Just World Hypothesis and Autism

The Just World Hypothesis is the idea that good things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad people; that the world is inherently, eventually, fair and just. Also sometimes called “karma,” though I might be misrepresenting the concept of karma due to ignorance. It’s not something that people think about, but its effects are seen in victim blaming, especially in sexual assault on females. “Well, she shouldn’t have been drinking in public, what did she think was going to happen?” and that kind of shit. It comforts people to think that if the victim had just done X, Y, and Z, the bad thing would never have happened to the victim. They believe this because they need to believe that if they only do X, Y, and Z, nothing bad will happen to them. Therefore, the victim must have done something bad to have something bad happen to them, but it won’t happen to the person judging because they’re good people.

Again, people aren’t saying this to themselves intentionally. It’s just a way to explain why people in general say or do things like that.

So what does that have to do with autism? If people are innately believing that bad stuff only happens to bad people, and that autism or any birth difference is bad, then somehow, it’s your fault that your kid is autistic. If you had just not vaccinated the kid, or if you hadn’t taken too much folic acid while pregnant, or if your grandmother hadn’t smoked, then this bad thing would not have happened to your kid. Because that way, they don’t have to be afraid that that horrible thing called autism will happen to their kid. (Sarcasm.)

People in general seem to have a very hard time accepting that they can’t control all factors. That sometimes, bad stuff happens to good people. It would be really nice if they got the message that autism isn’t a bad thing, but that’s not necessarily the point of this post. My hope is that the more people hear their unconscious bias being put into words, the more they can consciously overcome it. Am I being ridiculously optimistic hoping that? Probably. But hey, I can try.

My kids aren’t autistic because I did something wrong, or because I’m a bad person. While I know that, I’m not entirely sure that’s what my extended family actually believes. None of them would admit it to my face. But I grew up in a restrictive denomination that mainstream Christians consider to be a cult. (Not the compound and guns, poisoned Kool-Aid kind of cult, just the we’re right and everyone else is wrong kind.) I left that church when I became an adult. I am the only one in my very large family (the majority of which still belong to that church) who has had problems with pregnancy, needed emergency c-sections, or have autistic kids (that we know of.) I know that when I was growing up in the church, I would have assumed the above mentioned “bad” things happened to a person who left “The Church” because that person “turned their back on God.” It makes sense to me to assume my family members believe that now. Just another example of the Just World Hypothesis at play.

So next time cure speak, or “if you’d just not/done this” comes up, please think of this and consider that it may not be so true after all. Sometimes bad things happen to good people. Sometimes wonderful things, like having neurodiverse kids, happen to both good parents and crappy parents. Things happen. Autism happens. Stop looking for blame, and start working with the kid you actually have, rather than the one you think you should have gotten.



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