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To Sia, From an Autistic Adult Who Is Tired of Being Infantilized

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Dear Sia,

I will admit, when I first saw the trailer for your new movie “Music,” I was taken aback. I thought you just must have not known any better. Surely you had good intentions, right? But those hopes were quickly dashed. The trailer showed a neurotypical actress playing a non-speaking autistic girl, trying to mimic stereotypical stims and movements in a spectacle that was tough to watch. Many autistic people like myself thought you just needed some guidance, maybe some kind criticism to show you that these representations can be inaccurate and even harmful, but you didn’t listen.

It started as genuine questions, people asking for clarification, but it was soon made clear you did not care to learn about us or to listen. You refer to us as “special ability kids” — can you not see how this infantilizes us? We are not children — autism impacts us for our whole lives and so many of us are adults. We are capable of acting and working in the media. We can get married and have kids of our own, so why do you insist on treating us like we are misguided children? We are often treated this way, and trust me, it hurts. It hurts to work hard to have a degree and your own rented home only to experience people like you treating us like we are children.

To those who aren’t familiar with autism, “special abilities” might seem like a kind phrase. It isn’t. We don’t have superpowers. We aren’t Spiderman or Superman, we are autistic. Yes, being autistic brings some wonderful variety to life, and can bring with it some wonderful skills and strengths, but to suggest that’s all it is would be wrong. Is it a special ability that some of us cannot speak? Is it a superpower that I can’t tell people’s facial expressions, which causes so many daily issues? What about sensory overload? I don’t think it’s a special ability that bright flashing lights can cause a meltdown, or that touching velvet makes me want to vomit. I am not ashamed of my autism and wouldn’t change any of my autistic brothers and sisters for the world, but disability isn’t a special ability. We are just people, and autism isn’t a dirty word that needs to be censored.

On Twitter, many autistic people have tried to discuss this with you, only to have our responses met with, “Fuckity fuck,” “Maybe you’re just a bad actor,” “Bullshit” and “Fake news.” You refused to listen to our cries for understanding. Hundreds of us flocked to calmly explain why this would hurt us, many of us sharing some truly harrowing experiences to back it up. All were met with hate. Most of us were labeled haters and “cruel and judgmental” for simply speaking our truth. I understand it’s difficult to take criticism on a project you care deeply about, and it might be confusing and scary to be met with such passionate responses, but that does not excuse your actions.

Beyond responding with hate yourself, you have liked and thanked tweets that call us awful things, calling us whores and plenty of ableist slurs I would not dare to repeat. We as a community have been met with the very hate and misunderstanding we feared would come as a result of this film. All you have done is made our fears a reality. All of our concerns and cries to be understood and listened to, warning you of the dangers, were ignored. And now what we tried to warn you about is a reality.

I still believe you went into this with a kind heart, but even the best of intentions can lead to ruin. Trust me, no one knows that better than many of us. But if you truly cared about autistic representation, if you cared at all about those of us who will be hurt by this film and your tweets, you would accept that you made some mistakes. You would come clean and admit you did wrong and then reacted out of fear and denial. You would admit to the lies and nasty things you have said, and vow to do better. If you care about us, you will help undo the hurt you have caused us.

I have been your fan since I was a scared autistic girl, stimming to “Chandelier” on my way to school. I was swaying to “Cheap Thrills” while revising for my degree, fidgeting to “The Greatest” while I had to wait for surgery, and taking deep breaths to “Elastic Heart” as I waited for therapy. I don’t believe any of your autistic critics are speaking out of hate. We don’t want to hurt you. We want you to listen and do better.

Image via YouTube.

Originally published: December 6, 2020
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