Sunday, March 27, 2016

Thank You, Robert DeNiro, For Doing Right By Us

I really don't normally care much about what celebrities do if they're not baseball players or deceased comedians, but I'm feeling a strange sort of relief that I can still like Robert DeNiro today.

Everyone's probably heard about it already, but Andrew Wakefield (who I won't even call a doctor because he thankfully lost his medical license over his fraudulent study) directed and wrote a film about, well, vaccines and how he still somehow is convinced that they cause autism despite the fact that it's evident that autism is a genetic disorder given how it often runs in families. In fact, a genetic study was recently released making it clear that autism, like pretty much every other neurological disorder present at birth, is caused by - shocker - genetics. So guess what? It's as natural as not being heterosexual or not being cisgender, other things people have decided are something that somehow happens after birth. Considering the prejudice LGBT people face every day even now (look at the utterly asinine thing North Carolina did recently to transgender and non-gender conforming people), I highly doubt anyone would willingly choose to endure that sort of undeserved treatment. Autistic and other neurodivergent people are the same way - we're treated almost as second-class citizens and aren't even listened to when we try to explain things ourselves. Instead, organizations like a certain money-mongering one that we're all going to have to deal with in a few days for an entire month but I don't feel like naming decide to talk for us.

In this case, however, we were listened to, and it feels amazing. Autistic people, scientists, doctors, and some of our other allies spoke out, and yesterday DeNiro posted this on the Tribeca Facebook page:
“My intent in screening this film was to provide an opportunity for conversation around an issue that is deeply personal to me and my family. But after reviewing it over the past few days with the Tribeca Film Festival team and others from the scientific community, we do not believe it contributes to or furthers the discussion I had hoped for. The Festival doesn’t seek to avoid or shy away from controversy. However, we have concerns with certain things in this film that we feel prevent us from presenting it in the Festival program. We have decided to remove it from our schedule.”
It's honestly such a relief to know that DeNiro, who has an autistic son himself, realized the film would do far more harm than good and pulled it from the Tribeca schedule. And it's in no small part due to autistic self-activists, as the author of the article linked to above, Tara Haelle, points out:
But DeNiro listened. He listened to the many autistic individuals disappointed about the film’s initial inclusion, he listened to the thousands of doctors who care for children, and he listened to the scientific community. It appears that he viewed the film himself and decided that flaws in its information and/or execution did not meet the high standards that Tribeca demands.
But he’s definitely been correct about one thing along: we do need a conversation about autism in this country. We need an honest conversation about what autistic individuals experience in their everyday lives and about the support their families need and often are not getting. We need a conversation about the stigmatization, discrimination, poor employment opportunities and poorer health outcomes facing autistic individuals.
This is exactly it. As an autistic adult, I spend a lot of my time every day explaining what I have to deal with on a day-to-day basis. I struggle to find the perfect job and go through long periods of unemployment. Making friends is often difficult for me. I've never been on a date and I'm turning 27 in a month. I still live at home with my parents (like many people my age, neurotypical or not), but haven't been able to find a job that pays for my student loans yet. Every day, I worry that people judge me based on my disability, and every day, I face anti-autism rhetoric on television, on the internet, and even in person (heard as I'm walking down the street or in advertisements I see whilst driving or on the subway). These are the sorts of things that adults on the spectrum would love to see addressed - we deserve better - and yet we're frequently denied a platform for our voices. It's time that our voices are amplified and we get a chance to speak about the issues that really affect us instead of a debunked fraudulent vaccine study from 1998 that's already hurt us enough.

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