Tag Archives: discrimination


I haven’t felt like blogging lately.  I’m busy.   Emma is no longer going to school and we have a number of exciting projects we’re working on, in addition to the ones she is working on solo.  We are covering all the subjects any school would cover, only we are doing it according to what Emma is most interested in.  So instead of saying, this month we will read _________, we say, “Here are some books I thought might be interesting, do any of these interest you?”  And then if they don’t we keep looking, asking and seeing what clicks.

At the moment we are reading Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet (thank you K.), we’ll begin pre-algebra in another month or so, are studying ancient civilizations beginning with our earliest known ancestor (thank you Mom), learning about chemistry (thank you Dr. C), have a variety of craft projects, writing projects, music projects, and that doesn’t even begin to cover all the other things that come up in any given day.

In addition to all of that, German (Emma’s very specific and insistent request) is coming along nicely though we are very much beginners, so all you German speakers, please do not start commenting in German and expect a response, unless it’s something like – Meine Tochter trinkt Apfelsaft, aber ich will Wasser, bitte.  Yeah, I just wrote that…. like a BOSS!  You have no idea how proud I am of that sentence, particularly as two months ago I couldn’t have put more than three of those words together.  And even though this was Emma’s idea, I’m (obviously) enjoying myself enormously.  (Oh you have no idea!)

But the point of this post was not to itemize the topics we are learning about or to show off my German (!), but instead was to say, yes, we are busy and so that makes blogging more difficult to get to, but the bigger point, the point I was thinking of when I sat down to write this evening, is this:  I don’t have to blog if I don’t want to.  I can just stop blogging.  In fact, if I felt like it, I could say – I don’t feel like doing this anymore and that would be the end of it. But my daughter doesn’t get to just stop and walk away from her neurology and how that is perceived by the majority of people out there.

So here I am, because this is about countering all the negativity that abounds when it comes to autism.  There is stigma and prejudice and yes, oppression and people saying and doing all kinds of things to Autistic people that are horrifying and appalling and the vast majority of people in this world see nothing wrong with that.  We have to stand up and say, no.  This isn’t right.  People are being beaten down, literally, beaten, threatened, murdered and it’s not okay.  It isn’t.  Our children are growing up in a world where autism is synonymous with all kinds of awful ideas and beliefs that hurt them.

Autistic people are being shouted down, ignored, trampled on, gas-lighted, abused, treated with contempt and some fear for their lives.  Non-speaking Autistic people are routinely treated as though they are incapable of thought and if they type, they are faced with suspicion, doubt and ridicule.  Speaking Autistic people are presumed incapable of understanding others, or believed to be using their neurology to get away with something.  If they speak out in anger they are told they are being unreasonable and that this is yet another example of their neurology.   I’ve seen non autistic people accuse Autistic people of being unable to understand the nuances of an argument because they didn’t like what the Autistic person said.  One woman wrote to an Autistic friend, “Oh, you’re autistic, now I understand why you said that awful thing about that poor woman.”  Seriously.  WTF?

The intolerance some non-autistic people show those who are not like them is staggering and horrifying.  The prejudice that is out in the world is rampant and everywhere.  So as busy as I am, as much as I don’t feel like blogging these days, my daughter doesn’t get to take the day off.  She doesn’t get to say –  I don’t feel like being treated badly or differently or as though I’m not capable of understanding.  I don’t really feel like hearing what that rude person just said about me right in front of me.  She has no choice.  And that’s what this post is about.  Some of us have a choice and others do not.

My daughter does not.


The Battle…

“It’s all well and good for higher functioning people who have autism to talk about how unique and precious their lives are and how important it is for everyone to accept their differences, but for families who are dealing with low functioning individuals, this is not their experience.   Those families are in an ongoing battle.”  

The above is a version of a comment I’ve read countless times over the years.

