Kate McLaughlin ‘21
On Tuesday April 24, the Office of Disability Services sponsored “Autistic Writers of Holy Cross,” an event that showcased the creative talents of Clara Joy Gibson ‘21 and Terrence Smith ‘12, both autistic writers. In their presentations, Gibson and Smith shared their writing, experiences, and observations about being autistic at Holy Cross and in wider society.
Clara Joy Gibson, who has been published in magazines like Medium, The Claremont Review, and Teen Ink, read an essay in which she commented on the negative way that autism is portrayed in the media and how those portrayals have affected how she sees herself and her own personal journey. She said that the idea that autistic individuals require “fixing” is incredibly harmful, and the pervasive and ableist mindset that portrays autistic people as burdens to their family members and as less than human is entirely wrong.
She also referenced cases in which parents were in the news for attempting to murder their autistic children, such as Kelli Stapleton, who took her daughter Issy camping and then lit two charcoal grills as they sat in her van, waiting for them both to die. While many people supported and empathized with Issy, others excused Kelli for her attempted murder, blaming Issy for being autistic and saying that Kelli’s act was desperate, and, therefore, understandable.
Gibson said that the Stapleton case took place in 2013, around the time when she was diagnosed with autism. The story, in which many outlets portrayed Issy as violent and Kelli as a victim, was circulating just as she was trying to come to terms with her diagnosis, and it was devastating to her self-esteem. She said, “Imagine being Issy […]—living with a mother who tries to fix you, who thinks your life is worthless, all while listening to a media that would forgive your murderer […] How little would you think you were worth?”
At the end of her presentation, Gibson said that she came up with the idea for the event because she recognized that when she was first diagnosed, she possessed ingrained, ableist attitudes toward herself and her diagnosis. She said that because of her excellent support system, she has been able to change these attitudes and say, “I’m proud, rebellious, beautiful, brilliant, sensitive, tender-hearted and disabled. Don’t go with the impulse to one-of-these-things-is-unlike-the-others that last one, because it belongs.”
Terrence Smith was an Art major and a Creative Writing minor at Holy Cross. He discussed the volunteer work that he has done with Northampton Community Television and Homework House in Holyoke. He also talked about his own experiences with autism and how his tremendous support system at Holy Cross helped him adjust to its new, rigorous environment. He credited the pre-freshman year program Passport, which consisted of three weeks of intensive programming, his Passport mentor, and the Office of Disability Services with giving him the necessary confidence and helping him to succeed in college and beyond.