Wretches and Jabberers – Defying Labels

A few months ago, my friend Ib, gently encouraged me to watch the documentary Wretches and Jabberers.  It’s available on Netflix and iTunes.  I was traveling at the time, Richard was in Colorado, I was in NYC.  In addition I can’t be bothered with the four different remote controls required to watch anything on our TV, let alone find a specific movie, put it in the queue, figure out which remote(s) to use, download the movie and watch it.  Yeah.  I know.  When I see a TV, anywhere (unless it’s already turned on) I automatically walk away.  It’s like a Pavlovian response at this point.  If I’m home alone or just with Em, the TV screen stays dark.  And I’m totally f*cked if Em wants to watch something and presses the wrong button by mistake.  My 12-year-old son, Nic, has been known to pat me on the head and say in condescending tones, “Aw… Mommy.  It’s okay.  Let me help you with that.”  Really.  This has actually happened.  Several times.   So, yes, it took me awhile before I finally was able to watch Wretches and Jabberers with Richard on Netflix.  I cried.  I laughed.  Wow, what a documentary!  I’ll wait here while you go to the above link and put it in your queue.

Larry Bissonnette and Tracy Thresher are predominantly nonverbal Autistics.  Larry is a painter, lives with his sister and was institutionalized as a child.  He hits himself in the head when frustrated.  He is echolaic.  Tracy is homeless. *Please read Tracy’s mom’s comment on this comment thread as my statement is incorrect.*   In the documentary he has places he is able to go for a few nights here and there, but nowhere he calls “home”.  Both Larry and Tracy communicate through facilitators by typing.  The documentary follows them as they travel all over the world meeting other nonverbal Autistics.  The film defies the accepted and common neurotypical views and assumptions about Autism and what it means to be Autistic.  Powerful, funny, poignant, it is essential viewing for all human beings, not just those interested in Autism, because it rattles our unexamined biases, our beliefs, our perceptions and everything we are being “told” about autism.

A terrific discussion took place in the comments on yesterday’s post.  The whole issue of mentorship and hf/lf (high functioning / low functioning) was brought up.  One person mentioned how “our functioning level should be based on how we treat our fellow humans not whether someone judges another’s way of communicating or perceiving the world as correct, or less or greater than another’s.”  Her remarks made me think about the neurotypical world.  What if each of us were given a functioning label?  What if our lives, our abilities were reduced to a set list of priorities.  Let’s say each of us was given a “critique” of our ability to meet that criteria?

If I was put under a similar magnifying glass as Autistics, it could be argued (of course all of this is subjective and that’s the point) I would fall into the moderately functioning category for neurotypicals depending on the set of agreed upon priorities.  I do not hold any position of power.  I write a blog for which I earn not a single cent.  I publish occasionally on the Huffington Post, again, I am not “employed” by them, I submit pieces, they publish them, no money is paid for those pieces.  I am mother to my two children, I do my best to care for them, but I do not “make money” for the privilege of having two children.  I have my own business, I make a decent living (for a great many years I did not and barely was able to pay my rent.)

I flounder in the face of tests.  I score poorly on most of them unless I have taken the time to study the material to ensure I am able to breeze through and even then I tend to make mistakes.  I freeze up when I feel nervous or stressed.  My vocabulary can be spotty, particularly when in stressful situations, I go off on tangents, I have difficulty writing a standard 5 paragraph essay.  I shut down completely in the face of mathematical word problems.  I use lots of adverbs, sometimes I change tenses in the middle of a sentence.  Sometimes it’s hard for me to stay on track.  I’m terrible at most cocktail parties.  My interest in cocktail conversation wanes after the first 5 minutes.  I have a passing interest in the weather, a favorite topic at such events.  I have special interests that I can go on and on and on about.  I cannot remember people’s names.  I’m marginally versed in social networking.  I dislike most TV.  I cannot stand any show with the word “housewives” in it.  I am extremely sensitive.  I make social faux pas (what is the plural of faux pas?) often.  I am not patient.  I am a terrible liar.  The list goes on and on.

We neurotypicals are not held to the same scrutiny our Autistic brothers and sisters are held to though.  We don’t have to worry that we will be slapped with a functioning label, which will be prominently placed on our resumes.  But what if we were?  I doubt we’d sit passively, without resistance and “accept” this kind of limited categorization.  I think many of us would protest vehemently.  I think many of us would rise up, organize protests, argue for our rights as human beings, we would advocate for ourselves, we would fight,  just as gays, African-Americans, Women and now…  Autistics are.

Emma – 2008

43 responses to “Wretches and Jabberers – Defying Labels

  1. I’ve been hearing great things about this documentary but Netflix doesn’t have the streaming video subtitled yet. :-/ Same thing with Loving Lampposts.

