Why Communication Shutdown Day Is a Bad Idea (And What You Can Do Instead)

listen carefully – this is Asperger’s talking
speaking in tongues ain’t easy
but I do not regret the wings that God gave me
just give me my damn feathers
and I will keep on singing

(from my poem, “Speaking in Tongues”)

I happened to come across this post over on the No Stereotypes Here blog in which the author, Corina Becker, discusses Communication Shutdown Day, an international effort scheduled for November 1 which attempts to raise money for participating autism-related charities.

The idea behind Communication Shutdown Day this year is to refrain from using social networks (such as Twitter and Facebook) that day. It is, in the words of one supporter, supposed to “mirror autistic silence” and “draw attention to the isolation and intense loneliness experienced by those who are impeded from connecting socially with others”. In short, it is supposed to create empathy for those on the spectrum as well as raise charity money.

And I think it’s a bad idea.

Hold on a minute, Nicole, you might be saying. This is helping raise awareness for autism. So what’s the problem?

Well, for one thing, it could reinforce an existing idea that autistics cannot communicate – and if you’ve been reading this blog, you know of at least one autistic person who can. I am not denying that we do have our communication difficulties, and that many individuals on the autism spectrum are non-verbal. HOWEVER, reinforcing the concept of our silence is just a bad idea and doesn’t really do much for us as autistic individuals. While this event claims to help create empathy for us, I can’t help but wonder how much of that is going to end up becoming pity instead.

And the last thing our community needs is more pity. Pity for us is based on the idea of “oh, poor things, they live such miserable lives – they need a cure”. Pity detracts from the real issues that confront us day by day, which include: equal treatment, opportunity, and access to needed services and accommodations in educational institutions and the workplace; dealing with the social landscape of whatever cultures we are in; encountering and finding solutions to problems unique to our population, such as sensory overload, emotional expression, and low frustration tolerance; building and maintaining a healthy self-esteem; ensuring that we are treated with care and respect by medical and mental health professionals; and navigating an uncertain world with a brain and nervous system that craves predictability. Pity also detracts from our strengths, such as: persistence and focus; unique thinking patterns and methods; honesty; narrow interests which can lead to expertise in a subject; and the potential for creative, scientific, and other forms of positive contribution to society.

Becker has proposed an alternative: Autistics Speaking Day. Instead of remaining silent and refraining from usage of the Internet and social networks, she proposes that we on the autism spectrum speak out. As she puts in in this post:

…on November 1st, Autistic people should speak up and be heard. That in the absence of NT voices, Autistics should reclaim the Autism community by communicating in our own ways on our life experiences.

And once I read about the idea, I found myself in natural agreement. So to help spread the word and promote Autistics Speaking Day, I will be tweeting about it, posting about it on Facebook, and other places. I also encourage those who agree with this idea and/or plan to participate on November 1 to SPREAD THE WORD. Tweet, blog, share on FB, etc. the HELL out of this mofo. Let OUR voices be heard that day. I’ll be tweeting that day and writing at least one poem as part of this effort.

If you do participate, please read her suggestions here (e.g. being mindful of subject matter that could trigger people and so forth). And SPREAD THE WORD! Thank you.

-Nicole

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18 thoughts on “Why Communication Shutdown Day Is a Bad Idea (And What You Can Do Instead)

  1. There is another group that would be isolated by this scheme, which is those who rely on the internet for their social life because they cannot get out of their house (or sometimes even their bed) because of illnesses like M.E. It’s a really bad idea.

  2. I love what you said about autistic people speaking up and having a voice. I think that is a great idea. I also love how you acknowledged that by seeking pitty, you aren’t resolving anything. The Naturally Autistic ANCA awards being held on 30th October in Canada support your views and recognise talented and very worthy autistic people from around the world. http://www.naturallyautistic.com. We also have our Autism Rainbow Day which will be held on Friday 29th April in 2011 which is about celebrating life. We came up with this awareness day because we didn’t want the community to pitty our three gorgeous autistic children, but for them to instead be autism aware. I think that if we as parents don’t expect pitty for our children, then their community is more supportive of them. Love your post. Allison x

  3. Love it!!! Thank you Corina and Nicole 😀 I may not have a lot to say that day since I’ll be in the process of moving, but I’m sure I’ll at least get a few words out there before I shut down the comp. 🙂

    • Hi Tricia. 🙂 Totally understood, and thank you for stopping by. This was Corina’s idea — I am just one of many trying to help support this effort and spread the word.

      -Nicole

  4. Good one! Just among my own aspie/autie friends, the feeling is more indifferent or against the shutdown than pro (ie only one the latter). The reasons given are much the same as yours, ie it’s liable to provoke a pity fest, doesn’t address the real issues we face, and also that it’s just plain silly and superficial. Autistic Speaking Day, now i like the sound of that.

    • Hi Kiwigirl:

      Thanks for stopping by. I’m new to autism advocacy, but I’m beginning to understand the concerns and issues surrounding certain kinds of autism awareness. I agree with Ms. Becker — rather than silencing ourselves, we should speak. Doing so will empower us as individuals and a community.

      -Nicole

  5. I wholelly agree. I have autism as a diagnosis (since my 6th). I’m also a councellor specialized in coaching of adults with autism and a normal to high intelligence.

    In my communication with clients, the main issues they speak of are:
    * sexuality and the wish to have intimate relations.
    * communication, and the difficulties in verbal face 2 face communication with non autists.
    * giving meaning to their lives.
    * wanting to be treated as equal, worthy citizens.

    Some clients prefer speaking back to back, some prefer internet chat or e-mail, some prefer text…… very few prefer face to face contact or telephone voice contact.

    modern communication media have increased the communicative capacities of persons with autism. Unfortuneately, the internet has also become a gathering place of non autists who choose to give meaning to their lives by emphasizing how pitifull we are, and advocating a cure for us.

    Don’t fix us, we aren’t broken.
    Don’t pity us, we aren’t pitifull.
    Don’t change us, accept us as we are.

    Cherish us.
    Challenge us.
    And watch what we do.

    Try to connect with us.
    And follow our lead.
    Because we will innovate.
    Because we have to innovate.
    Because we don’t understand the standard.
    So we’ll make our own.

    And maybe one of us will be foolish enough.
    To show the rest of you the way to the stars…….

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  7. I am with you! It is hard to keep me silent as I am an autism motivational speaker and I speak for others who can’t. I will be tweeting it up and I will be speaking up and speaking out loudly about autism on Monday November 1, 2010. I have volunteered to fill in on as a moderator on the 6:00 slot for The Coffee Klatch. Join in and talk about whatever is on your mind pertaining to autism. It is a great day to hear our voices ring true, while we share stories, tips, solutions and our support.

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