"Don't let them be Autistic..." #AutismIsNotACrime (2013)

Though I am not a regular blogger, I learned about the "Autism is Not a Crime" flash blog being hosted by Gretchen Leary (described here), and I wanted to support my community by participating (some additional great information available here).  I don't know how good this will be given that I'm throwing it together, but here's my contribution.

 There's a pattern that has existed in my life for as long as I can remember.  Not only do I do it, many other people that I know do it as well.  I learn about some type of problem--a robbery, a shooting, a murder.  About some type of horrific event...one of the many ways humans mistreat and harm one another.  And of course, I am saddened for the victims, often offering up a silent prayer for them.  But the very next instant, I do something else.  I close my eyes for a moment, and then I brace myself as I await more information.  And all the while one thought/prayer/chant/fear is running through my head:

"Don't-let-them-be-black-don't-let-them-be-black-don't-let-them-be-black-don't-let-them-be-black-PLEASE GOD don't-let-them-be-black..."

Why? Because I am black.  And I know that if the perpetrator IS black, like me, then there's yet another immense form of baggage that it will carry for me, for my children, for people who look like me, and for people who care about those who look like me.  And no matter how many of us are honest, law-abiding, kind, non-violent people, we are erased every time the person who has done something wrong has skin that looks like mine.

In the last few years, I've added a new thought to the one above.  Because a few years ago, I learned that my beautiful, smart, strong, loving son and daughter, now ages 3 and 5 years, were autistic.  The "failed" M-CHAT, echolalia, ecstatic flapping, hyperlexia, lack of eye contact, different way of socializing, joyful spinning, toe-walking, late speech and later pedantic speech, lining up every object on the planet, fascination with ceiling fans, lights, and spinning items, great attention to detail, sensory sensitivity etc, etc, etc.  My babies were unequivocally, undeniably, unashamedly smack-dab on the autism spectrum.  Once we learned more about autism, it was almost laughable that we hadn't known about them.  And as we learned even more, it became almost laughable that we hadn't known about me...as in time I suspected, and later confirmed, that I was autistic as well.

Autism is many things.  But it is seldom what it is perceived by people to be.  It isn't a tragedy.  It isn't a ravaged life.  It isn't an entity that destroys lives.  It isn't a disease.

And it sure as heck isn't a crime.

The media seems to enjoy speculating that nearly every school shooter (it's sad that we even have multiple school shooters to compare, but we do) or perpetrator of a violent act is presumed to be on the autism spectrum.  It happens all the time, most recently with the UCSB shooting, and Adam Lanza before that...

Autistics commit crimes, yes.  Just like non-autistics commit crimes.  But statistics show that autistics are more likely to be victims of violent crime than to be perpetrators of violent crime.  We are actually at greater risk than all of you.  If anyone should be afraid, it's US.

We are different.  But different is not a crime.  We are people, just like you.  And our differences should not be pathologized.  Our uniqueness should not be misconstrued as a threat.  Our diagnosis should not be vilified in the way that it is ALL.THE.TIME.

I am raising black children, autistic and non-autistic.  I am already afraid for them.  My 13 year old is soon going to be too old for the bubble of protection that comes with youth--and will have to face life as one of the most difficult things to be in this country: a black male.  But my 3 year old son--my sweet, loving, fun-loving youngest child--will have to face life as male.  And black.  And autistic.  What will that mean for him?  That he will be viewed as a violent, only half-human individual that doesn't deserve to exist because aside from being "flawed," he's also a danger?

As of right now, it means that I will continue to do this: "Don't-let-them-be-black-don't-let-them-be-black-don't-let-them-be-black-don't-let-them-be-black-PLEASE GOD don't-let-them-be-black..."

Followed by:

"Don't-let-them-be-autistic-don't-let-them-be-autistic-don't-let-them-be-autistic-don't-let-them-be-autistic-PLEASE GOD don't-let-them-be-autistic..."  

Photo credit: slideshare.net

Recommended citation: Giwa Onaiwu, Morénike. (2013). "Don't let them be Autistic..." Just Being Me...Who Needs "Normalcy," Anyway? [Personal essay.]


  1. Don't let them be Black. Don't let them be Muslim. Don't let them be Jewish (yes, particularly when we hear of economic crimes, we do say that). And now, Don't let them be autistic. When will the fallacy end that one of us represents all of us? That we are some sort of ticking time bomb, that we all would do the same thing if given the chance, that all of YOU need protection from all of US?

    1. Anonymous06 July

      Sadly, it is human nature to squeeze ideas into categories small enough to fit into small minds. It is counterintuitive to view people as unique individuals and to treat them as such.

      "Profiling," in its broader sense is just easier. Is is lazy. It spares me the trouble of having to think, to make effort.

      It is a sad fact of life that too many people are not willing to make effort.