This Is Autism

In response to Autism Speaks’ pathologizing, offensive, bigoted characterization of autism, various autistic writers and pro-autistic allies are writing our own accounts of what autism really is.

So what is it?

I need to go to the post office to mail a package. This is autism.

I also need to pick up groceries to cook dinner tonight. This is autism.

I’ll probably spend this chilly evening reading under a blanket. This is autism.

I spent much of this morning doing laundry. This is autism.

I spent much of this afternoon spending too much time on Facebook. This is autism.

I love my husband with all my heart and I adore my children with my every breath. This is autism.

I am drinking a glass of Diet Coke. This is autism.

But don’t non-autistic people do those things too?

Yes, they do, but right now I’m talking about an autistic person (me) doing them.

But what about flapping and not-talking and sensory pain and social awkwardness?

Those things are autism, too.

You see, as I’ve mentioned before, “autism” is not a substance unto itself. You cannot have a jar of autism. “Autism” is an abstract noun used to describe a type of person. A type of person with a certain shape of brain, certain traits, yes, but who still has every human attribute of personhood.

The goal of Autism Speaks and other organizations that seek to “prevent” or “eliminate” autism is to eliminate autistic people from the world. This would mean eliminating the aspects of autistic people which they loathe and desperately wish to abolish (like difficulty with speech), but it would mean eliminating every other aspect of autistic people as well. Non-existent people don’t have traits, attributes, talents, disabilities, strengths, or weaknesses. Non-existent people have nothing and are nothing.

A non-autistic person could drink Diet Coke and go to the post office, just as I do. But if I were not an autistic person, I could not do these things. Because if I were not an autistic person, I wouldn’t be a person at all. If I had been prenatally identified as autistic and aborted before I was born, I would never have lived to taste my first Diet Coke. If I underwent surgery to strip away the specifically autistic structures of my brain, I would die on the operating table, and never make another post office run again.

The way that autistic people go about our lives may in some ways be different than the way non-autistic people do. For instance, when I go grocery shopping, I probably put far more concern into choosing a quiet, uncrowded, dimly-lit store than most non-autistic people do. And, of course, there’s tremendous individual variation within the categories of “autistic people” and “non-autistic people.” But all of these individual variations fall well within the larger category “people going about their lives.” None of these varying aspects of humanity could exist without the existence of people who fill them.

Which is the real problem with organizations like Autism Speaks—it’s not about their offensive rhetoric, or their lack of autistic representation in positions of power, or their allocation of funds, or their methods of going about achieving their goals. It’s their goals themselves, the elimination of all autistic people, everywhere. The elimination of autistic people means the elimination of autistic children screaming, and the elimination of autistic teenagers building robots, and the elimination of autistic men playing piano, and the elimination of autistic children fingerpainting, and the elimination of autistic women folding laundry, and the elimination of autistic seniors golfing, and the elimination of autistic babies sucking pacifiers, and the elimination of autistic writers watching trashy television. Autism Speaks wishes to eliminate us and everything about us: the good, the bad, and the utterly boring.

Autism is not a stereotype, or an image, or a set of pathologized “symptoms.” It’s not a moment in isolation, or a metaphor for modern alienation, or a term to embody all of a parent’s worries about their child. It’s not an illness or a virus or a demon that steals souls. It’s simply a description of a type of people. Autistic people. Living, breathing, conscious, autonomous, concrete, complex, multidimensional, non-hypothetical autistic people: This is autism.

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Virtuous Strength

Strong Is The New Skinny, And That’s Not Necessarily A Good Thing—go read this. I read it this morning, and it helped trigger some clarity for the loose thoughts about health and “health” culture (and its inevitable overlap with disability) that have been percolating about my mind without clear form.

A couple of years ago, a woman praised the trustworthiness of a young man to me. “He’s a great kid,” she said, “doesn’t drink, doesn’t smoke, doesn’t do drugs. Really a good kid.” What, I wondered, do not drinking, not smoking, and not doing drugs have to do with whether I can trust him? Aren’t teetotalers perfectly capable of lying, cheating, stealing, and all of the other human vices? But the woman’s description was perfectly normal to her, and probably would’ve been to most people who’d heard her. It’s a truth generally assumed that abstinence from various substances harmful to the body is a moral virtue as well as a physical one.

Maria Kang, a conspicuously slim woman, surrounded by her three young children, displaying the caption
When this image was circulating around Facebook, I dashed off a hasty rebuttal that quickly became, to my surprise, my most popular post thusfar. I wrote:

Imagine a stranger comes up to you and says “You should be doing ballet. There’s no excuse for not doing it. Anybody can be a ballet dancer if she works hard enough!” You’re perplexed, since you’ve never actually aspired to be a ballet dancer, and you say so. The stranger replies “But I know you can do it if you work hard! I believe in you!”

The next day, you’re walking in the park, and another stranger approaches you and says “Shouldn’t you be practicing your ballet exercises instead of wasting time here at the park? What’s your excuse?” Again, you say that you’re not interested in being a ballerina. The stranger huffs and says “I was just trying to be HELPFUL! I guess you’d rather wallow in self-pity than take personal responsibility!”

This happens to you over and over again. Eventually, you start to wonder if maybe you really are a bad person because you don’t do ballet. You sign up for a ballet class, but find that you hate it, and you keep tripping over your feet. You realize that you have no natural aptitude for it, and you don’t enjoy it, so you sensibly decide there are better uses for your time and energy.

But people keep nagging you over and over again to become a star ballerina. You complain to your friend about it, and she says “Being a ballerina is hard work. You have to keep practicing.” You explain once again that you don’t want to keep practicing; you just want to be accepted as the non-ballerina you are. Your friend sighs and says, “If you’re not happy, stop complaining and do something about it! You can always find time to practice harder!” You say, “But the reason I’m unhappy isn’t because I want to be a better ballet dancer; it’s because I want people to stop nagging me.” Your friend replies, “You can keep making excuses, or you can take personal responsibility for your own level of ballet skill.”

After several years of having variations of these conversations over and over again, you start to get angry. Why do other people care so much about your dancing ability? Your klutziness does not harm them in any tangible way. Why do people act as though you have some sort of obligation to become something that isn’t who you are and isn’t what you want to be? Why do people treat you as though you’re shirking responsibility, when you never signed on for any ballerina job?

