Category Archives: prejudice

An Argument Against Pathologizing Autism – What Others Had to Say

In yesterday’s blog post I asked for thoughts regarding the pathologizing language that dominates most conversations about autism and those who are Autistic.   I received some terrific responses both here, through email and on Emma’s Hope Book Facebook page.  I also asked Emma for her thoughts, which she very patiently gave me and generously said I could post here.

Emma wrote, “Deciding autism is a medical condition eases the minds of those who profit from it.”

A couple of great links were sent to things that have been written on the topic or related topics.  This, from the Zur Institute entitled:  DSM: Diagnosing for Status and Money, focusses on the DSM and argues, “Historically, many clinicians have been unaware that the DSM is more political than scientific, that there is little agreement among professionals regarding the meaning of vaguely defined terms, and that it includes only scant empirical data.”

Another link sent was this one, Time to let go of the medical model by Jarrod Marrinon, which does not speak specifically about autism, but is certainly still relevant.

And this link from Nick Walker’s blog, Five Steps Toward Autism Acceptance is terrific with the first step being, “De-pathologize autism and Autistic people.  This, in particular, stood out, “Blind people, Deaf people, and many other disabled people get the services and accommodations they need without being labeled as having mental disorders. We don’t have to call autism a disorder or a disease to acknowledge that Autistic people are disabled and can require accommodations.”

Nick’s words were similar to what Emma wrote when I asked, “What do you say to people who need support and assistance in their daily life?”

“Why should they have to fight anyone to receive the help they need to live?”

I said, “Well, in an ideal world they wouldn’t need to, but some say that there is only so much money and available resources, so people need to prove that they need the help more than others.  In effect they are being forced to compete for the money that’s been allocated.

Emma wrote, “This sounds like an excuse so that people who do not need help can feel better about how others are treated.”

David wrote, “The obsession with behavior as the be-all-end-all of autism “science” and “treatment” is a superficial distraction and a formula for spectacular failure in addressing the underlying realities – both impairments and abilities alike – which Autistics experience and must cope with every minute of every day. The temptation to pathologize and treat behavior for its own sake is dangerously misleading and utterly beside the point. That boilerplate approach to autism HAS GOT TO GO.”

Toddynho wrote, “why pathologizing autism is harmful”

Compare and contrast the life experiences of LGBT people in contexts where homosexuality is pathologized and in contexts where it is not.

“Are there any studies showing the direct links to pathology language and harm and abuse of the people who are being pathologized?”

To me, it’s self-evident and obvious that groups that are pathologized on the basis of their way of being are harmed and abused in consequence.

“If we do not pathologize autism how will the people who require assistance receive it?”

On a massive, massive scale, the adult autistics who require assistance are either receiving no assistance whatsoever, or the meager assistance being received is grossly inadequate if not downright harmful.”

Toddynho goes on to say, “What we have is a society that is pervasively pathological. Addressing the most acute societal pathologies will improve things for autistic people broadly much more and much faster than any kind of autism-specific “assistance” strategies ever will — and moreover will make things a lot better for most non-autistic people too.”

Gregg wrote, “Its a false logic really. There is nothing inherent to medical model understandings of Autism that enables support. Just the opposite really Its well documented that social model understandings enable supports that are far more useful to autistic people. I see no value in pathologizing Autism except to the industry that has been built up trying to take advantage of parents of Autistic kids.”

I believe the medical model, which is the model used in almost every university and by most autism professionals does tremendous damage to the very people they are intent on “helping”.  To repeat what Toddynho wrote, “…it’s self-evident and obvious that groups that are pathologized on the basis of their way of being are harmed and abused in consequence.”

“Do you think pathologizing language is harmful?” I asked Emma.

Emma wrote, “Justifying decisions to ignore those who need help is not reason to make people feel ashamed of their existence.  People need encouragement to do good.  There will always be some who cannot, but this is not a good reason for everyone else to stop helping each other.”

 

From: ukdisabilityhistorymonth.com

From: ukdisabilityhistorymonth.com

 

“Talking is Hard”

*Emma gave me permission to post some of what she wrote yesterday during a meeting with a few of the people who are part of her team at her school.

Emma wrote, “Talking is hard because I like to say silly things that people take seriously and that is why I am misunderstood.”

In reply to a question about Emma’s thoughts on another class joining hers for a project they are working on together, Emma wrote, “Worrying that I will not be thought intelligent.  I am considered stupid by people who don’t know better.”

One of the staff commented that the more she writes with them, the more people will understand and know how smart she is.  Emma then wrote, “I know, but it’s hard work for me to write.”

This is something I think people may not fully appreciate – that communicating is tough and hard work for Emma.  It isn’t that she doesn’t want to participate in discussions or want to express herself and have conversations with people, it’s that what most of us take completely for granted is, for Emma, not easy and requires tremendous concentration and effort.

Someone else mentioned how Emma understands everything that people are saying and Emma wrote, “People think I can’t understand what they say, but my hearing is excellent.”

And a little later Emma wrote, “I know people don’t mean to be cruel, yet they are when they see someone like me.”

One of the team wanted to know if she was referring to specific people and how she deals with them.