Aside from the curious conflation of the first part of the sentence discussing Autistic people’s sense of themselves, to the last part, which discusses the family’s point of view, as though the “low functioning” individual is incapable of having a point of view, there is no point arguing with anyone about their lived experience. However, do not make your experience mine.  This is NOT my experience of my child.  This is NOT my family’s experience.  This is not the experience of many, many families I know.  And do not assume this is my daughter’s experience either.  Just because this is the way you view your child or sibling or relative or the person you know, does not mean that is their experience of the world or their family member’s experience.

I do not assume that because I choose to celebrate my daughter, every family and every Autistic person will agree or feel the same.  Nothing is as simple as any one-word descriptor.  The ongoing battle I find myself in is with the inaccurate information about autism and Autistic people.  The ongoing battle is not my daughter’s neurology, it’s the misperceptions people have that they then apply to my daughter.  The ongoing battle is not about her at all, it’s about functioning labels, what people continue to say and believe autism means, how people view disability, the stigma attached and how people fear, reject and punish what they do not understand.

That quote?  That is exactly what I am battling – the idea that because someone cannot use spoken language, they do not have an experience of the world, the misconception that if someone cannot interact with another person in a way the majority of the population can understand or recognize, it means they are less than, unworthy, and therefore excluded.  Exclusion is the battle.  Non-acceptance is the battle.  Intolerance is the battle.  Hatred is the battle.  Prejudice is the battle.  Discrimination is the battle.  Misinformation, inequality, superiority, arrogance, ignorance, and all the ways in which people then behave because they believe these things and all the things they tell themselves that lead to any of the above being acted upon, that’s the battle.


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


Having THE Conversation & Parenting

Emma not only gave me permission to write about this, but asked that I “put it on the blog.”  I posted a small portion of this conversation on Emma’s Hope Book Facebook Page yesterday.

Trigger warning:  eugenics, abortion

Yesterday morning I saw an article in National Geographic about the Seine and Paris that I thought Emma might enjoy reading, particularly since her grandfather, my father, was born and raised in Paris.  But as with any topic I choose I asked Emma if it was something she was interested in.

Ever the diplomat, Emma wrote, “I do want to talk about the Seine, just not now.”

“Okay,” I said, “what would you like to talk about instead?”

“I want to have the conversation about eugenics,” Emma wrote.

I was astonished.  After I’d recovered from my astonishment I thought of how I continually talk about presuming competence and yet am so often surprised by my daughter’s words.  I’ve come to the conclusion that one does not preclude the other.  I can presume competence and still be surprised by the things she knows and says.  In fact, if I asked a group of twelve-year olds to talk to me about eugenics, I’m guessing there would be several who would not be familiar with the word, let alone able to spell it correctly.

“What specifically are you wanting to say or know?” I asked.

Emma wrote, “What do you believe is right?”

I said, “I don’t believe eugenics is ever a good idea, because it is a desire to extinguish those believed to be lesser beings.  I think all human beings are valuable and should be treated with respect and equally.”  As I spoke I held the keyboard for her to respond if she wanted to.

Emma wrote, “I believe human life is sacred and people treat those who they think are different far worse than people who are like them.”

“Yes, I think you’re right,” I said.  “Do you worry about eugenics?”

“Yes,” Emma wrote, “because parents seem so upset when they find out their kid is autistic.  I worry that people like me will end up being aborted.”

Eugenics and abortion…  Now two topics I was completely unprepared to talk about.  So we discussed both.  I talked to Emma about prenatal testing and how such a test has not been made yet.  I explained that autism has not been found in one particular gene, but that researchers are finding whole clusters of genes suggesting that it will be very difficult to isolate one or even a group of genes that may or may not be related to autism.  We discussed abortion and how and why it is a complicated topic.  And we talked about the difference between abortion and eugenics and how the two can overlap, but that they are also not necessarily related.

