What Autism Safety Really Means

ableism, Autism, Disability, Education, Infographics, Writing

Last month I participated in a panel discussion on the topic of Autism Safety at a conference hosted by a local autism organization.

The two hottest takes when it comes to “Autism Safety” – in the “autism community,” that is – always seem to be wandering/elopement and police interactions.

Elopement or wandering refer to the problem of autistic children (not always children, but almost always) who run off unattended, often leaving an enclosed space like their home or school. And, as a parent myself, I do understand this worry – to an extent. Naturally the idea of one’s child getting lost and/or getting into dangerous situations takes one’s breath away to even imagine.

But in the grand scheme of an autistic life, how pressing is this issue really? Parent-led organizations sometimes run scary stories about the dangers of elopement. Recent studies have shown that about half of autistic children elope at least once, and half of those elope long enough to cause serious concern. That does sound worrying, but let’s keep this number in mind and I’ll return to it in a moment: 25% of autistic children have significant elopement incidents. Other factors to keep in mind: most of those children are nonverbal, and elopement peaks at age 5.

The other hot topic in safety is about police interactions. And while I whole heartedly agree that this is a key safety issues for autistic people, I find the ways that autism parent communities and neurotypical-led organizations discuss this issue tend to be highly problematic: most notably, that they ignore the racial issues at the heart of the danger. Skirting the autism-race interaction in conversations about police and first responders not only makes our conversations about safety incomplete, it also makes our proposed solutions severely inadequate at best.

What the parent community’s hot safety takes amount to tends to be a clamor for more neurotypical (NT) control over autistic people. Wandering? Police interaction? For NT parents and experts, the solutions are about GPS tracking devices, autism registrations, and more compliance training for autistics.

These solutions themselves are indicators of racial erasure. I think anyone who pauses for even one minutes to consider how those solutions might work for a black or brown autistic person could see how deeply flawed they are. How would a black family in America be affected by being in an autism registry or GPS service with their local police department? What kinds of issues might arise for a population that is already at risk of being racially profiled? What is the likelihood they would sign up for this voluntarily, given the downsides? Can you imagine a black autistic parent, or a Latinx immigrant family, being willing to be on such a registry?

And where to even begin with pushing more compliance training on non-white autistics. How well has compliance worked for black Americans historically in this country, when it comes to keeping them safe in police interactions? Eric Garner said it best: I can’t breathe.

My presentation on Autism Safety to my local community was cut short, as the moderator verbally nudged me to move on from the topic of safety – they mostly wanted me to list my credentials as a “self-advocate” and then sit down.

What I wanted to tell them is that NT parent/expert control of autistic people, stripping us of autonomy, and ramping up compliance training, all compound the most serious dangers we face in our lives. When parents, teachers, and autism “experts” have tunnel vision that focuses on autism itself as our main threat, they actively endanger us. I understand why they are reluctant to look at the real safety issues we face, because many of those issues are coming from them.

I’ll remind you now of the figure above that told us 25% of autistic children have seriously concerning elopement incidents, peaking at age 5.

Now let me tell you about what Autism Safety really means:

Abuse and Violence
  • Disabled children are 3.5 times more likely to be abused or neglected than non-disabled children
  • Disabled people are 3 times more likely to be victims of serious crime than non-disabled people
  •  Exact figures are unknown, but numerous studies have estimated that the number of people killed in police interactions who were disabled is at least 50%, and likely much higher as these calculations under-count people with psychiatric disabilities
  • Black people are nearly 3 times as likely to be killed by police than white people; therefore, we MUST include racial issues in addressing autism safety with law enforcement
Psychological Effects
  • 70% of autistic people also have a psychiatric disability such as depression or anxiety
  • 30-50% of autistic people have reported having suicidal thoughts or attempts
Bullying
  • 60-80% of autistic students report being bullied at school
  • 40% of parents of autistic students report their children were bullied
  • 22% of those who were bullied report being bullied all the time”
Restraint & Seclusion
  • While only 12% of public school students are disabled (covered by IDEA), 75% of students restrained at school are disabled and 58% of students secluded and isolated at school are disabled.
  • 25% of arrests and referrals to police are disabled students – that means a disabled student is twice as likely to be arrested for a disciplinary incident at school.
  • Federal data shows public schools reported 163,000 incidents of students being restrained in one school year.
  • 40% of students restrained at school are autistic
  • 50% of students secluded/isolated at school are autistic
  • Of the disabled student population, only 19% are black, but they make up 36% of those who are restrained and secluded – this means that among disabled students, black children are twice as likely to be restrained and secluded
  • 7,600 of the incidents of restraint involved mechanical restraints (i.e. not restrained merely with school staff’s hands/arms)
  • Students were secluded in scream rooms” 104,000 times in that school year
  • 20 public school students died while being restrained at school between 1988-2008
  • In many states (including mine), there are no legal restrictions on the use of restraint and seclusion in schools

