Dear Marvel, Autism is NOT an Illness

Dear Marvel,

Autism is not an illness.

I was saddened and dismayed when I learned that Marvel Comics classifies Autism among its  “Mental Illness Weaknesses” on  http://marvel.wikia.com/Category:Mental_Illness_Weaknesses. I have no problem with Autism being listed as a weakness because I happen to agree with that. It can be a social weakness because someone on the spectrum might not understand the social cues that rest of us take for granted. It can be a communication weakness if you don’t understand the code needed to talk to someone with Autism. (We all communicate, but we don’t all send and receive in the same ways as those around us). Autism might even be considered an academic weakness if someone on the spectrum were highly intelligent in one subject (e.g. math, science, art) but had tremendous difficulty in other subjects (e.g. reading, music, history) and vice versa.

I just couldn’t believe that the comic book company my son, Isaiah, loves and adores would list him as an illness. I was furious. I was outraged! After all,  I try so hard to empower Isaiah by telling him the truth – Autism is simply a different way of looking at the world. I was so angry that I even considered avoiding all the Marvel-associated booths at the upcoming comic con that Isaiah and I will be attending.

An Informed Decision

Then I did a little research because I believe you should have all your facts (or at least a better understanding) before causing an angry mob to picket a large company that could squash you like a bug. Here is what I discovered.

The company that brought this to my attention in the first place has a hero with Autism. They are trying to bring Autism awareness in to the comic book world and the world at large. This company wants people to understand Autism better and show that people on the spectrum are just as capable of achieving their goals as anyone else. This little company wants people to understand that people with Autism are just that – people.

I also discovered that the site that lists Autism as one of the “Mental Illness Weaknesses” is a fan run site! That’s right folks. As far as I could tell, Marvel.com does not list Autism as an illness and does not endorse or link to the fan-made site. The only character I found in common between Marvel’s site and the fan site was Legion who was identified as autistic and suffered from Dissociative Identity Disorder (multiple personalities). Legion also has a vague history which might include some serious trauma that could be the root of his mental health issues (which in my amateur opinion looks more like Post Traumatic Stress not Autism).

Not an Illness

So, I would like to clear up a few things. For those of you who don’t know yet, my son Isaiah is autistic. It is a part of who he is – the same way that being right-handed or left-handed is part of who you are. If you are left-handed, you might be able to teach yourself (or if you are from an older generation, you were forced to learn) how to write with your non-dominate hand. However, you will always be left-handed. It’s not something you grow out of, or something that needs to be cured. With the right support and training, many people on the autism spectrum learn to function in society with little to no issues.

Calling Autism an illness belittles those on the spectrum and their families. Calling Autism an illness implies that something is wrong, that they are somehow lesser people and need to be cured. In most cases, autistic people are better human beings than “normal” people because they are often more empathetic and understanding . They just don’t always know how to express it properly.

Paradigm Shift

Isaiah sees the world differently. He chooses to look at the good in people, even when they mistreat him. We could use more people like him in the world. Isaiah hurts more deeply both when he is hurt and when his friends are hurt. He gets frazzled more easily than most when his schedule is altered, but he is still a person just like the rest of us. While I certainly don’t know what your official stance is on Autism, I would ask this of you, Marvel: help us bring about more awareness, understanding, and acceptance of Autism.

We need a paradigm shift, and we can’t do it alone.

Sincerely,

Wendi Sisneros – Superpower: Autism Mom

 

P.S. If my information about characters or links is wrong, please let me know.

 

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One thought on “Dear Marvel, Autism is NOT an Illness

  1. Thanks, Wendi! This was a powerful take on this news, and we enjoyed hearing how you approached this subject with your son. We don’t know how “little” our non-profit is, with international distribution, an upcoming toy line whose characters have sensory features for soothing or stimulation (ie: a hero with a crinkle-sounding cape, scent-infused plastics that may smell like blueberries, etc.), and an upcoming national interview with NBC News. The fan-run site still operates under approval of Marvel- neither you nor I could run a comic book fan site by using another company’s copyrighted characters’ descriptions or images. Perhaps not intentional, Marvel is responsible to respond to fan feedback or how their images were portrayed.
    However, one thing we’ve learned in our autism advocacy is a lot of people WANT to be accepting. Ignorance and public opinion may interfere. Our hopes for the Tweet was to alert Marvel how they are being portrayed. Will they re-define their presentation of autism? Will they have a healthier view on mental illness, or continue to use negative stereotypes? We WANT to believe how Marvel just doesn’t understand autism (or mental health diagnoses). Rather than damn their ignorance, we asked politely for them to reconsider how they portray autism in the comics, movies, toys, etc.
    Will it work? We have to have hope. In some ways, we don’t want Marvel to suddenly produce an autistic character. How well will the character be written, to reflect clinically accurate descriptions of autism? Who advises them about what autism is…or isn’t? Even though we also make comics, we welcome more marketplace entries of independent publishers who lovingly adore this genre and who make a compelling story with respect. We don’t “compete” with Marvel or DC or any big comic book giants; we offer a completely different product. We believe kids want and need heroes like themselves. This is Face Value Comics.

    P.S. Having read some of your other writing, we have a LOT in common!!! We wish you and Isiah well at the upcoming comics convention, too! 🙂

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