As with any complex issue, this is where parenting can get tricky.  I asked myself, how much information is too much?  I do not want to be overly protective and try to shield either of my children from difficult topics, nor do I want to “feed” my children my opinions.  Instead I want them to have enough information so they can form their own opinions, even if they develop opinions I do not agree with.  I’d rather disagree and talk about that than have them believe something without thinking about it.

I told Emma that her concerns were one of the reasons I feel so compelled to continue writing and why I hope she will also continue to write so that “more people get to know someone like me.”  We discussed how people’s perceptions about autism and how the things we see and are told, all that inaccurate information, can cause people to do things they would not do if they were given a more balanced and informed view.

Emma then wrote, “…I will write about this more so other parents open their hearts and learn…”

Now I realize I am bringing up difficult and complex topics.  Topics many people have strong opinions about.  I’m actually not interested in getting into an ideological argument about abortion and a woman’s right to choose, however I am interested in discussing the ramifications of the current and ongoing conversation regarding autism.

Eugenics was not a topic I would have ever thought to bring up with my daughter.  Not only was it not something I’d thought to discuss, it is a word I did not assume she knew.  But, just as when she wrote to Soma a few months back that she had seen the Grammy’s, unbeknownst to me, my daughter hears everything that is said around her.   Emma wrote that she saw the Grammy’s while waiting in the airport.  I hadn’t even noticed they were being shown because I don’t pay attention to the television screens when we are in an airport, so busy am I with getting through security and finding our gate.

I am so grateful Emma is able to write about these things so that we can discuss her concerns.  How many people who are Autistic worry about being harmed or even killed because of their neurology?  How many are able to voice their concerns?  How many are worrying in silence?

Emma - April 2014

Emma – April 2014

The YouTube Video of Ari Ne’eman and Emma Zurcher-Long

My fabulous husband, Richard Long, has edited the videos of Ari’ Ne’eman’s and Emma Zurcher-Long’s presentation April 2nd at CoNGO (The Conference of Non-Governmental Organizations in Consultative Relationship with the United Nations).   

As Richard edited Ari’s terrific speech, Emma was in the room looking at the iPhoto library I keep on my computer, which is near the computer Richard was editing on.  At one point Ari describes the Autism Speaks video when a mother describes (in front of her non-speaking autistic daughter, who attempts to hug her mother several times as she talks) how she thought about driving off the George Washington Bridge with her autistic daughter strapped into the back seat, but doesn’t, for the sake of her other child who is not autistic.  As Richard had taken a still shot of Ari just at that moment, he needed to edit out the pause that was caused by the still shot and so had to repeat this portion of the video over and over and over.

Emma and I have discussed this video before and though I’ve not shown it to her I wondered whether she was ever in the room when either Richard or I watched it. By  the fourth edit of that particular section, I looked over at my daughter who showed no outward sign of upset and whispered, “Emmy, is this upsetting you?”  (I know, talk about asking the obvious…)

I am painfully aware that  by writing about this I open myself up to all kinds of judgement and criticism, but I believe my insensitivity and slow response is an excellent example of the general malaise society has regarding messages like this one that Ari discusses and that are so cavalierly displayed with regularity not only by Autism Speaks, but a great many organizations and autism experts, which are then repeated in the media.  If none of us are able to admit ignorance and our less than ideal reactions, but only point fingers at others, there will be no conversation and little will change.  So I’m willing to reluctantly admit that it took having that section on repeat before it occurred to me to get my intensely sensitive daughter out of the room to discuss the Autism Speaks video in more detail.

This idea that our children and people (of all neurologies) hear these things, but because those who cannot communicate through spoken language are therefore thought to not be able to understand what is being said, is one of the more destructive assumptions made.  And what about those who do speak, are their feelings not important?  These kinds of messages, stated both publicly and privately without thought of the impact this has, encourages prejudice and intolerance, focuses on the suffering, not of the child, but of the parent because of the child, only fuels anger and fear.  Meanwhile Autistic people’s feelings are ignored, their response and reactions to such messages are considered, if at all, of little importance.