Many of these risks to autistic children are much more prevalent and dangerous than the risk of elopement, and many continue to affect autistic people throughout our lives – as our high rates of depression and anxiety show. And yet, these are the dangers that are rarely discussed by parents and autism organizations. These risks do not seem to inspire as many panel discussions, safety curricula, training sessions, and special safety programs. Perhaps because, by and large, they require change on the parts of the everyone else but the autistic child.

Even more crucially, the parent/expert safety programs that are most popular – the GPS trackers, registries, and compliance training – actually put autistic people at greater risk to our real threats: abuse, victimization, discrimination, isolation, and psychological trauma. Trackers, registries, and compliance make us LESS SAFE. Worst of all, they will have the strongest negative effects on the segment of the autistic population that is already the most vulnerable – you know, the ones we never talk about? – those of us who are not white.

Of course we can’t wait around for mainstream culture to protect us, so here are some safety tips you can really use. And please see my Autism Safety PDF for more information and sources for all of the above statistics.

SAFETY TIPS
  • For Autistic People:
    • learn how to recognize and report abuse
    • learn what to do if you or someone you know is feeling suicidal
    • learn how to avoid interactions with law enforcement
    • advocate for community change that lessens the frequency of interactions with LE, and the risks of violence during interactions with LE
    • learn what to do if you get lost or need help in public spaces
  • For Families: 
    • learn to recognize and respond to signs of abuse, neglect, and bullying
    • learn strategies to reduce the risk of LE involvement and violence
    • learn to recognize and respond when someone you love feels suicidal
    • teach your loved one survival skills, including a safety plan for getting lost 
  • extra tip: medical ID bracelets are safer than ID cards or registries!
diversity is beautiful cartoon

Diversity is Beautiful

ableism, Autism, comics, Disability, Education, Infographics, Neurodiversity

One of the most frequent questions I hear from parents of autistic children is, “how do I tell them they are autistic?” They want to explain autism to their child in a positive way; to frame the information as something that empowers.

My favorite way to approach conversations about autism and other forms of disability, especially (but not only!) with children, is rather than singling out the autistic or otherwise disabled child, begin with the larger context of diversity.

Diversity is, after all, an essential ingredient in a thriving natural environment; it is valuable for its own sake.

What I love about this approach is that it de-centers any one “typical” way of being, unlike the old way of explaining autism as a brain with a set of deficits that makes it something other than normal. There is no one correct or even best kind of brain, any more than there is one correct or best kind of dog or bird.

I have this “Diversity is Beautiful” cartoon for sale in my shop, on posters and mugs and a bunch of other cool products. If you choose to purchase something from there, your support is greatly appreciated! But I am also offering free printable PDFs (see below) so that anyone may use this information. As with all of my infographics, you have permission use these for personal, educational, and any other not-for-profit purpose, retaining credit to me (and any other sources listed in my graphics).

diversity is beautiful cartoon

The Simple version of Diversity is Beautiful gives you more space to create your own accessible explanations for the concepts in the image. I recommend this one for audiences with less complex receptive language and/or reading skills.

Image description: title is “diversity is beautiful.” First row of drawings shows a variety of animals, with the caption “diversity in the animal world.” Second row shows an assortment of kids: from left to right is a person with a limb (arm) difference, person using a wheelchair, person with no visible disability, person signing “hello,” person using forearm crutches, person wearing glasses, person using a white/probing cane. Caption is “diversity of people.” Third row shows four heads with smiling faces and on foreheads are drawings of multicolored brains, caption is “diversity of human brains.” ©Erin Human 2017

Printable PDF:
Diversity is Beautiful (Simple)

"diversity is beautiful" cartoon w explanations

The version called Diversity is Beautiful (Explained) has a more lengthy explanation for each form of diversity shown. This is a nice choice for anyone who does not wish to create their own script, or would like people to be able to access the image’s concepts independently (for example, as a poster in a school classroom).