Then someone sends you a picture of a woman. She has no arms, no legs, sixteen children, three jobs, and seven incurable chronic illnesses, and she is a world-class ballerina. She’s smiling and saying “If I can be a ballet dancer, anyone can! What’s YOUR excuse?”

Would you find her words “inspiring”? Helpful? Kind? Or would you find them maddeningly offensive?

Not because you’re jealous of her. Not because you hate ballet dancers. Not because you don’t appreciate the hard work and talent that goes into ballet dancing. But because you are sick and tired of people treating what ought to be a value-neutral personal choice of hobby as a moral obligation.

The word “Excuse,” in 21st-century American English, is used exclusively in the context of obligation. You need an “excuse” to skip school or work, need an “excuse” to disobey an order or commit a crime, need an “excuse” to do something you aren’t supposed to do, or fail to do something you are supposed to do. The word is used exclusively in the context of obligation. It has no other usage or meaning. Saying that someone needs an “excuse” for doing something or not doing something always, in every usage, presumes that the person has an obligation to not do or to do that thing.

THAT is why Maria Kang is controversial. Not because people “hate” her for being physically fit. Not because people are “jealous” of her. Not because her demand that we need to make excuses for our bodies “hits too close to home.” Not because we are whiny, excuse-making babies who refuse to take personal responsibility for our insufficient physical prowess.

It’s because her words are built on and perpetuate the idea of physical fitness as an obligation.

I could point out, and other people have, that people may have all kinds of reasons beyond their control for lacking physical prowess (disabilities, chronic illnesses, and so on). But that’s not the point. The point is that fitness isn’t an obligation, any more than ballet is. No one NEEDS an excuse. No one owes physical ability or health to anyone.

Remarkably popular, that.

What I didn’t say, but might have if I’d been inclined to continue in that vein, is that the false obligation of physical fitness, the false morality of health, is competing with, and sometimes surpassing, our actual obligations, our actual moral duties, as traditionally defined by our relationships to other people. Defining ourselves as good people because of our diet and exercise regimens frees us from the burden of more difficult, more meaningful ways of becoming good people, like kindness and compassion to others, advocacy for the good of society, care for our children, and abstinence from abuse and oppression of our fellow humans.

Certain studies validate what many observe anecdotally—exposure to organic foods correlates with judgmental attitudes. More strangely, the use of hand sanitizer seems to influence people to feel more conservative and more sexually judgmental, and washing one’s hands can influence one to feel more morally judgmental overall. To an extent, it makes sense: our society so strongly moralizes health behaviors (like food choices and handwashing) that engaging in socially-approved health behaviors leads one to feel morally superior, which in turn increases the judgmental impulse.

In a larger sense, the entire cultural focus on self-improvement reflects the same skewed moral priorities. There’s nothing wrong with self-improvement, of course, but whether it’s in the form of physical fitness, introspection, perspective, gratitude, learning, or mindfulness, self-improvement is not a moral substitute for service to others. It’s all well and good to learn to appreciate the little things, take up painting, read poetry, practice yoga, meditate, exercise, eat healthier foods, stop and smell the roses, and so on, but these things do not help anyone but oneself.

In this lies the problem of “poverty porn,” a close cousin to disability inspiration porn. Charitable organizations commonly use “poverty porn” to coax viewers to donate to programs that assist the poor, and while this is in many ways dehumanizing and misguided, at least the intent is still, somewhat, to help those in need. But the new trend in poverty porn is detached from any fundraising goals; it is simply meant to “inspire” relatively-privileged people to be grateful for things in their lives that they may take for granted. This cannot even be justified with the claim that the images are meant to help any disadvantaged people. Inspiring a middle-class American to put her problems in perspective of those of a homeless refugee from the Congo does nothing to help the homeless Congolese refugee; it only benefits the middle-class American. I doubt any hungry child has ever thought “at least my pain will help some rich person realize that her broken iPhone isn’t that bad.”

Perhaps its relative uselessness is part of what makes self-improvement culture and health-fitness culture so appealing. It’s easier to fill one’s moral voids by exercising or studying art or undergoing psychotherapy than to view one’s fellow humans as one’s equals. Which is certainly not to say that they’re mutually exclusive, of course. One can lift weights and do volunteer work, read literature and give to charity, eat a balanced diet and be kind to children. The problem comes when doing things “for yourself” is seen as a morally equivalent act to doing things for others, because both are grouped into “doing good things.”

All of which, of course, plays into narratives of disability. Disability is perceived as unhealthiness (and thus, if health is morality, as immorality), and in particular, mental disability/neurodivergence is explicitly linked to forms of immorality. “Wrong” and “mentally ill” are used interchangeably. Violent or otherwise morally reprehensible behavior is commonly cited as both a result of a mental illness or disability and as worthy of punishment. Of course, this is illogical—if “mental illness” were an actual meaningful phenomenon, surely characteristics of such an illness should not be punishable any more than fevers or rashes are. The fact that people instinctively recognize that violent and other morally reprehensible behavior is punishment-worthy (that these things are choices, not symptoms) logically ought to make them question the entire psychopathology model, in which disapproved-of behaviors are “illnesses” akin to physical illnesses. Alternately, if they are wedded to the idea that disapproved-of behaviors are “illnesses” no different from diabetes or cancer, it would logically lead them to question their commitment to punishment for these behaviors. But rather than question either of these cultural sacred cows, the medical model and the behavioral model, they instead adopt the belief that disapproved-of behaviors are illnesses, and that being ill is itself immoral.

This goes a long way towards explaining the social obsession with ferreting out “fake” ill or disabled people, the extreme contempt for those with “untreated” psychiatric disabilities, the passionate hostility to the anti-cure movement for autism and other neurological and neuropsychiatric disabilities, and the general lack of sympathy for the right to refuse unwanted medical treatments. If disability is “illness,” and illness is immorality, then to choose not to do everything in one’s power to “treat” or “cure” one’s immoral illness is no less than an unforgivable sin.

