Saturday, November 1, 2014

Communication Shutdown or Autistics Speaking Day: Which will you celebrate?

This article was written as a submission to my college newspaper. Word choice and overall writing style are thusly adapted.

As November soon catches up to us, its first day brings a time to celebrate Autistic people speaking, or as it was originally called, Communication Shutdown.

Communication Shutdown was invented as an exercise in perspective taking. The basis of the exercise is to completely swear off social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) for one day. The idea is to experience the social anxieties and inabilities associated with autism. The title of Autistics Speaking Day was proposed before the first Communication Shutdown even began, encouraging Autistic people to do the opposite: Become more vocal on the day when there are fewer allistic (not autistic) voices hogging the attention.

The exercise is inadequate to say the least. It's like trying to understand blindness by blinking a lot. A real autistic person must continue being autistic for the other 364.24 days of the year, and you don't even get an accurate experience for the one day. Social media is actually a place where autistic people thrive: There's no body language or facial expressions, no need to speak instead of typing, and no urgency. You would get a better picture by using the internet exclusively and canceling plans to see people face-to-face.

If you really want to experience the hardships an autistic person might experience, then swear off the internet altogether, along with phones and the concept of pen and paper. Duct tape your mouth shut and bind your hands. Line the inside of a shirt with sandpaper and don't eat anything other than hot peppers. Now that's perspective taking. You can choose any day to remember what life was like before social media. If you want to understand autism, try Autistic Speaking Day and forget Communication Shutdown.

Here's my recommendation: Stay on social media, silently. Don't tweet, blog, or take pictures of your food, but do read what autistics are saying. Shut down your own communication while listening to the people this day is really for. Then you might understand the perspective of someone who is ordered around and not allowed to talk back.