    • hi Ren,
      I don’t know what happened to my original reply to you! You’d think, since this is my site, I wouldn’t manage to lose my own comments! But noooo… I looked into the subtitle issue and have also written them asking them to add subtitles to the movie. I’ve not heard back. It does seem like a massive oversight on their part.
      On a separate note, would love your opinion of Loving Lampposts.

  2. Oh, hey, I stand corrected. Loving Lampposts seems to have recently been subtitled. Some day, they’ll caption the rest of the documentaries I want to watch, too.

    • Hi Ren,
      Hmm.. let me look into this. By the way Lauri from Ollibean just posted two terrific videos of a Q&A that Larry and Tracy held at a screening in Florida as well as a short YouTube video she and her son made about meeting Larry and Tracy in the comment section of yesterdays post. Most of the Q&A is shown as written, didn’t notice if there’s an ability to see subtitles, I’ll ask her. I want to post these links on the blog tomorrow, so I have lots of questions for her!

  3. I’ll give you an B+, would have been an A were it not for the whole getting jokes thing. I think these labels should be implemented immediately for us NTs. And they should be a lot more detailed than “moderate” “severe” etc. Greatly beneficial clarifications could be provided by more specific labels worn like convention badges: Saintly, Kind, Somewhat Pleasant, Tolerant, Tolerable, Critical, Hyper-Crytical, Prick, Total Prick, Self-satisfied Prick, Biatch, Insatiably Greedy Money Grubber, Boring, Deathly Boring, Paint Drying, Willful Idiot, Delusional Idiot, Dumb As A Bag of Hammers, Atheist, Agnostic, Spiritual, Religious, Fundamentalist, Willing To Blow Up The Whole World Unless Everyone Worships My God, Scientist, Curious, Bi-Curious, Sheep, Lemming, Wolf, Wife-beater, Child abuser, Victim, Food Service Worker, Convenience Store manager, Couch Potato, Couch Fungus, Monday Morning Quarterback, Tuesday Afternoon Tippler, Problem Drinker, Drunk, Junkie, Recovering Asshole, Occasional Asshole, Chronic Asshole, Unrepentant Asshole, Rush Limbaugh, Fibber, White Liar, Liar, Pathological Liar, Mitt Romney, Pro-Choice, Pro-Life, Pro-Death Penalty, Pro-Death Penalty via Lethal Injection, Pro-Death Penalty via The Iron Maiden, See-sawer, Lock-boxer, Fence-Sitter, Wit, Bon Vivant, Catty, Snark Meister, Gossip, Character Assassin, Life of the party, Wallflower, Lonely, Horribly Lonely, Suicidal, Homicidal, Serial Killer, Thrill Killer, Run of the mill Killer, Controlling, Super-controlling, Puppeteer, Hitler, Just Following Orders, Look-the-other-wayer, Not-in-my-back-yarder, See-no-evil, hear-no-evil, Speak-no-Evil, Priest, Rabbi, Hooker, Man Walks into a Bar, Area Man, Feminist, Alarmist, Doomsayer, Prophet, Messiah, Regular Joe, Joe Six Pack, John Doe, Jane Doe, Jane Roe vs. Wade, Innocent bystander, Neutral Party, Pacifist, Activist, Nihilist, Apathetic, and let’s face it, Just Plain Stupid.

    • I completely forgot to mention that I do not get the majority of neurotypical jokes AND tend to take things literally, which is a discredit to my neurotypical ranking and have thereby moved lower on the neurotypical functioning level. Thanks for pointing that out! ;D
      I see you have forgotten – erudite, mildly erudite, occasionally erudite, blow-hard, humorless and narcissist to the list, so am adding now. We can review this evening as others may see fit to add throughout the day.

    • Richard and Ariane you’ve both raised very pointy points which stick and won’t let go.

      I think Tolerantly Unrepentant Feminist ought to cover me. Oh wait, I’m also Somewhat Pleasant, Frequently Boring, Fence-sitting and Anti-Wife-Beaters. From that list anyway.

      The problem with labels is they only work when you apply them to someone else. I can never find enough of them or any vast enough to describe myself…

      Ariane – have you encountered Elaine Aron’s work on Highly Sensitive People? If not, take her self-test. I think you will find it fits you. I was reminded of it by your self-deprecating self-description in this post, in combination with your deep/wide thinking and brilliant writing.

      • Oh I like “Tolerantly Unrepentant Feminist” also loved this – “The problem with labels is they only work when you apply them to someone else.”

        I haven’t heard of Elaine Aron’s self test. I’ll look for it. And thank you for the kind words. Really appreciate it!