Image description: title is “diversity is beautiful.” First row of drawings shows a variety of animals, with the caption “diversity in the animal world / there are millions of different kinds of animals – more than we can count!” Second row shows an assortment of kids: from left to right is a person with a limb (arm) difference, person using a wheelchair, person with no visible disability, person signing “hello,” person using forearm crutches, person wearing glasses, person using a white/probing cane. Caption is “diversity of people / people come in a great variety of shapes, sizes, genders, abilities, and appearances – we are all unique!” Third row shows four heads with smiling faces and on foreheads are drawings of multicolored brains, caption is “diversity of human brains / no two brains are alike, but we have names for different types – like ADHD, autistic, dyslexic, typical, & more!” ©Erin Human 2017

Printable PDF:
Diversity is Beautiful (Explained)

 

 

 

Disability 101: Medical Model vs Social Model

ableism, Autism, Disability, Infographics

Disability 101
Medical Model vs Social Model

[image of a question mark]
what is a “model” of disability?
In this case, “model” means a certain way of thinking about disability.
what is the Social Model of Disability?
To understand this concept, it’s useful to compare it to the “medical model” of disability.

[table with Medical Model bullet points at left, vs Social Model bullet points at right]

Medical Model:
The person is disabled by the abnormalities and deficits of their own body and/or brain.
Social Model:
The person is disabled by their environment and its physical, attitudinal, communication, and social barriers.

Medical Model:
Disabled people are broken, abnormal, or damaged versions of human being and should be fixed, cured, and/or prevented.
Social Model:
Disabled people are normal, valid varieties of human being and should have equal rights and access to society, just as they are.

Medical Model:
Since the disabled person’s impairments prevent them from functioning normally, they need caregivers and professionals to make decisions for them. The disabled person is an object of charity and receiver of help.
Social Model:
Since the disabled person is inherently equal, they have a right to autonomy, choice, and free and informed consent in their own lives.

Medical Model:
The disabled person should adjust to fit into society, since they are the one who is not normal. Being part of society means rising above disability.
Social Model:
The disabled person should be supported by society, because they are equal and have a right to inclusion. Their community should adjust its own barriers and biases.

the Social Model of Disability matters…
because disabled people are your equals. We can’t achieve true inclusion in society if we are seen as lesser, even in a seemingly benevolent way!
ALL disabled people have a right to autonomy, no matter how much support they need to communicate their choices.
[image of exclamation point]

sources: People with Disability Australia pwd.org.au; Satu Järvinen, From Shame to Pride: Empowerment of People with Cerebral Palsy, satujarvinen.com; Get A Plan, getaplan.org.uk

© Erin Human 2017
erinhuman.com
facebook.com/theeisforerin

Printable PDF can be downloaded for free below:
Disability 101: Medical Model vs Social Model

 

 

Autism 101

Autism, Disability, Infographics, Neurodiversity

autism 101

Autism 101

a simple neurodiversity-based explanation
[image of head with brain]

what is autism?

Autism is type of brain wiring (neurological type) that processes information differently than typical brains do.
[image of head with abstract wiring pattern]

This means that autistic thought patterns, sensory perceptions, social interactions, language processing, and emotional regulation all develop differently than those of people who are not autistic.

Modern societies operate in ways that often disadvantage autistic people, which makes autism a developmental disability.

who is autistic?

[image of globe]
About 1-2% of the world’s population is autistic.
Many populations are under-diagnosed, but autistic people are everywhere!

[image of birthday cake]
People of all ages are autistic.
Though people usually talk about autistic children, autistic adults need support too.

[image of three people with varying skin tones and hairstyles]
Autistic people are found across all genders, races, and nationalities.
Boys are diagnosed more often than other genders, but that doesn’t mean they are more likely to be autistic.

Everyone is NOT a little autistic, but everyone is human, so we have lots in common!

©Erin Human, 2017
for more information, visit:
erinhuman.com
autisticfamilies.org
[image of smartphone]

This infographic is also available as a printable PDF:

autism 101

Neurodiversity 101

Autism, Disability, Infographics, Neurodiversity

neurodiversity 101

Neurodiversity 101

It’s a big word for a simple idea!

neuro/brain [image of head with brain]
+
diversity/range of different kinds [image of landscape with trees, water, animal]
= a range of different kinds of human brain

neurodiversity is not
– a belief system
– a personal opinion
– a political position
– a theory

by itself, it is just a neutral fact of human life:
neurodiversity exists!