We have (we are told) a moral obligation to be “healthy” (where “healthy” also includes able-bodied and neurotypical). If we are “unhealthy” (which includes being disabled, neurodivergent, or mad), we have an obligation to do everything in our power to become “healthy” (and neurotypical and able-bodied). By contrast, others and the general society have no obligation to help “unhealthy” or disabled people. No obligation to grant us equal access to education, equal access to employment, financial benefits, accessible housing, accessible public spaces, accessible technology, or even basic civil rights to make our own decisions about our own lives—especially if we have made the immoral, sinful choice not to do everything possible to “heal” ourselves.

For the disability movement to get any sort of a foothold, we need to challenge this view of health, obligation, and morality, and we need not to do it in the form of “Disabled people can be healthy too” or “Disabled people have valid excuses for being unable to participate in socially-approved health behaviors.” While both of those statements are true, they miss the larger point. A society which defines “healthiness” as a moral obligation, defines disability as outside the boundaries of “healthiness,” and prioritizes the moral obligation to “self-improvement” (including “healthiness”) above moral obligations to other people, is a society which is fundamentally hostile to the equality of disabled people.

Further recommended reading: “What Makes A Health Citizen? Workout clothes, Risk and Fitness” by An Anonymous Newtown Autistic

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Social and Moral Panic

I stumbled across this public denunciation of well-educated women who choose to become homemakers recently, and while it’s not substantively different from most other denunciations of homemaking as a career choice, there was an aspect of it which I considered quite relevant to neurodiversity and psychiatric liberation.

I’m not really going to engage with the anti-homemaker argument here, because anti-homemaker arguments are too dishonestly slippery and elusive to pin down enough to effectively rebut. Homemakers are somehow simultaneously too lazy and selfish to work a real job, while also somehow being oppressed and exploited for unpaid labor. A typical debate between a homemaker and an anti-homemaker tends to look a bit like this:
Homemakers are coerced by a patriarchal system into sacrificing their career ambitions and relegating themselves to the lowly domestic sphere.
“But I prefer homemaking to the pressures of a high-demand career.”
You’re selfishly choosing your own comfort over doing meaningful work to improve the world.
“But homemaking is actual hard work, not unproductive sloth.”
Because you’re being exploited by patriarchy for unpaid labor instead of being free to fulfill your dreams!
“But this is fulfilling my dreams.”
How dare you prioritize your own dreams above your duty to the workforce!

And on. And on. And on.
Every defense against the charge of selfish laziness is interpreted as an admission on the charge of oppressed victimhood, and every defense against the charge of oppressed victimhood is interpreted as an admission on the charge of selfish laziness. Until critics can at least agree on whether I’m a lazy, selfish, unproductive, non-contributing leech, or whether I’m an abused, oppressed, brainwashed, stifled victim of the patriarchy, I can hardly be expected to rebut both contradictory claims at once, especially with my feeble atrophied homemaker brain.

So instead of focusing on that, I’m going to focus on this one portion:

Why aren’t women who drop out of the paid workforce being treated for depression, or at least urged to get counseling before they go? Just imagine the social and moral panic if a large number of upper middle-class men between the ages of 30 and 55 decided that they didn’t want to work. Here’s a useful tip: if you have a college education and unemployment seems like a good idea, seek treatment. If you are educated for and capable of a decent job, the disinclination to work should be seen as a symptom of an underlying problem, not a lifestyle “choice.”

This reminds me of a common anti-homeschooling argument, at least a common anti-homeschooling-of-neurodivergent-children argument—the “but how will your child get services?” argument (specifically in reference to psychological and behavioral therapy). The notion that, separated from the artificial stresses and burdens of the school environment, a child might no longer have psychological or behavioral problems (or that his psychological and behavioral differences may no longer need to be constructed as “problems”) is seen as… cheating, somehow. Changing one’s environment is a violation of what ought to be the natural order of things. If your child is miserable or ill-suited to his school environment, you’re supposed to change him to make him better fit in. If you’re miserable or ill-suited to your work environment, you’re supposed to undergo psychiatric treatment to change yourself into a better and more willing worker. Daring to walk away from the environment that’s causing you such stress and misery is cause for “social and moral panic.”

In order to maintain the presumed “neutral” status of institutions like schools and workplaces, any conflict between the norms of these institutions and the needs of any individual must be framed as a flaw within that individual. Socially constructed disability must be individualized, framed as an individual defect and a symptom of a medical problem. There can’t possibly be a problem with our school or our workplace or our culture, so there must be a problem with you. You need counseling. You need medication. You need treatment. You need a cure. You are broken, disordered, damaged, ill. YOU are the problem.

In a culture that accepts these messages as received wisdom, concepts like neurodiversity, acceptance, the social model of disability, educational freedom, psychiatric liberation, access and accommodation, mad pride, and disability pride are fundamentally radical in the true sense. These overlapping movements offer variations of the opposite view: We are not the problem. Your institutions are the problem. Your social norms, your cultural values, your schools, your workplaces are the problem. Fix those things, not us.

So, as a neurodivergent homemaker who would probably have a nervous breakdown if forced to work the traditional 9-to-5, I wish to offer the opposite advice of this writer—if you are so miserable that you are contemplating seeking counseling or other treatment for depression, and it is at all financially feasible for you to do so, consider quitting your job instead. If your child is so struggling in school that you are considering psychological or behavioral therapy, and it is at all feasible in your family, consider a different educational path instead. If your living space, your social space, your family, or any other aspect of your environment is causing you pain, depression, anxiety, trauma, or unnecessary suffering, before you consider enmeshing yourself in the medical model of the psychiatric industry and accepting the premise that you are defective, consider first doing whatever you can to change your environment. Make psychiatric treatment (including behavioral and psychological therapy) the last resort, not the first. Entertain the radical notion that maybe your brain isn’t defective. Maybe your job just sucks. Saying so is worth the social and moral panic.

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Institutionalization Defender Bingo

psychbingo

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Freedom and Fraternity (Houses)

When is an autistic person ready for adulthood? When is he or she ready for, and mature enough to handle, the decisions and responsibilities that accompany autonomous adult life?

