Autism and other mental disorders have faced serious stigmata for millennia, and despite our 21st century society with its high moral standards, prejudice against autism remains a constant problem for those living with it. Some forms of discrimination continue to exist, such as sanism. Enshrining discrimination in any part of society enables it in others.
Sanism is defined as a form of discrimination and oppression because of a mental trait or condition a person has, or is judged to have. This may or may not be described in terms of mental disorder or disability. (Wikipedia) It is a discrimination that selectively picks on those who are the weakest in our society, and fuels the anger, and frustration of those afflicted.
Unfortunately, sanism is all too alive in the hearts and minds of hundreds of millions around the world, and manifests in discriminatory acts against the autistic every day. Often it is not obvious or clear-cut, even to the sanist.
Think about this… you’re walking down the street, and suddenly you see someone you believe to have a mental illness, perhaps a homeless person or someone with autism. Do you feel like welcoming that person into your life or do you turn your head and walk away quickly? That’s sanism.
Sanist behavior is generally not sanctioned or acceptable by Federal agencies or companies. However, in a true-life example (names changed), such behavior still exists even in the most unlikely places.
Mike is a young man with autism, anxiety disorder, and other comorbid medical conditions. He was involved in 2011 in a traumatic event that grossly affected his life. Mike applied for disability benefits years later because he wasn’t able to work anymore. Anxiety/PTSD have taken control of him, causing serious issue that make him unemployable.
When his application for disability benefits reaches the state agency charged with the duty to determine if his disability is severe enough to warrant benefit approval, the adjudicator expresses disbelief. He demands other evidence, disbelieves Mike’s inability to speak, also demanding Mike call in, despite medical and other evidence to the effect that condition is real.
The pressure on Mike to speak causes his autism and anxiety to manifest in long-duration meltdowns. One day, after a week of Mike’s family and advocates doing everything possible to prove he cannot speak, the adjudicator calls Mike in the early morning, trying to catch him answering the phone. A message is left on Mike’s voicemail saying to “call”, which sends Mike into so severe a meltdown that he starts breaking things, including his breakfast bowl, smashed over his own head.
Mike’s civil rights were violated by the clearly sanist discrimination of this state employee, who is supposed to be fully trained in determining disability. Because mental disability training is far less common than physical conditions, it’s much easier for the adjudicator to understand the loss of limbs or cancer, or heart attacks causing disability. To understand mental disabilities requires more intense training, and a broadening of one’s sensibilities about these conditions.
Even more sanist (if that’s possible) is the adjudicator ignoring the traumatic event and compelling Mike to relive the event, exacerbating the terrible state of mind he’s in. Mike became suicidal, threatening to kill himself over this.
In the advocate’s discussions with the adjudicator, he said “autism is not a disability”, even though the federal agency handling these claims does, in fact, consider it so. As another sanist act, the adjudicator expresses doubt and a lack of understanding about the starting point of Mike’s autism. It was claimed that his condition began at birth. The adjudicator disbelieves this starting point, despite there being absolutely no evidence of autism ever being a late onset condition.
The lack of training about autism results in sanist acts against the claimant, resulting in mental cruelty to him. Ultimately, the claimant filed a discrimination charge against the adjudicator with just cause. Mike went through more than two weeks of mental anguish over the sanist behavior of the adjudicator.
Sanism may be as mild as ignoring someone with mental disabilities, or as mean as someone beating up or killing a person suffering with mental disabilities. The mother, for example, who kills her autistic child isn’t just doing it because the child screams, but because she is sanist in her belief that autism is bad (for her).
The discrimination of those with mental disorders can also cause more serious harm. Some mental disorders, including autism, do not allow the individual to let go of traumatic events in their lives, and that can include the pressure placed by sanists to force a mentally disabled person to act or behave normally. Such pressures mount within these troubled souls and will eventually erupt in one way or another, potentially in harmful ways – either by suicide or, in some less common scenarios, shooting sprees that kill innocent victims.
Society takes such situations and lays the blame on the mentally disabled individual, but isn’t society itself to blame for allowing, accepting and promoting sanist views of these conditions? In the past few years, several tragic events have taken place in which a mentally disabled person was at the core of a terrible crime. The massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, and the theater shooting at Centennial were the direct result of a lack of acceptance and understanding of the disabling condition of the shooters.
The time is come to end such discrimination and give some help and tolerance to those affected by mental disorders. Sanism is not only politically incorrect, it’s sadistic, cruel and mean-spirited. Don’t let yourself or others engage in it.