This is inspired in part by something going on in real life, that I will not talk in detail about here, because it’s not my thing to talk about, though it is affecting me in a way. It will be vague – but unless you know me in meatspace, it is certainly not about you. It is vague out of a desire to respect someone’s privacy, not out of any desire for passive-aggressive sniping.
I am addressing an autistic autism parent blogger who made a post to Huffington Post a short while ago. In his post, he argues, essentially, that “both sides” of the autism debate are just as bad as each other, and that we should stop being emotional in our arguments because it’s hard to be eloquent while emotional. He commits the fallacy of the golden mean, and also severely misrepresents the autistic community.
Michael John Carly, you are wrong about us. We do not want to “minimize” the suffering of parents of autistic kids. We want them to stop using their suffering as an excuse to paint autistic people as less-than-human.
We are not all “articulate, verbal spectrumites” – many of our major voices, such as Amelia Baggs, are not able to communicate through speech and instead communicate through AAC. I am usually able to talk, and often at length, but usually not articulately, and often not without being a walking wall of words. I monolog, is what I’m saying. Back-and-forth of typical conversation is hard for me, and the difficulty rises exponentially with the number of people I’m trying to have a back-and-forth dialog with. Writing, for me, is a far more reliable communication method than trying to string together sentences in the heat of the moment while fighting both distraction from navigating body language, manners, etc and my speech impediments.
We do not say that Autism Speaks is “complicit” in murders – and, in fact, ASAN has never, to my knowledge, taken that position. We say, instead, that their hateful rhetoric creates an environment where murders of autistic kids are inevitable – and where, when such murders are committed, more sympathy is given to the murderer than to their victim. Consider the response to the attempted murder of Isabelle Stapleton. News outlets reported this act as a “desperate act,” portraying her mother as a loving woman. Kelli Stapleton became a media darling, even getting an hour-long special on the Doctor Phil show, where most of mainstream media painted the act as Isabelle’s fault for being so difficult, not her mother’s fault for deceiving her, disabling her, and trying to kill her. In fact, the news media focused so much on sympathizing with Kelli Stapleton, that, as of this writing, a Google Search for news about “Issy Stapleton” has a 15:3 ratio in favor of stories focusing on Kelli, and not her victim. To my recollection, roughly 80% of news stories focused on sympathy for Kelli, and of the remaining 20% or so, vanishingly few focused on who Isabelle is as a person, but rather on what Kelli did. We do not say that these murders are Autism Speaks’s acts. We instead criticize them for their role creating a culture wherein it’s more acceptable to give sympathy to the committer of the worst sort of child abuse than to their child, if their child is autistic.
We do not say or argue that parents and families should be without support, as you’ve implied in your piece. That is simply wrong. Autistic people and our allies set up organizations and projects like We Are Like Your Child and Parenting Autistic Children With Love And Acceptance, to try to help those parents in a way that does not demonize and degrade their child. We do not have a problem with “support” for parents, we have a problem with supports coming at the expense of the health and wellbeing of their child.
And, yes, we do fight. We fight against anti-vax, which will make our world more dangerous and far less healthy for everyone. We fight against portrayals of us as less-than-human, a public view that leads directly to “therapies” that have been condemned as torture, and, yes, we criticize Autism Speaks for their partnership with a place that has been condemned for committing torture, after that torture was publicly revealed. We think it’s wrong for them to partner with and support organizations that commit torture. And so should any reasonable person. This public view also leads to the false belief that autistic people don’t feel pain, and that even if we do, it doesn’t cause us harm.
Autism speaks contributes to those beliefs by describing autistic people as natural disasters, portraying us as demon-possessed, claiming that we cause marriage failure, as “missing,” as merely existing but not truly alive. Autism Speaks portrays autism – and autistic people – as a dire crisis in need of resolution at any cost. Call in the National Guard! The Army! The Navy! We have a crisis!
This cure-at-any-cost mentality is what leads to torture in the name of therapy at the Judge Rotenberg Center, to hopefully well-meaning parents forcing their children to drink bleach and have bleach enemas with Miracle Mineral Solution, and to people trying actively to chuck the single most important public health development in the history of humankind out the window because one corrupt, since struck off the medical register ex-doctor once released an extremely poorly designed case series with the implication that a vaccine may possibly cause autism.
And, yes, Michael John Carly, I will fight against people who call me a tsunami, who portray my brain configuration as a demon, who portray me as not human, who blame their relationship problems on me, who say I’m missing and not living. Because those beliefs are dangerous. Those beliefs lead directly to torturing kids in the name of “treatment” and to giving more sympathy to a person who tried to kill her child than to her child abuse victim. And I – and any other moral and reasonable person – will fight against those things.
The autistic community is not part of the problem, here, Michael John Carly. The people who dehumanize and degrade us are.