07/28/2014 01:50 EDT | Updated 09/27/2014 05:59 EDT

Why People With Autism Shouldn't Be Labelled 'Different'

There are the horrific stories of parents who have harmed their autistic children for reasons beyond my comprehension. We as a society must learn to respect and accept differences. There is no dignity in dehumanizing autistic people by stigmatization and inaccurate assumptions.

We hear it time and time again, each incident gut-wrenching and too painful to listen to, each story sad and unjust in its own right with an innocent victim that has suffered at the hands of those who were meant to protect them.

These are the horrific stories of parents who have harmed their autistic children for reasons beyond my comprehension.

Just do a Google search and you will find a list of tragic stories of innocent autistic people being killed and/or harmed by their caregivers.

One recent story was of Janice and John Land who kept their 22-year-old non-verbal autistic twin sons locked in the basement from 10:00 p.m. to 4:45 a.m. every night.

ABC news reports the following: "Police say the room contained no furniture and smelled strongly of urine. Police say the one light in the room did not work and was covered up and the one small window was not large enough for the men to fit through if they had to get out due to an emergency."

The report also states that the mother, Mrs. Land, told officers that they were locking them in the basement for the last 6 years. So these young men have been locked in the basement at night since the age of 16.

As devastating, upsetting and utterly horrific it is to hear the details of this story, I find it equally upsetting when I read other reports that say they don't condone what these parents have done but.....

Dan Morse's article in the Washington Post yesterday quotes one parent as saying;

"We can't condone their choices," says Mark Bucknam, a professor at the National War College who lives two miles from the Lands. "But it's possible that, in their minds, this was the least bad way to deal with this."

To state that such awful acts cannot and should not be condoned and then follow that up with a "but" is an utter disgrace to the humanity of autistic people, especially non-verbal autistic people who are not in a position to defend themselves.

Trust me, I get it. I have two autistic sons and I know the challenges that it brings on a daily basis. But to insinuate that such acts could have stemmed from desperation from having limited available options is mitigating the seriousness of this act, almost making it sound justifiable.

It's not.

Abuse in any form is never okay no matter what colour you want to paint it.

The assumption is often made that a non-verbal autistic person really can't think for themselves and that they are not aware of what is going on around them. Their silence confirms this. Isolated in their own world they are not connected to this one and the disconnect makes them unable to feel any real emotion of what is happening around them.

This couldn't be further from the truth. Even non-verbal autistic people have their own proper opinions and thoughts about many things. The presumption that they don't is one that is unfairly imposed on them. Many people don't even take the time to listen to what a non-verbal autistic person is trying to say.

Autistic people communicate in many different ways, it isn't limited to verbal.

It is my belief that these twin brothers knew exactly what was happening to them and very much aware of their surroundings, making their situation even more difficult to come to terms with.

Mr. Morris goes on to write "The pressures mount for parents to prepare for life after they're gone. In the world of autism, this transition is known as going over "the cliff."

I have been in "the world of autism" for 19 years now and I have never thought of this transition as going over the cliff. Do I feel overwhelmed at times? Absolutely, but to use such words is hurtful.

I beg you to stop and think of what these words mean to an autistic person; words like "world of autism" and "going over the cliff." These words translate that they are a burden, that they live in a different world (not ours) and that their autism causes their parents to feel like they are literally going over the cliff.

Already limited with a straight jacket of social norms that others impose on them, autistic people are continually stigmatized for being born autistic.

I worry about death every day. I worry that I may die before I have a chance to place my boys for their future. I often wake up in the middle of the night and can't go back to sleep because of different scenarios that are running through my mind. My son will probably never be independent and he is at risk of others abusing him, yet another scenario that keeps me up at night.

But I would never let my boys feel like they are a burden, that their autism is wrong, that they would be better without it. This would deny them the right to accept themselves for who they are in all of their intrinsic self. They are not just autistic, they are not just a diagnosis, and they are much more than that.

We as a society must learn to respect and accept differences and understand that we are all the same because we are all human beings worthy of equal respect and dignity.

There is no dignity or respect in abuse.

There is no dignity in dehumanizing autistic people by stigmatization and inaccurate assumptions.

What if for the sole purpose of allowing people to be who they are, without judgement for their differences, a new paradigm is created, and with that, the knowledge that something greater is lying beneath?

Imagine the possibilities.


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