A little while ago, someone said to me “When I think of spectrum and success, I think of you.” That sentence has been swirling around in my head for a while now.
I am not sure which measure of success that person was using, but I’m pretty sure that I wouldn’t be considered successful by using any of the standard measures: I don’t have a healthy bank balance; I haven’t really achieved much of any significance. I am not successful.
But, still, that sentence swirls around in my mind. I’m trying to make sense of it. The person who said that to me seems to believe that doing every day things while being Autistic is being successful. That’s really ableist. I am not successful just by doing the every day things. I’m just a regular person. Sometimes, I don’t manage to do the every day things either – does that make me unsuccessful?
Telling someone that they’re successful purely because they’re disabled might make you feel like a good person in the short term but it reveals troubling underlying assumptions about disabled people. Disabled people aren’t successful just for living their disabled lives. Disabled people can be successful when they achieve things – and many do.
I know successful Autistic people. It is definitely possible to be both Autistic and successful, but I do not belong to that category because I am simply not successful. One day, I hope to be, and I am doing things to pave the way for my success. But, I’m not there yet and I really don’t want nor need a virtual head pat just for getting through life.
When we do achieve success, recognition is nice. But, that recognition doesn’t have to be greater than the recognition that you would give to an abled person. Too often, disabled people who are successful are put on a pedestal to show abled people that the only disability in life is a bad attitude. That implies that all disabled people can be successful if we just change our attitude, and positively think our way past society’s barriers. Well, we can’t. We need to continue to challenge society’s underlying ableist attitudes. We need to continue to challenge the way that society excludes us. It is acceptable for us to have a bad attitude about it.
We can be disabled. We can be successful. We can have bad attitudes. We can be all of those at the same time, but we are not successful purely because we are doing every day things while disabled nor are we successful purely for having a good attitude.