Zombies? Bad? Wrong?
According to this image, from Speech2u, we are comparable to monsters. I was scrolling pinterest today looking for fun sensory things to make and came across this image and was really uncomfortable. It was titled “teaching nonverbal skills to children with autism” and honestly, it’s a little worrying, especially considering it seems to come from a rather popular blog.
Chances are, the child they’re trying to teach with this can already recognize that they are different. “Oh but it is just supposed to be a fun, cute metaphor!” No. A common thing wiht autism is literal thinking and not understanding metaphors. This will more often than not be taken literally. If they know what a zombie is, then they know it is a monster. They also know that since this list is talking about zombies but the person showing them is talking about them, that they think they are monsters. This sort of wording and comparisons lead not only to an increased stigma for autistic people, but also for growing internalized ableism, self-consciousness, and self-loathing.
For starters, a lot of the thing on this list are things autistic people naturally have problems with. Scare mongering and making kids think that others see them as monsters only leads to poor self-esteem, self-loathing, bullying and other issues. I am going to go step by step here to go into detail about each statement on the list and how they are harmful to the children being taught, the children they are around, and others like them.
1. “Why Zombies Don’t Have Friends”
The title alone really gets to me. I know it was supposed to be a fun thing because zombies are big in pop-culture right now, but it isn’t even a metaphor here. It is straight up saying that autistic people, or anybody who struggles with nonverbal social skills or executive functioning, are zombies, monsters, and incapable of having real, stable, equal, good relationships with others.
2. “They have a hard time making gestures”
It’s not that autistic people have a hard time making gestures, it’s that our gestures can be different than other people’s, or that we don’t understand why a gesture is needed for a certain thing. Also, we often times get yelled at for gesturing instead of talking, or for moving in ways that other people find “weird,” so we internalize our movements and stop gesturing all together.
3. “Zombies rarely remember to say “please” and “thank you””
Saying “please” and “thank you” are considered polite, but they are Not a communication necessity. When speech is difficult, a person will pick and choose which words are completely needed to convey the meaning the person wanted to say. Chances are good that the person knows they forgot to say the niceties and that they feel guilty about it. Saying it like this really just goes on to make the person feel worse about themselves and more guilty about having to cut words. It could also give the person reason to try and force themselves to say more words than they are really safely able too, which is unhealthy and leads to faster overloads and longer recovery time.
4. “Really poor eye-contact”
For a lot of autistic people, eye-contact is uncomfortable if not physically painful to do/keep up. You can communicate effectively without eye-contact. Humans are honestly the odd one out when it comes to eye-contact, because in most other species eye-contact is seen as disrespectful or a direct challenge/cause for a fight. Looking at someone in the eye can actually make it harder for an autistic person to really pay attention to what the person is saying.
5. “Putrid body-odor”
Executive Dysfunction and changes in routine can make it hard to remember to shower, or even when we get in the shower it can make it hard to remember all of the steps involved in thoroughly cleaning oneself. It’s important to note that executive dysfunction is not just laziness or forgetfulness, but an actual condition that causes us to forget even the most important things. It also can make our brains not communicate with the rest of our bodies, so that sometimes even the steps to get up out of bed are too difficult. Some of us have physical disabilities too that can make it hard to scrub our hair or hold a washcloth, and we have to rely on somebody else to wash us.
6. “Zombies never change the tone of their voice”
This one is just incredibly ableist. For a lot of autistic people, just speaking is difficult enough. Considering if you are an AAC user, then changing the tone is literally impossible. Tone, volume control, and being very literally worded are just traits of autistic language. There are ways other than tone of voice to get your meaning and emotions across.
7. “Zombies are always trying to stand too close to people”
Some autistic people would say that non-autistic people stand too close to them. The problem here is that everybody has a different personal space bubble. Everybody. A lot of autistic people prefer to not be touched at all, and they would say that non-autistic people are the ones who don’t understand personal space. If you talk to the person about your individual boundaries, they will try their best to honor them. I know I personally have issues with knowing if I am too close to somebody if they don’t want it, and also being on the “don’t touch me” end of things. These personal space boundaries affect EVERYONE, not just autistic people, and are honestly a conversation everyone should have with everyone else.
8. “Eating brains leads to terrible breath”
-See Number 5, Putrid Body Odor-
I also feel it is worth noting that some autistic people will only eat one thing, some will eat many things, some eat weird things with many flavors and smells mixed together. Some of these things, like my love of onions and garlic, can also make a person’s breath smell. Most people don’t carry around a toothbrush in their pocket.
9. “Zombies never remember to wash their clothes”
-See Number 5, Putrid Body Odor-
The unwashed clothing could be a comfort object. I used to kick and scream when somebody tried to wash my blanket. The clothing could also be the only sensory friendly things they have that week, as sensitivities fluctuate so what could have been comfortable one week is hell the next. Also it needs to be considered here that the person may not have constant access to a washer and dryer, and also that in elementary/middle school (the age group this is aimed towards) most kids’ parents do their laundry.
10. “Friends don’t like it when you try to eat their brains”
This is just a zombie reference. There might be some sort of thing trying to tie this to autistic people but I can’t get through the metaphor if there is. This is an outright statement comparing us to zombies.
11. “It’s hard to have a conversation with someone who only says “Mmm, brains””
Some people don’t say anything at all. Speaking is not necessary to communicate. But also echolalia itself can be communication. Repeating something over and over again can be echolalia or it could be a stim. Both are natural parts of how an autistic brain works. Some days the only words I can make are echolalia. Those days people ask a question and I can repeat back a word they had just said to communicate. Other than American Sign Language, or if I wrote down everything I wanted to say that day, then repeating something is the only way I can communicate. Sure it may be harder to have a conversation, but if people can be friends with somebody without speaking the same language then people can be friends if somebody doesn’t speak at all or only speaks in echos and scripts. Also, if somebody is unwilling to accept who you are and how you communicate, then they aren’t your friend anyway.
Media like this, used in a way intended to be “educational,” tells us that we are monsters, and our natural ways of being are unnatural and wrong. So wrong, in fact, we are compared to mindless fictional creatures with only one goal. Educational material should be accepting and understanding of our natural ways of being, not pick apart every aspect of it and say that it’s wrong. The sentiment of this educational piece isn’t of trying to teach nonverbal social skills to autistic children: it’s a message of hate, ignorance, and oppression. Instead of forcing Autistic children to adhere to the unrealistic standards of neurotypical children, teach non-autistic children to accept the reasons behind an autistic person’s actions or being.
Please come back to me when you have educational material that preaches acceptance over hate.