fear of difference

By Ellie Sherlock

How a single Instagram tweet led me to rethink the way we view autism in the midst of the vaccination debate.


Last night, in what tends to be found in the more uncommon experience of my social-media escapades, I came across a tweet that was genuinely thought-provoking. From an account entitled ‘archivistwasp’, a few short sentences commenting casually on a deep flaw that runs in our society;

“Even if vaccines did cause autism, I would still vax my child. Like yeah we can talk about how its infactual that vaccines cause autism, but let’s also talk about how deep the hatred for autistic people goes that people would rather have a dead or sick child than an autistic one.”

Upon reading it I thought, damn right, and upon reading it again I thought, shit, as completely without intending to I’d done exactly what they were warning against. I knew that having a fear of vaccines causing autism was ridiculous and illogical, but I hadn’t considered how worrying it is that autism has become in this sense, ‘the worst case scenario’. And unlike usual tweets, this genuinely had me thinking. Particularly about how the majority our generation in prides itself on being open-minded and tolerant, yet this topic doesn’t seem to rise often in the Great Vaccine Debate.

Autism has had a relatively small impact on my life; I had a friend in primary school, my partner’s lovely cousin, but nothing directly influencing myself and my views. I would love to say that I’m completely non-judgemental, but that would be a lie. Being brought up in a world where judgement from both others and yourself is at the core of your being, particularly as a wom*n, I cannot deny that such judgement still exists in topics of disability. I originally put this down to it being the media’s fault; autism is so common, with it occurring in around 1 in 150 people (ABS 2015). It’s also increased considerably in recent years, nearly doubling since 2009, yet there’s little to no representation in mainstream media, there’s no early onset education surrounding it, and in my opinion it’s yet to be properly ‘normalised’, as it should be. But thinking deeper, I realised this was genuine flaw within myself, and traced it back to a generalised fear of the unfamiliar and unknown.

As someone identifying as female, this fear takes form in men at night, as a young person it takes form in strangers on the street, and as an able person it takes form in the disabled. I despised this about myself before beginning to question why, what is it exactly that I, and so many others seem to be afraid of? Would I care if my child was disabled in some way? Well originally yes, I would want them to have an easy of a life as possible, but doesn’t that suggest that having a disability is inherently a negative thing? And I realised, like so many others, the disabled community has been created into an ‘Other’; an outside group. Something pushed away and not understood. Something to be feared. As I’m sure you’d agree- this is not okay.

We cannot destroy the fear of the unknown, but we can make something completely undeserving of such a title become known, and ‘normal’ and okay. So thank you, archivistwasp, for pointing out what for many is the complete obvious, but for me and probably others, creating some level of discourse and question in our minds around what we separate from our own worlds and understanding, and why we do this. Autism is not and should never be the worst case scenario- but to stay true to the original tweet, being ignorant enough not to vaccinate your child absolutely is.

Ellie Sherlock is a 16 year old lover of talking and writing from Newcastle. She’s passionate about sexuality, self expression and philosophy and wants to one day share those passions with the world.