A different perspective for Inspirational Autism Stories ON “AUTISM AWARENESS WEEK”
Just like millions of other people, my family has the Disney+ streaming service. We use it multiple times a day. We find Nemo, we find Dory, we visit Mickey’s clubhouse an exhaustible amount, and don’t even get me started on the amount of times we are in Riley’s head. But there is one video that I really can’t get behind, no matter how much I want to…
Float is a father, son story about a little boy who, for whatever reason can float. Not to give the story away, but basically it’s about the dad’s response to his son’s floating. And I’m gonna be harsh here, but he does a real shit job of it for the majority of the short film. He keeps his son locked inside at all times, when he does go outside he puts rocks in his bags to keep him down, and then, at the climax of the film, he screams at his son, “Why can’t you just be normal?!”
“Uh… What.. the… fuck?”
That’s a direct quote from me after watching this movie by the way. “What the fuck?”
Having heard about how inspirational this short film was, I clicked on it one night with my husband and son. And as soon as the credits rolled, I turned to my husband and we both just looked horrified. Not only did we never have any reactions to our son like that, there wasn’t a world where we would ever be tempted to treat him in such a way. This isn’t me being righteously indignant, it’s just the truth.
Now let me back up a bit, and tell you why a lot of people would find that particular film inspirational, and let me first start with this: The Dad in this little story was not a bad guy, not at all. In fact, he’s a real guy. The man who wrote and produced the short film, Bobby Rubio, was taking from his own experience to create what he hoped would be a film about acceptance. AND yes, I think ultimately on some level it is. But mostly I think this still falls into the limiting “awareness” category.
What’s the difference you might ask? “Autism Awareness” is often about alerting neurotypicals to the differences that autistic people experience. Sure, on the surface, that’s good. But it is also much more about pathology, mostly focused on a cure, or a “fix.” Or even worse than that, it’s meant to make you pity autistic people’s parents. Not autistic people, but the families that are “burdened” by autistic children. “Autism Awareness” is about tolerance. And to be tolerated, you must first be an object of irritation, anger, or worse, even hatred. How does that sound to you? Does that feel good? Do you want to be merely tolerated?
Acceptance is a very different thing. And to be fair to “Float,” in the end the father character is very accepting of his son’s ability. Playing happily with him in the park and not giving a single fuck about who gawks. That is acceptance. “Autism Acceptance” is giving autistic people the respect to know their own minds. Acceptance is allowing autistic people to change, despite the limitations that they may deal with in a society that is built around neurotypicals. Acceptance is about pride and celebration.
And perhaps it is because both my husband and I are neurodiverse that we never even thought to treat our son that way. We have never ever been normal. So the heartache we have in the little prince’s more autistic behavior, is only because he will have to live in a world that does not accept autism. We’ve never wanted him to be normal. We’ve only wanted things to be easier for him. (But who’s life is easy anyway, right?)
Sometimes I know that I really need to give neurotypical parents a break, and I honestly do strive to do so. I understand that parents go through a grieving process when they are told that their children are different. But still, no one has died. Only your perception and assumptions about your child have perished. I think all parents should have such a death. The sooner they stop assuming that their child is exactly like them, the better. They are their own people, different or not.
And again, “Float” definitely gets a lot of things right. Like the general disarray that the house is in? Oh man, is that true. The crayon marks on the ceiling? I think we have those and our kid is gravity bound. The way that people will respond to unexpected behavior in the park. Right on target. Fear, anger, and escape.
But that’s human nature isn’t it? Difference is often associated with danger. And until we stop that association we are always going to get those looks from “normal” families and strangers. Until we accept autistic people as another kind of person, and not a problem for parents, we are all going to sink.