Accidental Ableism

I had never heard the word abelism before 2014. Even after my daughter was diagnosed over 10 years ago I was not aware of it. When I first saw it used, I actually had to look it up;

ableism is the discrimination in favor of able-bodied people.

It was not something I concerned myself with too much as I consider myself to be a pretty good person who doesn’t discriminate against anyone. I certainly never thought it would apply to my daughter. Then I read an article talking about the vaccine-causes-autism issue.

This issue is in the forefront of news again, due to the recent outbreak of measles across the country. The article pointed out that most, if not all, of these articles were ableist because they talk about whether vaccines cause autism or not, as if autism is a disease.

This concept never even occurred to me until I read this article. I can think of several times where I have left comments or written articles that used much the same language. For this I am sorry and can only hope that I have not offended anyone.

More importantly the article got me thinking about how the use of language and social media can be so powerful. I don’t think most people really consider how the words they use can be interpreted in different ways, but in today’s web connected world, words are even more important. You don’t know who will read what you have written and more than likely you won’t ever have a chance to explain a word that someone else may find offensive.

It is also important to remember that once you post something, it is out there forever. So all those families, friends and parents who post about the trials and triumphs of their children, it is important to stop and wonder how those same children will feel when they read it themselves. It doesn’t matter how old they are now – eventually they will see what is written. Will it make them happy it was posted or embarrassed and angry?

It doesn’t matter if the post is well intentioned or not. Posting on Facebook asking the public to send birthday greetings may seem like a nice thing to do, but I often wonder if those parents have asked that child permission before they post. Does the child really want the world to know they don’t have any friends? Do they really want greetings from people who send them only because they feel sorry for them and will never hear from again? Do they even care about getting birthday greetings? or is the parent assuming a feeling the child doesn’t actually have?

It seems that as parents we tend to make a lot of assumptions, myself included, about how our children feel or think – without asking them. Our priorities are not always theirs and it is time to step back and take an honest look at how we behave online.

As a freelance writer I tend to share a lot of stories about our experience with autism and raising an autistic daughter. I never really asked her if it was okay to share these stories and just assumed she wouldn’t care because I keep her anonymous. However I am making a commitment that from now on I will check with her first, before sharing anything online that refers to her or her experience.

I am going to work hard to remember that everyone deserves respect. If I post something that I would find embarrassing if it were about me then I just shouldn’t post it.

I think understanding that ableism doesn’t just apply to ‘other‘ people, but to everyone is an important step in autism awareness. I only hope that other parents will take note and start to think more about what they post.


  1. Bridget February 24, 2015
  2. Jennifer Bittner February 25, 2015
  3. Deb Genetin February 27, 2015