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Position Statement on Conscientization

May 31, 2009
For Immediate Release [first published on May 31, 2009]

The League to Fight Neurelitism operates as a nonpartisan public sociology and advocacy journalism project. It fully supports the consistent application of United Nations values concerning human rights and social justice to all members of the Autistic community. The term, conscientization (kon-she-ən-shə-za‘-shən), anglicized from the Portugese conscientizacao, was used by the late Brazilian educator, Paulo Freire (1921-1997), to point to the attainment of a critical consciousness. One version of this concept was popularized by the 1970s American women’s liberation movement as consciousness raising. Briefly, conscientization addresses the attainment of knowledge or consciousness concerning the forces of domination or oppression and the subsequent struggle, by conscious individuals, for emancipation or liberation. Here is a description of the idea in Freire’s own words. It is taken from his blueprint for emancipation, The Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1968):

One of the basic elements of the relationship between oppressor and oppressed is prescription. Every prescription represents the imposition of one individual’s choice upon another, transforming the consciousness of the person prescribed to into one that conforms with the prescriber’s consciousness. Thus, the behavior of the oppressed is a prescribed behavior, following as it does the guidelines of the oppressor…. Freedom is acquired by conquest, not by gift. It must be pursued constantly and responsibly. Freedom is not an ideal located outside of man; nor is it an idea which becomes myth. It is rather the indispensable condition for the quest for human completion. To surmount the situation of oppression, people must first critically recognize its causes, so that through transforming action they can create a new situation, one which makes possible the pursuit of a fuller humanity…. However, the oppressed, who have adapted to the structure of domination in which they are immersed, and have become resigned to it, are inhibited from waging the struggle for freedom so long as they feel incapable of running the risks it requires…. The central problem is this: How can the oppressed, as divided, unauthentic beings, participate in developing the pedagogy of their liberation? Only as they discover themselves to be “hosts” of the oppressor can they contribute to the midwifery of their liberating pedagogy.

Freire believed that oppressed persons internalize their domination. As he wrote, in that same work, “The oppressed, having internalized the image of the oppressor and adopted his guidelines, are fearful of freedom.” Thus, the oppressed person must not only fight the enemies external to her being, those who rob her of her freedom and autonomy. She must also fight the oppresser within. If a socially, politically, or economically dominated individual believes that she deserves her domination, or that she must in some fashion become resigned to it, then that inner phantasm must be defeated, as well. Although Freire developed his critical pedagogy as a tool to enlighten students, its applications have extended well beyond. The Autistic community, too, is unjustly dominated. Unemployment and poverty rates are commonly well in excess of averages. For instance, according to Autism researcher, Simon Baron-Cohen:

… the biggest risk is GPs [general practitioners] not realising how adults with Asperger syndrome may become suicidal from the secondary depression, which is common. This depression is associated with social isolation, the high levels of unemployment, the lack of close friends, the lack of a partner and the abuse that adults with Asperger’s may experience on the bus or in the supermarket or in other everyday situations. GPs need to give reassurance to adults with Asperger’s that just because their disability is invisible, they recognise the patient is suffering underneath and will help them find the right support.

In addition to poverty, Autists are routinely denied many supports which are simply taken for granted by most persons. It remains legal in most U.S. states to deny medical insurance to persons with an Autistic spectrum disorder. In my own state of Kansas, legislation which would have required insurance companies to cover Autistics just went down in defeat. Autistic children are also frequently subjected to a variety of physical abuses, including by school personnel. The League to Fight Neurelitism regards Autistic self-advocacy as, potentially, a form of conscientization. However, Autists must first attain a critical consciousness of their oppression and of the factors which serve to perpetuate it. They must also reject the internalized domination of defining themselves according to the norms of their oppressors and even mirroring their dominations against others. The battle for human rights cannot be merely a series of mechanical, nonideological responses to events. Any nonviolent revolutionary struggle, such as this one, must, if it is to have a chance of success, be principally proactive, not reactive. Respectfully submitted, Mark A. Foster, Ph.D. Founding Director, The League to Fight Neurelitism First published to


3 Comments leave one →
  1. June 13, 2009 10:44 am

    The article is usefull for me. I’ll be coming back to your blog.

  2. August 30, 2009 6:44 pm

    Anyone where I can start my own blog.

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