[image of text/speech boxes]
more and more, people are saying they
are pro-neurodiversity
support neurodiversity
celebrate neurodiversity
those are personal opinions; people may agree or disagree that neurodiversity is a good thing, but that it is REAL is undeniable.

bonus neurodiversity vocab words:
neurotypical: having the most common, typical kind of brain
neurodivergent: having any kind of brain that is not neurotypical
neurodiverse: having a variety of people with neurotypical and neurodivergent brains; refers to a group or group environment, such as a family or workplace

© Erin Human 2017
for more information:
erinhuman.com
autisticfamilies.org

This infographic also comes in a printable PDF:

neurodiversity 101

Autism Acceptance 101

Autism, Disability, Neurodiversity, Parenting

Autism Acceptance 101

Image is an infographic with the following text:
guide for parents
Autism Acceptance 101
Autism Acceptance sounds simple enough, but what does it really mean for parents of autistic children?
[photo of a red tricycle on a sidewalk]
Autism Acceptance is NOT:
– ignoring challenges for parents or children
– giving up on your child or having low expectations
– pretending that life is all unicorn farts and rainbows!
[photo of a smiling child on a swing]
Autism Acceptance IS:
– accepting that autism is an inextricable part of your child
– acknowledging your child’s unique challenges & needs
– providing supports & helping your child thrive….
as an autistic person!
Erin Human
facebook.com/theeisforerin
erinhuman.com
This infographic also comes in a printable PDF:
Autism Acceptance 101

Ableism Therapies

ableism, Autism, Disability, Neurodiversity

Ableism Therapies

[The following text is also a transcript for the featured image infographic]

The only evidence backed treatment for ableism is listening to disabled people and learning from us.

Organizations

Twitter Hashtags

  • #CripTheVote
  • #ActuallyAutistic
  • #FilmDis
  • #AutisticWhileBlack
  • #TheFutureIsDisabled
  • #TheFutureIsAccessible

Awareness Campaigns

 

Intro: Ableism Awareness Month

Part 1: What is ableism?

Part 2: How many people are affected by ableism?

Part 3: What causes ableism?

Part 4: Is there a cure for ableism?

Ableism Awareness Wrapup Post

Is there a cure for ableism?

ableism, Autism, Disability, Neurodiversity

[The following text is also a transcript for the featured image description]

Is there a cure for ableism?

Effective treatments for ableism include:

Education

Everyone must make an effort to learn about disability issues and to examine and confront ableist bias ourselves and our communities. We all have a duty to understand and combat ableism.

Accessibility

Inclusion and accessibility are civil rights, not special privileges. It is everyone’s obligation to find out how to make our communities and spaces more accessible, and endeavor to include disabled people.

Intersectionality

The rights of disabled people are intertwined with non disabled people’s civil rights; our political activism, our votes, and our policy making should always be inclusive and intersectional.

Center Disabled People

Disabled people must be centered in our own lives and in disability advocacy; this means we have autonomy in our personal lives and we take the lead in disability rights organizations. Non-disabled people should have supporting roles as needed.

Sidebar has an image of two pills and the text, “There’s no magic pill for prejudice.
Remember, bigotry is NOT actually a disease!”

Intro: Ableism Awareness Month

Part 1: What is ableism?

Part 2: How many people are affected by ableism?

Part 3: What causes ableism?

Part 5: Ableism Therapies

Ableism Awareness Wrapup Post

How many people are affected by ableism?

ableism, Autism, Disability, Neurodiversity

[The following text is also a transcript for the featured image description]

How many people are affected by ableism?

Everyone is affected by ableism.

* At any given time, about 1 in 5 people worldwide has a disability.

* People who were not born disabled, or aren’t currently disabled, may become disabled later in life.

* Some people who do not identify as disabled or recognize themselves as disabled are in fact disabled and directly affected by ableism; for example, people with psychiatric disabilities such as depression and anxiety.

* Disability Rights are highly intersectional; civil rights issues for women, people of color and LGBTQ+ people are intertwined with disability issues. Disability rights also overlap with issues such as healthcare, education, poverty, and more.

[sidebar has an image of a caution sign and the following text]

CAUTION

Descriptions of ableism as a disorder is this series are satirical and not to be taken literally.

Ableism is not a form of mental illness or psychiatric disability; in fact, blaming bigotry or prejudice on mental illness or any other disability… IS ABLEIST!

Intro: Ableism Awareness Month

Part 1: What is ableism?

Part 3: What causes ableism?

Part 4: Is there a cure for ableism?

Part 5: Ableism Therapies

Ableism Awareness Wrapup Post