Ableism refers to discriminatory behaviour or social prejudice against people with disabilities and/or people who appear to be disabled. Ableism reduces disabled people to “nothing more than a disability.” This can have a negative effect on many people's lives as it can make others believe that they are inferior because they are internalizing unfair treatment/hateful comments.
There are various forms of ableism, including the discriminaton against autistic individuals that are shaped around the belief that people with autism have set characteristics and fit one mold. A very common form of ableism is the phrase, “you don’t seem to be autistic.” This is not a compliment as it is very disrespectful. By saying this, you are saying “being neurotypical is normal and being disabled is not.” On top of this, you are talking about autism like it is not a diverse spectrum. There is a large range or spectrum of autism that is not addressed or normalized. Nobody is the same person, and this idea does not change if someone is a part of the spectrum or not.
Another form of ableism is the incorrect image of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in the media and TV shows. As with many neurodivergent people, the image of autistic people and autism itself is portrayed incorrectly and is based on information presented in the media. This promotes pseudoscience such as certain behaviours, lifestyles, or abilities. This can affect how people perceive autistic people and what autism itself can entail. On top of this, it can make individuals on the spectrum compare their struggles to one of a character, invalidate their problems because of a character, or feel depressed because of an inaccurate representation of their life.
Ableism is also found all around us in our daily lives in how we speak. All around us, people set low standards for people with disabilities—consciously and subconsciously—and thinking that they are incompetent because they believe that they are inferior. This tells people with ASD that we don't expect anything from them, and they start to believe this and only strive for the goals and limits that others put on them. People with ASD will internalize these ideas and believe that they can not achieve certain things because of their disability.
Another example of ableism is embedded in our everyday slang and insults like, “she’s mental,” or the casual use of slurs such as, “they are so retarted.” These insults are generally frowned upon but there are many other words/slurs that promote ableism. An example of this are the words: dumb, lame, insane, or moron. These words are very common, but people often use them without truly knowing their meaning? Dumb means, “Lacking the power of speech; temporarily unable to speak; refraining from any or much speech; silent.” Lame means,“Crippled or physically disabled, especially in the foot or leg so as to limp or walk with difficulty; impaired or disabled through defect or injury; weak, inadequate, unsatisfactory, clumsy.” The meaning of insane is, “Not sane; not of sound mind; mentally deranged; of or relating to a person who is mentally deranged; utterly senseless.” Finally, the meaning of moron is, “A person of borderline intelligence in a former and discarded classification of mental retardation, having an intelligence quotient of 50 to 69.” This term is no longer used in psychology because of its offensiveness.
Another form of day-to-day ableism is the use of inspiration pornography, or porn, in social media. Inspiration porn is a form of ableism as it shows that neurodivergent individuals only view people with disabilities and ASD as a form of inspiration. For many people, autistic and disabled individuals are just there to inspire people. Inspiration porn is harmful because it keeps ASD and many other disabilities from being normalized. Almost everyone wants to be accepted for who they are, not for their disability. People don't want to be extraordinary because of an impairment or disorder. This also promotes incorrect ideas about disabilities as it is not something to overcome, like a challenge; it is something that simply exists.
We, as both a community and a world, need to recognize these forms of ableism and learn to empower these individuals instead of holding them down. There are things that can be done to normalize ASD and other disabilities by creating more inclusive environments, accepting, apologising, and learning from the mistakes we made. Doing research and not making assumptions about how someone's disability affects them can also be influential.
Wikipedia contributors. “Ableism.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, Inc, 12 May 2021, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ableism.
Ciarlone, Nicole. “4 Ways Ableism Still Affects People with Disabilities.” Partners for Youth with Disabilities, 21 Feb. 2020, www.pyd.org/4-ways-ableism-still-affects-people-with-disabilities.
Marie, Morgan. “Let’s Talk About Ableism and Autism Spectrum Disorder.” Confessions of an Autistic Freak, 9 Mar. 2020, confessionsofanautisticfreak.wordpress.com/2020/03/09/lets-talk-about-ableism-and-autism-spectrum-disorder.
Ravishankar, Rakshitha Arni. “Why You Need to Stop Using These Words and Phrases.” Harvard Business Review, Harvard Business School Publishing, 15 Dec. 2020, hbr.org/2020/12/why-you-need-to-stop-using-these-words-and-phrases.
Tehranian, Yalda. “How Can We Improve Media Representations of Autism?” Center for Scholars & Storytellers, 6 May 2019, www.scholarsandstorytellers.com/representation-blogs/2019/4/2/how-can-we-improve-media-representations-of-autism.
Weiner, Julie. “Why Inspiration Porn Is Harmful To The Disabled Community.” The Odyssey Online, 15 Oct. 2019, www.theodysseyonline.com/why-inspiration-porn-is-harmful-to-the-disabled-community.