Is Being Othered a Co-Occurring Condition of Autism?
I am not grateful for autism research. I used to think it was the key to improving autistic lives, so with self-interest gleaming in my eyes, I threw myself into participatory research. I contributed whenever invited and often, uninvited.
Disenchantment was slow in coming. At first, all I knew was that it may be uncomfortable, but that I should be grateful to be included, so I did the autistic usual; I masked and bore it. Gradually, I began to define what was making me fidget and started objecting out loud, to attitudes and language I found demeaning or paternalistic.
I had never heard the verb “othering.” Then one day a senior academic, who I had been working with for several years, asked me to participate in his talk. I stood on the stage as I was introduced to the packed conference: “This is Cos, an autistic adult.” So there I was, a woman in late middle age, fully equipped with white hair and breasts; yet apparently this needed stating, out loud, to my face, in front of an audience. I was being shown off as a specimen and I was mortified. Nobody else was introduced as an adult, as people are assumed to be adults, unless they are children. Remember those Victorian etchings of public lectures, with all the toffs in starched collars and monocles and the solitary wild haired, drug eyed mute, led on in a canvas shift? Yup—it felt just like that.