If we as a neurodiversity movement say that we should accept autistics as they are, what do we mean? It is possible, after all, to accept a person, but not certain behaviors that person exhibits. For example, MJ of Autism Jabberwocky gives the example of Kim Stagliano’s fifteen-year-old daughter perserverating on infant toys. It is possible for Ms. Stagliano to accept her daughter, but not to accept that she perseverates on infant toys. I, for one, would disagree there, and would say that the non-acceptance of this behavior reflects the ableist norm that fifteen-year-olds shouldn’t be interested in infant toys. However, it does not mean Ms. Stagliano doesn’t love her child.
In fact, we all set limits on what we accept of ourselves and our children, whether we or our children have disabilities or not. These norms are sometimes societal and sometimes individual or family-based. The thing is, they are never universally right or wrong.
For example, it is a norm that, for job interviews, you do not engage in stimming behaviors – or at least not in certain stimming behaviors, since some are acceptable. This norm was created by mostly neurotypical people, and is hence ableist. Some people go so far as to say that stimming at all is wrong, while some people allow it in the privacy of a home.
Even I, as a person who tries to be non-ableist, have my disability-related behaviors I do not accept of myself. In my own case, these are the behaviors that could cause physical or serious psychological harm to myself or others. Meltdowns are an example. Self-harm is another example. I display both, and recently to an increased extent. If Ms. Stagliano’s daughter had been having a meltdown or self-harming in the picture, I would not have disagreed with Ms. Stagliano’s disappointmnet. I would still have found it offensive that she photographed her daughter in this position and put it on the Internet, thereby infringing on her daughter’s privacy. Also, I would hope that Ms. Stagliano’s approach of teaching her daughter not to self-harm – or for tha t matter engage with infant toys – would be supportive rather than punitive, but again, I would not disapprove of her sadness. The reason I consider self-harm to be unacceptable is not that it is any more gross or abnormal to the non-disabled observer, but because it is harmful.
However, this is still an individual standard, not one that is universally right. I also don’t mean to offend self-injurers who don’t feel their behavior is a problem, or who would not call it “unacceptable” even if they thought it is. I also make sure I try not to put myself down as a person for having engaged in what to me is unacceptable behavior. It’s just that: behavior that needs to change, without me as a person necessarily needing to change.