Being Different Shouldn’t Hurt

Taylor SwiftI’ve seen a lot of celebrities speaking out about embracing differences. I think it’s been happening more in the last decade or so than ever before. When I was a teenager, no one seemed to care what freaks like me dealt with as individuals. I want to be happy and encouraged by all these concerned celebrities, PSA’s and programs. Sometimes I have to wonder if it’s just lip service. I’ve spent some time thinking about it, so I did some research. I have read a lot about some of those who are speaking out and their causes. Johnny Depp, Bruno Mars, Ellen, and others have opened up about overcoming bullying in the past. Throughout history, people who stand out have usually been abused for their differences in some way. Yet when people look at someone like Taylor Swift, their first instinct may be to roll their eyes and think “Right. Like she’s had it so tough fitting in or making friends.” And maybe she hasn’t been through the same things as you or me. That shouldn’t bar her from saying anything. I look at her message in the photo and wonder how she can think it is “lucky” to be different when so many are horribly abused because of our differences. I want to see more meat to such messages. But I don’t think messages such as hers can be hurtful to progress.

What I think can be hurtful is seeing celebrities or media outlets spreading messages that being different is some sort of crisis. Just look at the support of Autism Speaks. Without realizing it, those who support such messages are encouraging oppression, abuse, and bullying. The very things they otherwise stand so strongly against.

Several years ago, Tyra Banks had a popular talk show on television. She often seemed to use the show to try to help people with various problems. One episode featured a woman who said she was devastated about her lack of eyebrows. With dramatic, dark music in the background, the woman described her eyebrows and how it made her feel abnormal, hideous, and ugly. I think Tyra ended up getting the woman to a specialist to help her grow eyebrows. The message was that once the woman appeared more normal, many of her problems would be solved. I am deeply concerned about such messages.

I don’t have a problem with people paying attention to their looks and wanting to alter their hair, make–up, clothing, etc. I think sometimes it can be a fun, creative outlet for self expression. I don’t see anything wrong with a healthy desire to find friends, and connect with other people who share similar interests. But fitting in and finding friends should be a healthy desire, and not a desperate need. People shouldn’t battle anxiety, depression, or paranoia if they don’t feel like part of a group. No one should feel so screwed up over the fact they don’t look like everyone else. Putting eyebrows on someone is not going to magically make her a better person, much less help her to understand that her eyebrows are not the problem. The problem is the obsession on the eyebrows.

I recently saw some crazy stuff on social media about a woman who had three breasts. Venues that otherwise talk a great game about social justice and equality were passing around the story with phrases such as “disturbing” and “depressing.” What bothered me, and the issue we need to focus on, is the fact that so many were shaming her over a difference! I know we are all filled with contradictions. We can all be caught in–and accused of– hypocrisy to some extent. But how can we rationalize preaching about equality, acceptance, and bullying problems while continuing to shame or abuse others over such differences?

On this week’s CAN Radio Show, one of the topics will be differences, acceptance, and shaming. It shouldn’t hurt to be different. Maybe Taylor Swift wants society to change the way it thinks about differences and individuality. I think her heart is in the right place. Being born different shouldn’t curse a person to a life of pain and hatred. Being different doesn’t give others the right to abuse, exploit, bully, harass or shame. I hate that I have to continue making such statements in 2014 in America. I hate that the words are meaningless because as a culture, we have chosen to allow such heinous behavior to continue. Let’s choose to change this.  I cannot be the only one who is sick of seeing the things I have seen in just the past several weeks. From suicides, hate crimes, to attempted murders, and abuses at school, people with differences are still facing real dangers and are still actually fighting for their lives. Because they’re different. We need to change it.

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Name Change Announcement

indexThe ICAA announces its name change to the Council for Autism and Neurodiversity (CAN). The new name more accurately reflects the mission, focus, and efforts for the organization, and its vision. We are proud to announce this change. The organization was founded as the International Coalition for Autism and All Abilities (ICAA) in an inspiring effort to help fill the void of practical supports, services, education, and advocacy for autistic individuals as well as individuals and families with all different abilities. The ICAA had an ambitious and noble desire to help improve systems across the community related to accessibility, education, safety, and community supports, while also helping to provide more direct support to these under–served groups. Continue reading

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Mind the Gap in Education

tools for schoolsWe are close to our goal for the 2014–2015 School supply drive! The Mind the Gap in Education program is dedicated to helping make a difference in schools for all students, with all different abilities. Part of the program is our annual school supply and donation drive. This year, donations to the annual school supply drive will be sent to schools and classrooms throughout the St. Louis and surrounding metro areas. Continue reading

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