The question isn’t clear-cut with neurotypical youth, either.  Attitudes vary, and laws can be inconsistent (in most of the U.S., young people can be criminally prosecuted as adults at 14 and drive cars at 16, but can’t drink alcohol until 21).  But for most of the important matters, throughout the U.S., one becomes an adult at age 18.  That’s when people can vote, sign contracts, control their own finances, make their own medical decisions, and generally govern their lives as they choose without the need for parental permission.  Not coincidentally, it’s around this age that most people graduate high school, and many move out of their parents’ homes for higher education, jobs, romantic partners, or families of their own.  Despite ambiguities, despite legal inconsistencies, and despite a rather disturbing trend among the middle and upper classes of retaining a childlike social status well into the mid-twenties, nevertheless, for most people, in most important ways, 18 remains the magic age.  And barring premature death, nearly all neurotypical young people are guaranteed the assurance of receiving the status, rights, privileges, and responsibilities of adulthood sooner or later.

When discussing autistic youth, however, particularly concerning the much-ballyhooed issue of post-high-school “transition,” the age-of-adulthood question starts to be framed as a “if” instead of a “when.” Milestones such as dating, independent travel, medical autonomy, living alone, marriage, and parenthood are referred to as hypotheticals, if not as unattainable ideals. Parents openly reprimand themselves for “dreaming” that their children will ever become “independent.” Transition programs, therefore, tend to center, not on the transition from childhood to adulthood, but from minor-childhood to adult-childhood. Extended high school, care centers, guardianship, therapy, always therapy—autistic people, apparently, never outgrow the need for therapeutic training. The fact that many autistic young adults choose to drop out of therapy after high school is considered a “service gap” rather than, perhaps, evidence that behavioral therapy is an undesirable experience which people tend to avoid once they’re old enough to have a choice in the matter (this data was collected from a survey of “parents and guardians” of autistic adults, which says quite a lot in itself). Autism is a lifelong condition, so the “treatments” for it are expected also to be lifelong, until the ultimate (and unattainable) goal of “cured” or “indistinguishable from peers” is achieved. The autistic person’s desires and goals, of course, are irrelevant. By virtue of remaining autistic, he or she is presumed to remain childlike and therefore incompetent to determine his or her best interests.

Independence is itself a confusing concept, because the word, in this context, refers to two different things:
Financial independence—having earned income high enough to be financially self-supporting without assistance from family or the state
Legal/Social independence—having the right to make one’s own decisions about one’s own life.

People who lack financial independence include:

      Unemployed people
      Low-wage or part-time workers whose wages are not sufficient to meet their basic living expenses
      People in bankruptcy
      Homemakers and stay-at-home parents
      Most students
      Retirees living on retirement benefits
      Physically disabled people living on disability benefits
      Heirs and heiresses living on family income
      People receiving state assistance (“welfare”) for low-income individuals (such as food stamps or subsidized housing)

This is not an exhaustive list, and the exact boundaries of it may be debated—for instance, some people would argue that retirees living on Social Security retirement benefits are, in fact, financially independent because they paid into the system as workers; other people might argue that people who live off capital investments are not really “earning” their money through their own effort—but such debates aside, let us leave it at the simple statement: there are many adults who, through one circumstance or another, are living at least partially on income other than their own individual earnings. I’m affixing no moral judgment to this status (Note that I happen to be in one of these categories: homemaker/stay-at-home parent), merely noting its existence.

Okay? Okay.

There are also people who lack legal/social independence—that is, who lack the freedom (either on paper or in practice) to make basic decisions about their lives such as where they go, with whom they associate, whether and with whom they have romantic relationships, what they eat and drink, what medications they take, and what medical procedures they undergo. In the U.S., these people include:

      Children under age 18
      People serving criminal sentences in jail or prison
      Disabled adults under guardianship
      Disabled adults living in institutions, group homes, or nursing homes
      People in psychiatric hospitals or wards
      Psychiatrically-labeled people living under community treatment orders (“outpatient commitment”)
      Adults in abusive relationships*

        *Note: a situation in which someone—say, a spouse, partner, family member, or representative payee—uses financial control in order to coerce compliance over a financial dependent concerning a non-financial matter is, by definition , an abusive relationship.

    Clearly, financial independence and legal/social independence are not synonymous. In fact, for neurotypical or presumed-neurotypical people, they’re largely unrelated. It would be ludicrous to declare that because a 70 year old man is living on retirement benefits, he should be forbidden from dating. No one would claim that because a college student lives on student loans and family support, her diet should be monitored. If a wife of a stay-at-home dad declared that because she was the family breadwinner, she could force her husband to take certain medication, the relationship would rightly be decried as abusive.

    In neurodivergent adults (and those presumed to be neurodivergent whether they are or not, such as seriously physically disabled people or elderly people), however, lack of full financial independence is routinely cited as proof of cognitive incompetence and thus justification for infringement of legal/social independence. Parents continue to retain control over the lives of their grown autistic offspring (either by official court order, through the institution of guardianship, or through unofficial controls that would be considered abusive if the grown children were neurotypical) and hold out full-time employment as one of several assorted and largely arbitrary “milestones” their children must meet before they can be considered “ready” for the same freedoms neurotypical youth take for granted upon their 18th birthdays.

    But aren’t there some adults who genuinely need to be under guardianship?

    Perhaps.

    How can I tell whether my teenage Child With Autism should become his own guardian when he turns 18? How will I know whether he’s ready?

    Good question.

    Is there a residential college near you?

    Go to a frathouse. Check it out.

    If you go to a frathouse, you will see lots of (mostly neurotypical) young adults engaging in blatantly irresponsible behavior. Excess drinking, reckless sex, spending too much money, possibly some illegal drug use. Yet legally, the young people doing these things are indisputably adults with the freedom to be as irresponsible as they want to be.

    Because for neurotypicals, adulthood is a right that comes automatically, not a privilege that has to be earned. We like to pretend otherwise, when we lecture our children about Adult Responsibility, that growing up doesn’t mean getting to do whatever one wants. That adulthood means responsibility as well as freedom. But it doesn’t, really. There are plenty of irresponsible adults, and they still have the legal right to blow their money on beer and lottery tickets. It’s only for disabled youth that adult freedoms are contingent upon whether the individuals are considered “safe” or “mature enough to handle them.”

    I can’t let my 18-year-old Child With Autism make his own medical decisions, he’d go off his Risperdal!

    Well, there are plenty of neurotypical 18 year olds making medical decisions that may be unwise. So what? They have the legal freedom to do so.