“Come Emma, let’s go in the other room.”  I suggested.  Once outside I asked Emma if she wanted to discuss the video Ari was referring to.  Emma wrote, “The video has a mom who is lost and cannot rationalize hope.”  Then a little later Emma wrote, “Autistic people are not viewed as able beings, this view makes us suffer.”  Read that again –

“Autistic people are not viewed as able beings, this view makes us suffer.”

After Ari’s terrific talk, Emma and I were introduced.  Watch Emma writing her final sentence regarding autism and acceptance, which says it all…

On Being Judgmental

The other day a parent felt I was being judgmental because of my Demanding Speech post.  I felt terrible that was her take away from the post, but I also understood why she felt that way.  One walks a fine line when criticizing current therapies or suggesting we do things differently while not sounding preachy or judgmental to those who feel the very thing I’m criticizing has helped their child. And I have to admit here that in writing the previous sentence I initially wrote, “suggesting we do things better for the sake of our kids…” which, yeah…  that sounds judgmental and yet…

So how do we protest, how do we talk about things, things we feel outrage about, things we believe are wrong without sounding like all those “autism experts” I so often criticize here on this very blog?

And the only answer I have, for myself and anyone else, is – stay open to other points of view, be willing to listen and learn.  But how do I speak my truth while understanding that what I say may upset some?  I don’t think it’s possible and I’m okay with that.  Not everyone is going to agree with me.  That’s okay.  I don’t agree with the vast majority!  But what I won’t do is stop talking about all of this.  I won’t.  And while I talk about all of this, people comment and email and reach out and give me feedback and many times after reading what they’ve written I rethink my position. I change, I grow, I learn.  All of this is a process, and by that very fact it means that what I believe, is in a state of constant flux, there’s movement, more to learn, more to understand.

I know what it feels like to feel another person is judging me.  It isn’t a great feeling.  And it doesn’t help me understand the other person’s point of view and it definitely doesn’t make me feel particularly inclined to stick around to hear what else they might have to say.  In fact, when I believe someone is judging me, my visceral response is to retreat or fight back.  But, if I can let go of that initial desire to flee, I often learn, even if it is a lesson in verifying what I already thought.  The most important thing I can do is not preach, not convince, not judge, but speak honestly about my experience.  If that resonates with others, great, if it makes people angry, so be it, if it alienates some, okay, but this blog is about our experience, mine, Emma’s and Richard’s.  I don’t speak for anyone but myself.  I don’t pretend to know what Emma’s experience is, even when she writes about it here.  The best I can do is interpret it, respond to her words, talk about what it means to me and ask more questions, but that’s it.  The same goes for my husband, I don’t and cannot speak for him.

And in the end, that’s all any of us can do.  I hold deep convictions about much of what I see going on with autism.  I object to most of what is commonly believed to be the “truth”.  Yet I also know I continue to get things wrong.  I have tremendous humility when it comes to all of this.  I am constantly learning.  People, usually Autistic people, are generous enough to share with me their experience of things and it changes my thinking.  I listen. I revise.  I tweak my constantly shifting beliefs.  I ask questions.  I continue to learn more, I realize how I haven’t gone far enough in my thinking.  I  dig deeper.

But when I am in a room where a teenage boy is being watched like he is a prisoner while eating his lunch, pelted with questions he cannot easily answer by speaking, his favorite food, in this case, rice, withheld until he finishes some other food, again in this particular case fresh, cut up fruit, overseen by someone else, whose only real power is that they can speak easily while the boy cannot, spoken to with barely concealed impatience and irritation, I’ve got a problem with that.  When I see a group of people being treated as unequal, with less respect simply because their neurology is in the minority, I feel physically ill.  When someone who cannot communicate through spoken language is treated as incompetent I feel sick.  When people speak to my daughter or speak about her, often in front of her, with exasperation, irritation, barely disguised annoyance, I feel enraged.  When a human being is treated with condescension by another human being simply because that person is deemed less intelligent regardless of whether this is true or not, I am motivated to speak out.