  4. No wonder you love your husband so much! 🙂

  5. LOL!!! You Aspie! I think that you, your husband and children are all fantastic. Keep up the excellent B+ writing!

  6. Love the movie and totally agree that absolutely everyone in the world must see it!!!! Love your blog also 🙂

  7. Might have overlooked this word in Richard’s List despite a careful reading… when I asked Ted, Mr. Proudly-Self-Proclaimed-Staunch Misanthrope, what label he would apply to people, he would add the various degrees of “hypocritical”.

    You hit this one out of the park, my dear.

    p.s. back when I had to do networking- real life, in person, dreadful, small talk with people you could care less about networking, I used to hide out in the bathroom. My personal best: lasting 14 minutes before I headed for the stalls! 🙂

    • Oh dear, the old, “will you excuse me while I pace the women’s room” routine. And then pretending to wash your hands when someone walks in, or darting into the nearest stall and pretending to pee… again. I think men have the right idea though. Just bring a large book in there with you while wearing a pained expression. That’s good for at least 30 minutes. 😀

  8. Two things… 1. the plural of faux pas is faux pas. (Though I keep wanting it to be faux paux. :P)

    2. Did you ever look into the “Broader Autism Phenotype”? You should… Also aspies don’t have to have high IQs – some of us do, of course, but some of us don’t, either. 😉 (Says the girl who was diagnosed Asperger’s and has a (barely) genius level IQ)

    • E. – I just took the Broader Autism Phenotype test, which resulted in this: “You scored above the cutoff on all three scales. Clearly, you are either autistic or on the broader autistic phenotype.” I love that they say “clearly” as this was not clear to me at all… So what does that make me? A maybe, sort of Aspie, certainly an Autistic phenotype! Things are finally starting to fall into place ;D

      • 🙂 Well you see, I’m very much of the opinion that autistic traits and autism are genetic. People with autistic traits (whether they have enough to qualify them as full-on autistic/develop into autism/etc or not) are attracted to each other. This combines the awesomeness and gives you autistic children. Not always, of course, but I definitely think there’s a lot of genetic component. One of my mom’s biggest issues with me and *my* autistic traits is that she hated those traits within her, and within my dad. It bothered her that I had them too.

      • ; ) I believe if you took any of the asperger’s tests, it would show a clear picture. I am a pattern studier. And to be honest: you’re brilliant–just been held back for too long and have beaten yourself up for far too long.

  9. Your wonderful !!
    Breath of fresh air and
    Boy you make me laugh !!
    Xoxxx

  10. HeeHee Richard! I just love you both!!! 🙂

  11. musingsofanaspie

    Hey, if you’re an aspie that would be an automatic promotion from moderate functioning (NT) to high functioning (autistic). Lucky you!

    On a more serious note, the high functioning label is kind of insulting to everyone on the spectrum. Though I recognize that I’m at the higher functioning end of the spectrum, the label itself is like saying, “well for an autistic person, you’re not so bad.” It also sets up unreasonable expectations because my ability to function in society is very uneven and changes from day to day.

    At any rate, thank you for writing such a thought provoking piece. I just found your blog and I’m ravenously devouring it. I’ll try not to leave you rambley comments all of the place.

    • First – I LOVE lots of rambley comments scattered all over the place.
      Second – The labels are heinous and I wonder that they aren’t ALL insulting for a variety of reasons. I don’t think anyone likes being pigeon holed as “well meaning” as those pigeons, I mean labels may be.
      Third – So glad you commented and it’s really nice to meet you. I’m right in the middle of writing today’s post, but when I have a second will wander (race, actually) over to your blog to read all about you!

      • musingsofanaspie

        It’s good to meet you too! This blogging thing is new to me so I’m still finding my way around. It’s exciting to discover so many people sharing ideas and support!

        • I just tried to find your blog but wordpress is sending me to a page that says you’ve removed it! Will have to rely solely on your scattered comments to find out more about you! And do tell me when you have your new blog up and running!

  12. musingsofanaspie

    The blog is here: http://musingsofanaspie.com/

    Hopefully that works. I need to figure out how to fix the link from my username. 😦

  13. The only label we Autistics need is “human.”

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  18. Susan Thresher

    Tracy is not homeless!! The film misleads you into seeing that. He has a mom and dad and a brother. Tracy stays with us lots of weekends and comes for dinner every Wednesday night. What Tracy wants is a place to call home meaning his “own” place” Tracy left home on his own decision to become independent. You can ask Tracy and he will tell you the same thing. Please don’t think that we don’t care or love our son, as we are is biggest supporters and he always has a place to come back to if he wanted to but he is on a mission and he will succeed.
    Susan Thresher

  19. I wonder if you might be Autistic yourself – some of these are traits I myself (an Autistic person) have.

  20. Heh I bet you’re one of us (Autistics).

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