    I can’t let my 22-year-old Child With Autism control his own money; he’d just spend it all!

    So what? There are neurotypical 22 year olds spending all their money irresponsibly, too. They have the legal freedom to do so.

    I can’t let my 23-year-old Daughter With Autism date; someone might take sexual advantage of her!

    Many neurotypical young adults enter into unwise romantic or sexual relationships, some of which they later regret. So what? They have the legal freedom to do so.

    It’s a double standard, and a particularly egregious one at that—not only are neurotypical youth not held to standards of self-sufficient employment and arbitrary “maturity” before automatically becoming their own guardians upon maturity, but these standards are far more likely to be unattainable for autistic youth, because of unequal access to employment and education (to say nothing of the emotional effects of years of learned helplessness). So before you decide that your child needs guardianship, institutionalization, group home residency, supervision, or court-ordered medication, go check out a frathouse. Remember that all the people there are legally classified as free and autonomous adults. Is your child’s fondness for Pokemon really so immature, by comparison?

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Come All Together, And Play With Me…

The Online Religious Bigotry Drinking Game:
Making debates with the intolerant a little bit easier to bear, one beverage at a time.

  • Muslims coming to our countries, having babies, and imposing their beliefs on us— 1 sip of domestic beer.
  • Ableist slurs comparing theists to neurodivergent people—1 tequila mixed with prune juice because it’s going to be a long night.
  • Founders intended American as a Christian nation—1 glass of cheap wine with a fake vintage label.
  • Stalin was an atheist— 1 sip vodka.
  • Stalin wasn’t really an atheist; he had a cult of personality and wasn’t rational, and rationality is synonymous with atheism — 2 sips vodka and a prune juice (long night).
  • Obama is a secret Muslim— 1 sip of secret vodka stashed in a water bottle.
  • “Magic underwear” Mormon joke—no drinking, just throw popcorn at your computer screen.
  • “Taqiyya” reference— finish the bottle of something you can’t pronounce, with a prune juice chaser.
  • Pre-Christian societies were matriarchal, sex-positive, enlightened, earth-friendly feminine utopias—1 glass of ambrosia (the food-of-the-gods kind, not the fruit salad kind).
  • Badly-spelled Christian apologetics—1 sip of cheap domestic beer.
  • “Sky fairy” reference— absinthe and prune juice, as much as you need.
  • “You didn’t see Christians trying to censor Last Temptation of Christ!”—as much hard liquor as you need to erase your memory of Christians trying to censor Last Temptation of Christ.
  • This is all a Jewish-media-controlled distraction from the real issue, warmongering Jews with their dual loyalty to Israel— very large sip of kosher wine.
  • Satan killing our children/Satanic human sacrifice/baby-killing— 16 oz. tumbler of the blood of the innocent (you must drink the whole thing).
  • Judeo-Christian values— mix prune juice, ensure, and the rest of the cheap domestic beer into a slurry, drink.
  • “Rational people discover morality through science”/anything referencing Sam Harris— drink the full contents of the results of a high school student’s chemistry lab project.
  • Wars are caused by patriarchy and sexual repression— sip drink of your choice from a suspiciously phallic beaker.
  • Global warming, no matter how irrelevant to the topic at hand— 1 eucalyptus cough drop.
  • Teaching evolution causes shooting sprees— as much hard liquor as you need to make the tree on the cover of your biology textbook look like a gun.
  • 50th reference to theists needing psychiatric help— you’ve long since emptied the tequila and prune juice bottles, so start popping Risperdal.
    ***If the psychiatric slurs are in the context of a screed accusing others of bigotry and discrimination—do so while wearing a green wig
  • “Only stupid theists are reproducing; smart atheists are childfree”/Idiocracy reference— finish your cheap fake-vintage wine out of a baby bottle.
  • Equating theism with alternative medicine, no matter how irrelevant to the topic at hand— take an ethanol herbal tincture… herbal content optional.
  • The other religious group is into anal sex— drink a perfect martini with porn music playing in the background.
  • The other religious group is into sex with children— same as above, only pour the martini into a baby bottle.
  • The world would be a better place if all religions were banned— drink one glass of moonshine.
  • Misquotes, misleading quotes, out-of-context quotes, and misleading paraphrases of religious texts— open a bottle of champagne, because you deserve it.
  • “Liberals support Muslims because they hate Christians”/ “liberals have a double standard of hating Christians and not Muslims”— drink a margarita while hanging upside down.
  • “It’s one thing for primitive tribes to believe this stuff, but outrageous that civilized Western countries do”— Drink a Coca-cola with actual cocaine in it, to match the era of your interlocutor’s mindset.
  • Nazi reference—no drinking, just throw some glitter in the air and spin in circles.
  • Muslims cause civil war wherever they go, and force the infidel to submit— drink water; your new Muslim overlords have banned alcohol.
  • Wife-beating reference— drink a bottle of cough syrup.
  • Obama betrayed our ally, Gaddafi, to support the Muslims— recognize that you’re drunk enough already, walk away.
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Homesteading

Inspired by this useful and thoughtful post.

I have no problem whatsoever with the choice to grow or raise one’s own food. I think it’s a valid, even admirable choice, and I firmly oppose laws or ordinances that unduly infringe on this practice. I’m not willing to allow you to keep a goat in your apartment, but vegetable gardens and outdoor fenced animals should be a non-controversy.

My problem with “homesteading” is when it becomes framed not as a personal choice, but as a moral imperative. The history and origins of the word “homestead” are not coincidental to this. Part of my problem with “homesteading” as a moral imperative is that it overlaps with the idea of health as a moral imperative, which I’m strongly opposed to. Eating organic, homegrown vegetables is probably healthier than drinking a slurry of transfats and processed sugar, but it’s not more MORAL. Health and morality are two distinct attributes that really have nothing to do with each other.

My other problem is that “homesteading” has become affiliated with elements that are second only to Christian Reconstructionism in their creepy blend of authoritarianism and libertarianism, fused by a generous helping of paranoia. Ban aspartame, ban transfats, ban giant sodas, but don’t dare regulate assault rifles, because we might need them to overthrow the government. And we certainly don’t need affordable healthcare, because vegetables, herbs, and positive thinking are all we need to stay healthy, and Big pHARMa produces nothing but poisons anyway!

