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United Airlines, Autism, and Discrimination

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Eggs can be so mean.

Eggs can be so mean.


For days now the dominant story in my feed is about the family  who was escorted off a United Airlines flight because their autistic daughter was perceived as a potential threat to passenger safety. The family is now suing the airline for discrimination.


I’m sick of reading about this, mostly because everybody has an opinion they want to share. Was it discrimination? Was the mom being too demanding? Who’s to blame?


Who cares? If you weren’t there to hear the 30-minute discussion between the mother and the flight attendant, then your opinion is pointless. If you aren’t an autistic person, or the parent of an autistic person, then your opinion is pointless.


Don’t despair! There are LOTS of newsworthy things to ponder and pontificate about. To make it easy, I thought I’d make a list of things that would make for great conversations about autism:


1. You could talk about all the fantastic autistic people you work with at your job.


2. You could talk about all the excellent supported living options available for disabled people.


3.  You could talk about your favorite autistic authors and poets.


4. You could talk about the great work your autistic community leaders are doing in your area.


5. You could talk about how much they celebrate diversity at your child’s school, and how diligently they educate ALL the children about different abilities.


6. You can talk about the insight you’ve gained about disability rights and equality from your autistic friends.


7.  You can talk about how your local police and fire departments have special training to support autistic people. As a bonus, you can talk about how well they support people with mental illness.


8.  You can talk about the neighborhood watch you created that pays particular attention to the fact that one of the neighborhood children is autistic and has wandered on a few occasions.


9.  You could talk about your son or daughter’s autistic friends that hang out at your house all the time.


10.  You could talk about all the times you’ve offered support to friends with autistic children; your offers of babysitting, friendship, or just a friendly ear.


If you can’t talk about these topics because they don’t exist, then maybe that’s a great place to start a conversation about autism. Or perhaps exploring some of these options will give you more insight into disability and discrimination. Or maybe you’re a white male and already have a lot of knowledge and opinions about discrimination. That’s great! We definitely don’t have enough white men talking about discrimination. Or women’s reproductive rights, for that matter.


Either way, perhaps making sweeping assumptions about an incident that just lends a negative stereotype to autism families only really serves in taking away attention from more pressing issues.


Issues like autistic children being bullied at higher rates than non-disabled children.


Issues like family supports that are terribly lacking in many communities.


Issues like higher rates of depression among autistic people.


Issues like aging out of support services.


If you really want to talk about autism and discrimination, contact me. Better yet, contact one of the many autistic bloggers who write about this topic.


You know who they are, right?


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