A few centuries ago, it was believed that magical creatures (elves, fairies, goblins and trolls) would often steal a human baby and leave one of their own children in the stolen baby’s place. The magical child was often either very beautiful or very ugly, and when older, behaved in an other-worldly manner. This is known as the Changeling myth. The myth can be explained by conditions such as Cerebral Palsy and Autism, amongst others. Autism researcher Uta Frith believes that autistic children were often thought to be changelings.
Some autistic people refer to themselves as changelings for this reason and their own feeling of being in a world where they do not belong and of practically not being the same species as the “normal” people around them. At one time I was indifferent to this meme. I am now openly against it.
The Changeling meme involves viewing autistic people as not quite human. One doesn’t have to support Neurodiversity to realise that this is a really bad idea. Anything that can dehumanise a person or group of people is potentially very dangerous. During the Rwanda genocides, Tutsis were referred to as ‘cockroaches’ as a way to portray them as less than human and a pest to be eradicated. This is even more so in the case of autistics. Autistic child Katie McCarron was killed by her mother. I recently blogged about Stephanie Rochester who, believing her 6-month-old son was autistic, smothered him with blankets. Even more recently, Saiqa Akhter murdered her son and daughter because she also believed they were autistic and she wanted “normal children”. If large numbers of people start viewing autistics as nonhuman, the results could be ugly.
The philosophy of Neurodiversity holds that people of all neurobiological types have a right to exist and to be treated as human. Embracing an identity myth that denies your humanness goes completely against this.