groups like the publisher of this book, ASAN, eventually, but until then, a read-through of this case underscores the need for continued advocacy.

There is a section devoted to Acceptance vs. Awareness, where Kate Gladstone, Kassiane S., Lydia Brown, and Shannon Rosa point out the subtle and not so subtle ways the two are very different. As Kassiane S. says "Awareness is easy, Acceptance required actual work."

A little bit of light is wrapped up in the stories that remind us progress that has been, or can be made when Paula C. Durbin-Westby proffers playdates in, From the Pro-Neurodiversity Trenches, and Andee Joyce shares her public speaking debut, I'm in Ur Toastmasters Meeting, Giving U Speeches. And Meg Evans, whose essay title was used for the book, writes, 
As we work to create more opportunities in society for ourselves and our children, we are storytellers above all else. When we focus on developing inclusive education programs, ending employment discrimination, making community services more widely available, and many other worthwhile causes, we are crafting social narratives centered on acceptance and inclusion. Such stories form a backdrop for the scenes of a strong, confident, successful life.
The stories that this book holds are just a glimpse of all that we can learn from each other. And in the strive for a world where Autistics are included not as an afterthought, but as integral voices to shape teaching and classroom environments, and are considered part of the "team of experts" structuring support systems, it would serve us well to continue to gather as much insight as we can from books like this. 

And Straight On til Morning : Essays on Autism Acceptance is available at in the Kindle store.

Jennifer Byde Myers is an editor at Thinking Person's Guide to Autism, and received a free copy of this ebook for review. Her writing here reflects her own opinion of the book.