This is personal, it isn’t just some issue I feel strongly about.  Do I feel judgmental?  Sometimes, but more often I feel  sad.

What follows are a few photos that make me happy…

Henry and me laughing as Emma tries to convince Henry that the water isn't freezing cold

Henry and I laughing as Emma tries to convince Henry that the water isn’t freezing cold

My friend Ibby

My beautiful friend Ibby.  Photo taken by Emma

One of my favorite photos of Emma as a baby, because even then her personality shines!

One of my favorite photos of Emma as a baby, because even then her personality shines!

Larry Bissonette takes Emma's photograph

Larry Bissonette takes Emma’s photograph

The Result of Trauma

Recently someone commented on this blog, misconstruing a comment made by someone else, attacked that person, made accusations and as I was trying to remember how to block the person from making further inflammatory comments, they managed to write four more focussed entirely on me.   Each comment was more accusatory and hate filled than the next, and though they didn’t get through moderation, I saw them before deleting and successfully blocking the person and their various aliases.  And yet it made me sad to have to block them.

After years of blogging I have learned there is no use responding to such comments, because when someone has made the decision that you are hateful, and untrustworthy, really anything said will be taken as yet another example of what they’ve decided is true and reinforcing whatever it is this person believes.  Ironically, this is what happens to anyone who has been objectified, not treated as an equal or even a human being with respect and dignity, but rather has come to represent something larger than any single person can possibly be.

I have also learned that it is better to remove the offending comments than to allow them, as they do not lead to useful, productive discussion, but instead end up creating a mosh pit of anger and resentment, which can be far-reaching, upsetting and triggering to a great many, as opposed to just the one or two the original comments were directed to.

When a person has been traumatized repeatedly throughout their childhood, made to feel inadequate, told they are inferior, treated cruelly, belittled and teased mercilessly, they grow up believing, at least a little, that they deserved such abuse.  It also is common for that person to then become hyper vigilant of the same sort of cruelty being played out throughout their life with other people. It is a means of survival, as well as a way to protect themselves from more trauma.

For children especially, who’ve experienced on-going trauma, the tendency can be to see this same kind of abusive behavior that they grew up with, in others now that they are older.  Sometimes they may be correct and people really are being abusive, but other times their reaction will be incorrect.  People who wish them no harm, people who even care about them, will be viewed as abusive too, in keeping with all those people who hurt them in the past.  The original trauma will be replayed over and over leading to an unending cycle of trauma, reaction and trauma.

I’m not saying anything new here, you can read about PTSD, trauma and the result of systematic abuse over long periods of time by doing a little research yourself…

The point is, when we as a society, condemn a population of people, whether that is because of skin color, gender, neurology, sexual preference or anything else, we are doing long-term damage.  Damage that will result in an increase in addiction, depression, suicidal ideation, nightmares, anxiety, irritability, anger, difficulties forming close bonds with others and general feelings of isolation are a few of the symptoms documented.

Abuse is like that.  It has long tentacles, reaching out over decades and even entire lives, causing those who have been victimized to respond to others who wish them no harm, as though they were.

There is no easy answer, but if there is a single word that can be used, which will certainly not do more harm, it is love.  I know it sounds trite, too simple and clichéd, but  I believe it is the only answer.  As Emma wrote recently after reading a New York Times article about the ongoing fight for control of a vital highway in Afghanistan, “War is useless for making peace.”  Love has always been the answer.  Even if others cannot hear it, cannot believe it, cannot feel it, those of us who can, must be even more determined and vigilant.  Love.  Embracing those who are in pain, embracing those who are hurting, even and especially when they strike out.  And while we do that, we must protect ourselves and those who need our protection from any who are intent on hurting us with strong boundaries and the help and protection of others.  It’s a tricky balancing act and definitely something I am working on, but I am confident it can be done.




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