Most people who do the grow-your-own-food thing aren’t paranoid racists, and the connection to the historical use of “homesteading” is simply incidental. Likewise, most parents who homeschool aren’t child-beating Dominionists out to raise up an army of Christian soldiers, and most mothers who birth at home aren’t fatalistic naturalists who believe that death by postpartum hemorrhage is God’s/Nature’s Will. The problem isn’t with the majority. The problem is that these people are let into the party at all, and the sane, non-paranoid “homesteaders” just shrug and say “take what works for you.” Y’all, flower gardeners and crocheters don’t have to deal with a loud and obnoxious fascistic subculture at every meeting. It is, in fact, possible to keep this element out of your hobby. I shouldn’t have to comb through crap about forced microchipping, Zionists, and the North American Union to find information about canning and nutrition. I’ll allow a little leeway on guns as a legitimate political difference, but if your “homesteading” website includes any references to “Autism” or “Jews” in absolutely any context whatsoever other than “how to prepare sensory-friendly food” or “how to prepare Kosher food,” I will dismiss the entire thing out of hand.

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Autistic People Are

Autistic people are people.

Humans. Human beings. Persons. Individuals. Members of the species homo sapiens. Mankind.

If all Xs are Ys, anything that is true of all Ys must be true of all Xs.

If all autistic people are people, then any true statement about “people,” “humans,” “mankind” must be true of autistic people. If it is not, the statement ceases to be a true statement.

True statements concerning the category “people” which includes the subcategory “autistic people”: People think and feel and know. People are conscious. People are sentient. People have bodies. People have minds. People have souls. People desire. People make choices. People feel pleasure and pain and confusion and excitement and wonder and ecstasy. People make mistakes. People disagree with other people. People have subjective perspectives. People have experiences. The soul uses the mind to use the body to interpret a miniscule fragment of the world.

Autistic people are autistic.

“Autistic” refers to a specific subcategory of the category “people.” The boundaries of this subcategory can be somewhat ambiguous, but the defining features lie in the structures of the brain. Autistic people are born autistic. Autistic people remain autistic throughout their lives. Autistic people remain autistic regardless of what life experiences or accomplishments they encounter or achieve.

Autistic infants are autistic. Autistic children are autistic. Autistic teens are autistic. Autistic seniors are autistic. Autistic men are autistic. Autistic women are autistic. Autistic transgendered, genderqueer, or intersexed people are autistic. Autistic people who can’t read are autistic. Autistic people with graduate degrees are autistic. Autistic people in prison are autistic. Autistic people working at diners are autistic. Autistic bankers are autistic. Autistic computer programmers are autistic. Unemployed autistic people are autistic. Married autistic people are autistic. Single autistic people are autistic. Honest autistic people are autistic. Dishonest autistic people are autistic. Homeless autistic people are autistic. Autistic volunteers at homeless shelters are autistic. Autistic people with other disabilities are autistic. Autistic people without other disabilities are autistic. Diagnosed autistic people are autistic. Undiagnosed autistic people are autistic. Autistic people who are proud of being autistic are autistic. Autistic people who don’t know that they’re autistic, don’t see themselves as autistic, or vehemently deny being autistic are autistic.

Autistic people are people. Autistic people are autistic. Autistic people are.

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My Brain Is Not An Assault Rifle

I didn’t want to write this post. I didn’t want to write about the Sandy Hook massacre of 27 people, 20 of them children. I don’t typically write about strong emotions, and what is the aftermath of the death of children but strong emotion? I didn’t want to. But here I am.

When I heard of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, I was horrified and viscerally sickened. I imagine that most people felt similarly, especially those of us who are parents. I thought about my friends and acquaintances in Connecticut and worried for their safety. I thought about my children–my nine-year-old son, who at that moment was in an elementary school classroom exactly like that of the Sandy Hook children. My seven-year-old son and my not-quite-six-year old daughter, so close in age to the young victims. My firstborn daughter, who follows current events and could not be shielded from the truth. The baby who doesn’t yet know she’s been born into a world in which people murder children. I thought about how bodies so small could be broken, how lives so recently begun could be ended. I was not surprised, however. Not by this. The knowledge that there exist people who would kill children is not surprising.

Double consciousness is an ugly, insidious thing, tainting even pure emotions. I cursed myself for letting my thoughts wander to how the murders would affect neurodivergent people, but wander they did. Spree killings are rare, but abuse of disabled people is common. From the moment I learned the killer was a young man, I suspected he would be labeled autistic. Maybe bipolar or schizophrenic, perhaps. It didn’t really matter. Popular opinion doesn’t differentiate diagnoses all that much. Soon there would be calls for more psychiatric hospitals, diminished patients’ rights, monitoring for people with psychiatric labels, streamlined ability to file for guardianship and place adults into involuntary commitment. Patient consent and autonomy would be dismissed as mere bureaucracy and underfunding, senseless impediments to getting people the help they need. Warnings and “profiles” would be issued of the “potentially violent,” which would be broad enough to encompass most social and neurological deviants. Every eccentric loner, with or without a psychiatric label, would be viewed with some suspicion, and people with highly-stigmatized psychiatric labels would be left at the mercy of overzealous police and hospital personnel desperate to prevent another massacre. I was thinking about all of this on the day of the shooting, before having really been reconciled to the event’s having happened. Some would say I was selfish. But double consciousness is an ugly thing.

Made all the uglier, of course, by the fact that, at the time I write this, it would seem that I was more right than I anticipated.

Before there was any confirmation of what, if any, mental diagnoses the killer may have had, people were using the tragedy as a rallying cry for a “national conversation about mental illness.” As with previous mass shootings, “mental illness” is the triangulation point, the middle ground, between pro-gun-control and anti-gun-control positions. Pro-control advocates point out that while murder can be committed with any kind of weapon, mass murder almost always involves a firearm or an explosive, which provide the most efficient methods of killing many people in a short time with minimal opportunity for the victims to fight back. Anti-control advocates argue that regulations will have little effect on criminals, but will prevent law-abiding individuals from defending themselves. But gun control is political, you see. And emotional. And we wouldn’t want to alienate our friends with emotional, politically partisan sentiments like “maybe nobody really needs a semiautomatic assault rifle for legitimate purposes.” So attention is diverted to the nonpolitical, unifying common cause, like the horrible scourge on the country that is The Mentally Ill, and in this case, specifically, Children Suffering From Autism.

