The Impact of Ignoring “No”: A Response to “Autism Ethics: Permission to Say No.”

Brenda at Mama Be Good wrote a piece yesterday on giving children with autism the permission to say no in a therapeutic context. She touched on how many therapies for autistic kids focus on compliance to achieve tasks, and that “no” is heard not as a boundary word, but as resistance we must break through to achieve success. 

This, of course, as Brenda agrees (more politely) is bullshit. I don’t need to go over what she’s written, because you should just go read her words, but I am going to make the connection to autistic people and sexuality. Because “no” is a really important word for all of us when it comes to negotiating safe sexual boundaries. We all have the right to decide our own limits when it comes to sexual expression, and we have the right to have those limits heard and respected. Some of us know we have those rights.

Disabled people often don’t. Rather than have opportunities to develop the confidence to assert ourselves, many of us have had medical and therapeutic treatments performed on us not only without our consent, but without even any explanation. Rather than a care provider explaining what the procedure is for, and offering options on how to accomplish it, we’re given no room to develop negotiation skills. Is it any wonder why many of us struggle with recognizing our right to maintain boundaries in other contexts? 

All of us are safer, healthier, happier people when we have the ability to enthusiastically agree to our participation in pretty much everything in our lives. All of us are safer, healthier, happier people when we have space to negotiate for workable compromises when those yes moments are more complicated. All of us are safer, healthier, happier people when we can refuse to engage in an activity and have that refusal respected. 

All of us deserve to be safe, healthy, and happy. Reinforcing the idea in childhood that disabled people don’t have a choice in how we communicate, that we don’t have the ability to negotiate a middle point, that we can’t ever just say no and have it be heard and acknowledged and respected as a hard boundary, leaves us vulnerable both as children and through adulthood. 

When we value compliance over negotiation, we value less those whose compliance we seek. 


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