Emma wrote, “They are everywhere.  I try to like them anyway.”

Before people comment on this post, protesting Emma’s words and insisting that people are basically loving and kind and that Emma must be unduly influenced by me, to write such things, I will tell you that from what I’ve witnessed when with Emma – people typically talk about her right in front of her, talk about her instead of to her, do NOT presume her competent, treat her as though she were at least eight years younger than she actually is, and though they may not mean, intend or feel they are being “cruel” this is the word Emma chose to write.  I cannot, even for a moment, really know what it is to be as intelligent as my daughter is and regularly treated as though I were not.  I will just add here that Emma is far more compassionate than I am.  So if anyone is being influenced, I hope it is me being influenced by her.

And for what it’s worth, this is what I think about all of this…  I think human beings tend to be neither saints nor evil, but that the vast majority of the human population has ingrained knee-jerk responses toward those who are different from them.  It is rare to find someone who does not hold some degree of prejudice, often without realizing it.  I believe most people, often unconsciously and without meaning to, respond to people who are different, whether that means their skin color, their accent, the way they dress or look or behave, with either fear, irritation, curiosity, jealousy, impatience or pity.  It is actually quite rare for a person to treat ALL humans they encounter with respect and as complete equals, without any trace of “othering”.  I believe segregation breeds “othering” and that an inclusive society of diverse people is the ideal, but that’s another series of posts.

Emma

Emma

Discrimination

In Emma’s RPM session yesterday with B. on the topic of discrimination, Emma wrote, “Autism voices have been silent.” (Emma initially typed “silenct and then she edited that to “silent”.)   B. encouraged her to write more, asking her what she suggested.  Emma wrote, “take time to try and learn from us instead of staring at us like we are garbage.”

When she wrote the word “garbage” I felt sick to my stomach. This, from my twelve-year-old daughter.

I remember when my father would call me into his home office to scold me for my latest infraction.  I remember the shame I felt.  I still remember the tingling feeling of rebellion mixed with self-doubt when I noticed the disapproving stare of a stranger upon seeing my outfit – a crop top and pair of cut-offs that I’d smuggled into my backpack to wear to go shopping with a friend after school.   There was shame then too.  But stares like I’m garbage?  No.  I don’t know what that’s like and yet, my twelve-year-old daughter does.  Twelve years old.  Evidently she knows this feeling all too well, as there was no hesitation when she wrote that sentence yesterday.  It wasn’t like she had to stop and think about her answer.  She didn’t pause before pointing to the letter “g”.

take time to try and learn from us instead of staring at us like we are garbage.”

B. had been talking about Martin Luther King.  She had spoken of the civil rights movement and quoted a few things Martin Luther King said.  Emma immediately wrote about autism.  No hesitation there.  I can’t really console myself with the idea that racism and discrimination are no longer an issue in the United States and therefore the prejudice Autistic people encounter will change any time soon as well.  The language has been cleaned up, people know not to use certain words, but the feelings, the feelings of bias, the violence that prejudice and oppression encourage continues.

“take time to try and learn from us instead of staring at us like we are garbage.”

Emma ~ 2010

Emma ~ 2010

Prejudice & Autism

Emma and I have been discussing the civil rights movement and the events throughout American history that led up to it.  We’ve discussed the word segregation and what it means to a society when we isolate a group of people and how people come to form opinions about other people they’ve never met.

We have discussed the word prejudice  and how it is preconceived opinions based on an idea rather than factual.  We’ve talked about how those preconceived ideas almost always do harm.  We’ve discussed oppression and how many who’ve been oppressed internalize that message and how it changes how they then view themselves.

Emma has asked to read a biography of Harriet Tubman and we have been discussing the importance of Rosa Parks and her decision to not give up her seat on a crowded bus in Montgomery, Alabama.  We have not yet talked about Martin Luther King, Malcolm X or Thurgood Marshall, though Emma wrote that she has heard of the first two, and for all I know, may know of all three.

When I asked Emma to write something about Harriet Tubman, she wrote, “defender of freedom.”  This was a couple of months ago and I was shocked because the only time I’d mentioned Harriet Tubman to Emma was about three years ago.  I had read one of those beginning readers to Emma about Harriet Tubman before bedtime. And while I always hoped she might be listening, even if only a little, I wasn’t convinced she understood what I was reading.  This was during those years before I realized Emma understood everything.  It was during those years when I believed what I was being told, that my daughter was only able to understand the most basic concepts, and even those, it was often questioned just how much she understood.

Prejudice is when we form opinions about people, that are not based in fact. Prejudice makes us blind, it twists our minds into thinking we understand or know, even when we do not.  It can make us deny facts, or decide that what is true, is not real.

As Emma never indicated that she was listening, much less taking everything in, I often wondered.  But a couple of people had encouraged me to “act as if” and so I did my best.  I remember when I read the biography of Helen Keller and later she asked me to read it to her again.  Still, despite the now obvious evidence, I doubted and even when I wasn’t actively doubting, I wondered.  Often.  It was as though I could not make the mental leap to believe what increasingly seems obvious in retrospect.  Prejudice is like that, it fools us into believing we understand things about a group of people that we do not.