There’s one small problem: There’s no link between autism and violence. In fact, although spree killers usually but not always have certain specific psychiatric disabilities (usually those involving psychosis or explosive rage–which represent a small minority of the total psychiatrically-labeled population), violent crime in general is overwhelmingly committed by neurotypicals. 96% of the time, in fact. Yes. 4% of violent crime is committed by people who have some kind of mental illness, disorder, or disability, and the other 96% is committed by people who are completely neurotypical.

There are a few common responses to this fact:
Someone who would do that obviously isn’t really neurotypical.
This is circular logic. “Neurotypical” doesn’t mean “nonviolent.”
Doesn’t the act of shooting, killing, or otherwise hurting another person prove that there is something wrong with a person’s mind?
Arguably, yes. But “something wrong” doesn’t mean “having a condition classified as a mental disorder.” The central claim of the neurodiversity movement is that conditions classified as disorders aren’t necessarily “something wrong,” and the converse also applies: an undesirable condition is not necessarily a neurodivergent one. Psychiatric diagnoses contrast deviant from normal, not undesirable from desirable. “Neurotypical” does not mean neuro-ideal, neuro-optimal, neuro-desirable, or neuro-perfect. It means typical. Normal. Average. Common. Standard. Predictable. Expected. No more than a quick glance through a basic history textbook, or any major newspaper, is needed to demonstrate that in human beings, violence against other humans is (under the right conditions, at least) typical, normal, average, common, standard, predictable, and expected.
Violent crime is an irrational act, therefore anyone who commits it is not in a rational state of mind.
Violence can be rational, but it doesn’t matter, because “neurotypical” doesn’t mean “rational” any more than it means “ideal.” Neurotypical humans are not purely rational creatures. They have irrational desires and emotions. Sometimes they express those emotions through violence.
Some autistics claim that we are actually more rational than neurotypicals, because we’re not burdened by social concerns, but I don’t think this is true, either. Becoming deeply upset when a bookshelf is disorganized isn’t exactly rational. Humans in general, whether neurotypical or otherwise, aren’t wired or evolved to be purely rational beings.

Violence and neurodiversity are almost entirely unrelated.

But somewhere along the way, the discussion of What To Do About The Mentally Ill gets linked to the debate about gun control. The NRA calls for a national database of the mentally ill while adamantly defending its right to wield deadly weapons, while gun control advocates explicitly contrast psychiatric treatment with firearm availability. But the two issues are not related, nor parallel. A gun is an inanimate object. It has no rights, no entitlement to respect, no feelings that can be hurt. Gun owners are people, and some of them are, perhaps legitimately, upset that their hobby is being associated with mass murder. But despite the NRA’s attempt to make it so, “gun owner” is not an identity. It is a state of ownership of an inanimate object.

My Autistic brain is not an inanimate object. It is very much alive, moving and firing, changing and growing. It is the physical manifestation of my consciousness. It is my most distinctive feature. It translates my senses into thought, my thought into memory, and my memory into action. It enables me to form these words I’m writing, and direct my fingers to type them out. Without it, I would die.

My brain is mine. It is not yours, not the government’s, not society’s, not the Church’s, not my family’s or my parents’. Manifestations of my consciousness may affect others, but they do not belong to anyone but me. My thoughts, feelings, desires, perceptions, experiences, and expressions are mine and mine alone.

A key argument for the use of identity-first language (“autistic person“) over person-first (“person with autism“) is that the latter frames the condition as something separate from the self, something which can, perhaps, be changed or removed without harm to the self. Person with autism, person with mental illness, person with an assault rifle. My mind becomes decoupled from myself, detached, dissociated, abstracted, regulated. For the public good. For my family’s good. For my own good.

My brain is not an assault rifle. It is not part of a well-regulated militia. I don’t need a permit or a background check to operate it. My thoughts are not a public safety issue. Because I am a mortal human and not a magical or telepathic fictional character, my brain cannot kill anyone. My consciousness poses no threat to anyone. And unlike a gun, my brain can never misfire.

Guns may be used to kill animals. They may be used to kill people. How we classify their use in this manner depends on the identity of the person killed–an attacker, an invading militant, a murder victim, an innocent bystander? The gun is simply a tool. Tools magnify the potential range of action of the human body. As wheels magnify the traveling power of those who use them, guns magnify, greatly so, the killing power of those who use them. This is self-evident. As objects, they can be controlled. There is no parallel between “gun control” and “mental illness control.” Kindly leave us out of your “national conversation.”

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Why Parents of Children with “Medical Autism” Should Support Neurodiversity and the Anti-Cure Movement

Autism acceptance has been slowly gaining a bit of ground in the popular discourse (although one wouldn’t know it from the Congressional autism hearings, nor the coverage of the DSM revisions). We’ve gone from a movement that can be dismissed out of hand to one whose arguments have to, at least at some level, be engaged. Still, we’re at an enormous rhetorical disadvantage by not being allowed to define our own language, and some of the language floating about seems as if it were crafted to thwart us. One such rhetorical stumbling block, which has lately been dividing the autistic self-advocacy community from parents of autistic children, natural health advocates, and even fellow psychiatric survivors, is “medical autism.”

