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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Autism doesn't define me -- or make me a worthwhile person

Emma Camp was diagnosed with autism in college, and embraced the explanation for her insecurities and personality quirks, she writes in a New York Times commentary. It became a core part of her identity.

Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Medical labels are trendy, she writes. "Disorganization can be A.D.H.D.; social ineptitude can be autism." You're not a normal teenage or young-adult mess. You're special -- and nothing's your fault.

Identity politics "creates a perverse incentive to collect as many 'disadvantaged' boxes as possible," writes Camp, an assistant editor at Reason Magazine. For the under-disadvantaged -- say a white heterosexual woman -- a "mental health label offers a claim to oppression."

It's not healthy, she eventually realized. Now ambivalent about the label, she thinks centering her identity on a neurological condition is "limiting."

"While our immutable identity characteristics surely shape us and shouldn’t be erased, they’re hardly everything," Camp concludes. "What makes us interesting and worthwhile people isn’t the circumstances of our birth — or our disordered psyches — but the choices we make, and the ideas and people that we care about."

The need to eradicate "ableist" language and ideas has been in the news lately. Here's an NPR story that claims disability is a "cultural and social identity," and should not be seen as something that may reduce quality of life and benefit from medical intervention.

"While some aspects of the medical model are relevant and important to some disabled people's lives, many critique the medical model as rooted in eugenics and anti-Blackness," writes Shruti Rajkumar. "It places expectations on what a perfect body looks like and emphasizes it as something that we should all be striving for." (Why anti-Blackness? I have no clue.)

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