As James H. Cone writes in his book Black Theology & Black Power – “How should I respond to a world which defines me as a nonperson?”  And later in the same book, he writes, “A man is free when he can determine the style of his existence in an absurd world; a man is free when he sees himself for what he is and not as others define him.”

Emma in Colorado - 2010

Emma in Colorado – 2010

Dehumanizing

A daughter lies unconscious in a hospital.

Her doctors fear she will have permanent brain damage as the result of carbon monoxide poisoning.

The mother is charged with attempted murder.

We are told the daughter was aggressive.

We are told she was Autistic.

I cannot stop thinking about Issy.  As I write this, she is lying in a hospital bed unconscious.  I cannot stop picturing a photo of her laughing, her blonde hair glimmering in the sunlight, her head thrown back, a look of joy on her face.  

And I am angry.  

We live in a society where news articles with titles like “More U.S. families in the grip of autism” are commonplace.  People equate autism to cancer, refer to autism as a burden, a crisis, and an epidemic.  The Judge Rottenberg Center is allowed to remain open despite their continued use of electric shock as a viable “treatment”.  We live in a society that has allowed schools to put young students in isolation rooms,  “Physical restraints are becoming more prevalent in public schools.”  The word “treatment” is used loosely and covers a great many behavioral plans, some which allow Autistic people to be abused and even killed.  

We have succeeded in dehumanizing a segment of our population.  A segment of our population that includes my daughter.  

Anger doesn’t begin to cover what I’m feeling.  

Related Posts:

Bodies and Behaviors – by Michael Scott Monje Jr. at Shaping Clay

It is Wrong to Murder Your Autistic Child – by Judy Endow at Ollibean

To Issy Stapleton, with love. by K. at Radical Neurodivergence Speaking

Walk in Their Shoes by Paula Durbin Westby Autistic Blog

Blaming the Victim:  An Autism Parent Story – That Autistic that Newtown Forgot

Media Throws “Autism Parents” Under the Bus Again – by Ibby Grace at Tiny Grace Notes (AKA Ask an Autistic)

What Is Autism?

Google that term and one is faced with a lengthy list of deficits.  The definitions of autism are cloaked in subjective language.  All the words used are in relation to non Autistic neurology: “severe impairment”, “life long developmental disorder”,  “social impairment” and one site went so far as to say, “A mental condition in which fantasy dominates over reality, as a symptom of schizophrenia and other disorders.”  None of these “definitions” have been helpful to me, personally, nor have I found them to be factually correct.  The most common definitions of autism out there have increased my fear and encouraged me to pursue therapies and treatments that have done far more harm than good.

People often ask, “so what is autism exactly?”  Over the years I’ve had a variety of responses, but like the definitions above, they always seemed inadequate, unhelpful and inaccurate.  So now, when I answer that question all I can come up with is this:  Autism is a type of neurology.   Short and sweet.  No judgment, no comparison, just six words.  It is a neurology.  It’s the best way I know of to describe what is often mired in negativity and judgment.

Comparing Autism to non autistic neurology has gotten me into a great deal of trouble over the years.  I have found it is important that I avoid doing that.  (I’m keeping this personal.  I speak only for myself and do not presume this is how others feel.)  For years I worried about my daughter’s ability to have friends.  If I believe the common definitions of autism, her ability to make friends is “impaired”.  Yet the impairment is less about her desire and attempts to have friends as it is about non Autistic neurology being out of sync with hers.  When Em was in Florida with her friend Henry, they had no problem hanging out together, laughing and enjoying each other’s company.  Just because they typed to each other and didn’t engage in endless verbal conversation, didn’t mean they didn’t have a blast together.

If I listened to and believed the definitions of autism, I might think my child couldn’t learn to read or write.  I would be wrong.   Not only has my daughter learned to read and write, she also has learned to type.  Because I no longer believe the common definitions regarding autism I do not limit what she should or shouldn’t do.  I do not limit her future with set ideas about her future capabilities.  I have found it helpful to disregard those organizations and people who insist that Autism is a dreadful “affliction” and compare rates of autism diagnosis with cancer.

So what is a longer definition of autism?

It’s a terrific question.  Finding an answer that is factual as well as helpful to me, has been difficult to find.  However there are a few who have done a terrific job defining autism and in doing so have also helped me, personally.  Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN) defines Autism ‘here‘ and this post by Brenda, over at Mama Be Good, gives a great, comprehensive answer to the question and at the end includes her personal observations of her child and what it’s been like to parent an Autistic child.

So I ask you, how do you answer the question – What is Autism?

Em on her way back to Henry’s house – April 2013

Em pets the kitty

This… Just This….

Someone spent time creating this page on Facebook… no one stopped them until countless people had seen it.

Hatred

This page has now been removed.  I post it here because the hatred, the sheer toxicity and venom that the person who created this page had to have felt to create this page is what so many of my friends and I have worried about and feared.  This screen shot sums up so much.

I have spent several hours writing and deleting my thoughts on this.  I have decided I cannot write anything more because I have no words.  I have nothing to offer.

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