How the Popularity of Fidget Spinners Revealed Discrimination of People with Autism

Aiyana Bailin on how the popularity of a toy demonstrates society's attitude towards disabled people.

“I’m angry about the sudden popularity of fidget spinners,” Aiyana Bailin writes. “But probably not for the reasons you think. I’m not mad that they’re disruptive in class, or obnoxiously trendy. I’m furious because of what they reveal about societal power structures, and the pathologizing of disabled people by non-disabled persons.”

According to the author of the article, many people with autism have experienced pressure from their family, doctors, and society in particular, because of their nervous hand movements. This is the way that people who are autistic may use to cope with bad news or a sudden change of plans. Such information can make them feel very stressed, so to feel better, they may start making hand movements, playing with their beads, or chewing on things.

Aiyana Bailin brings attention to the fact that thousands of autistic people were subjected to discrimination for years because of their peculiarities. They had to control themselves in public places and experience incredible discomfort, only in order not to look ‘weird’ or ‘sick’. Now, Bailin says, mass culture decided overnight that spinning an object in a hand without any particular need is absolutely normal just because this became fashionable.

“Something that was considered entirely pathological and in dire need of correction when done by disabled people is now perfectly acceptable because it is being done by non-disabled people. What else might we de-pathologize overnight once the “right” people, the “normal” people, the “healthy” people start doing it?” Bailin writes. “Normality is an illusion. It doesn’t exist.”

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