Picking my battles is something I’ve forever struggled with. EVERYTHING matters to me. Every single thing has implications, and everything is “that deep” to my brain. So, when I see my community rallying against a mother’s use of the puzzle piece when speaking about her newly diagnosed child, I understand why they are “picking at it”. The puzzle piece is ableist. It’s the symbol for the most damaging group for autism that there is. When we see someone using the puzzle piece, it usually means they aren’t in touch with the autistic community. At best they don’t know any better, and at worst they’re a part of a community that actively harms and dehumanizes us. I’m not going to discredit their worry when they see someone using that puzzle piece.
However, I’ve had both the privilege to advocate outside of the online space, and the misfortune of seeing harm come to autistic and disabled individuals within the education system, care homes, and recreational programs. I’ve seen how the industries that claim to help disabled individuals “live full lives” are based on gaining control and denying autonomy to the communities they profit off of.
I’ve seen Registered Behavioral Technicians celebrated for their great work, while simultaneously restraining and screaming at students for doing nothing more than walking out of the classroom.
All this to say – battles sometimes have to be picked. Attacking a mother’s use of a puzzle piece does nothing more than alienate her and push her deeper into the community and industry that thrives off of scared and alienated parents. Advocating for the disabled community means having to subject ourselves to ableism, because the information that is given to parents of newly diagnosed kids is specifically designed to push them into giving money to an industry that dehumanizes and harms disabled communities. Unfair yes, but reality.
Education is important, and so is keeping kids safe. Can we do both? Yes. But priorities exist in everything – including advocacy. And when compared to kids getting shocked, restrained, abused, traumatized – when compared to disability research being unethical, deficit based, and the ABA industry continuing to push out and overwhelm all other supports for disabled individuals, a mother using the puzzle piece when posting about how wonderful her kiddos are is pretty low on my list.