“Medical autism,” for those who believe in it, is a condition (usually induced by some external factor, like an adverse vaccine reaction) which causes a variety of symptoms, including seizures, allergies, chemical sensitivities, dyspraxia, indigestion, constipation, diarrhea, chronic pain, and chronic fatigue. The existence of this condition is a common point of conversational derail between anti-cure autistic people and pro-cure parents of autistic children. David Kirby attempted to link the condition to “severe” or “low-functioning” autism, which I argued against once before, but even separated from the high/low-functioning dichotomy, the concept remains contentious. Pro-cure parents often accuse autistic self-advocates of stifling their attempts to relieve their children’s illnesses, or suggest that if we were afflicted with the same kind of “medical autism” that their children are, we would wish to be cured, too. There are a couple of flaws in this assertion:
First, many anti-cure autistic self-advocates do, in fact, experience (and suffer from) seizures, migraines, chronic pain, allergies, and autoimmune illnesses–we just don’t tend to classify those things as “autism.” I would venture that to a person, when autistic self-advocates speak of accepting, and not wishing to be cured of, “autism,” we are not including physical illnesses in the to-be-accepted-and-not-cured category. We are using the term “autism” as most clinicians do, in reference to certain cognitive, behavioral, and personality-related characteristics (which, for the purpose of this post, I will refer to as “cognitive/behavioral/neurodevelopmental autism”): repetitive behavior, perseveration, hyperfocus, linear thought, asynchronous development, detail-specific focus, intense feeling, and an uneven pattern of ability. It’s a condition with several well-documented disadvantages, but several advantages as well, and many of us are quite attached to it.
Second, it’s unclear why the concept of “medical autism” is necessary, as non-autism-specific terminology already exists for these physical conditions. Illnesses and adverse reactions to foods and other substances are called allergies or sensitivities. Tendency to seizures is called epilepsy or seizure disorder. Chronic “gut issues” are called IBS or indigestion or colitis or reflux. As not all autistic people have these conditions, and not all people with these conditions are cognitively/behaviorally/neurodevlopmentally autistic, I’m not sure what benefit there is to grouping all of these conditions in with cognitive autism under the “medical autism” umbrella, rather than simply saying “she is autistic and epileptic” or “he has autism and IBS.”

Nevertheless, “medical autism” has gained a certain degree of currency among parents of autistic children, and it can make autism discussion very slippery. Many parents accept their children’s cognitive autism, even becoming offended if it’s suggested otherwise, but support autism-pathologizing organizations and campaigns out of concern for their children’s “medical autism.” Because autistic self-advocates rarely use the term “autism” to describe physical illnesses, we may be perplexed when parents say things like “Of course I don’t want to change my child’s personality! I just want to cure his autism so he won’t have seizures and diarrhea anymore.” But let’s assume that such a parent is telling the truth about her own goals. Even so, supporting policies, organizations, and campaigns which pathologize cognitive/behavioral/neurodevelopmental autism should be recognized as harmful and counterproductive to the goal of awareness (or treatments or cures) for “medical autism.”

Is “medical autism” even on the agenda of autism-pathologizing organizations?

Autism Speaks, the largest autism-pathologizing organization, mentions “autoimmune” or “autoimmunity” 62 times on its website. Over two-thirds of these references are concern autoimmune issues as a potential cause (or “risk factor”) for (cognitive/behavioral/neurodevelopmental) autism, not as conditions meriting treatment in their own right, and certainly not as conditions meriting treatment instead of treatment for cognitive/behavioral/neurodevelopmental autism. “Seizures” gets 129 mentions, the majority of which concern the recognition of seizures in cognitively/behaviorally/neurodevelopmentally autistic children, or the use of seizure medication for the purpose of reducing the traits of cognitive/behavioral/neurodevelopmental autism. “Allergy” gets 75 mentions. “Migraine” gets a scant 6 mentions, all of which merely list migraines as one of several “associated medical conditions” of (cognitive/behavioral/neurodevelopmental) autism. “Gastrointestinal” gets 159 mentions, most of them in the context of GI conditions as contributing factors to autistic behaviors.

By contrast, the AS website mentions “behavior” and “behavioral” a full 4937 times. “Development” and “developmental” get 3776 mentions. “Neurological” gets 455. “Cognitive” gets 740. “Repetitive” gets 281. “Emotional” gets 748. “Speech” gets 3196. “Social” gets 5637. “Deficit” gets 464. “Communication” gets 2416. “Obsession” and “obsessive” get 81. “Wander” gets 68.

This would indicate that Autism Speaks is very concerned with pathologizing and treating (and ultimately preventing and curing) the way autistic people think and behave, and only concerned with physical illnesses suffered by autistic people insofar as it pertains to this goal. Therefore, a parent who is sincere in her assertion that she does not wish to change her autistic child’s personality, only to alleviate his chronic illnesses, should not find Autism Speaks representative of her beliefs.

The Autism Society of America is less overtly pathologizing than the other autism organizations, but is still mainstream, well-respected, and broadly within the medical model. ASA mentions “autoimmune” or “autoimmunity” 15 times. “Seizure” is mentioned 31 times. “Migraine” is mentioned once. “Allergy” gets 31 mentions. “Gastrointestinal” gets 28.

And “Behavior” gets 297 ASA mentions. “Cognitive” gets 67. “Development” and “developmental” get 379. “Neurological” gets 56. “Sensory” gets 175. “Social” gets 333. “Deficit” gets 80. “Repetitive” gets 51. “Obsess” and “Obsessive” get 19. “Speech” gets 124. “Communication” gets 237. “Emotional” gets 72. “Wander” gets 18 mentions. So the ASA, too, is more concerned with autistic personality and behavior than with chronic illnesses.

But Autism Speaks and the Autism Society of America have actually been criticized by other pro-cure parents and organizations for their lack of attention to biomedical issues, so let’s look at how more pro-biomed autism-pathologizing groups compare. The National Autism Association is an autism-pathologizing organization which competes with Autism Speaks by offering a more biomedical-centered approach (and by depicting autism as even more of a tragedy than Autism Speaks does). NAA has a smaller website than AS does, so search results will not be comparable, but can still illustrate focus. “Autoimmune” and “Autoimmunity” are mentioned 6 times by NAA. “Seizure” is mentioned twice. “Gastrointestinal” is mentioned 3 times. “Migraine” gets no mentions.

“Behavior” gets 22 mentions. “Emotional” gets 5. “Cognitive” gets 2. “Sensory” gets 7. “Speech” gets 9. “Communication” gets 10. “Repetitive” and “obsess” get 1 each. “Wander” gets 37. “Development” gets 21. “Social” gets 10.

So although NAA is a much smaller website than AS, and is more biomedically focused, they still devote considerably more focus to pathologizing cognitive/behavioral/neurodevelopmental autism than to addressing co-existing chronic illnesses.

Moving on to Generation Rescue, another biomedical-centered organization. Their site mentions “autoimmune” and “autoimmunity” 13 times. “Seizure” gets 11 mentions. “Gastrointestinal” gets 25. “Migraine” gets 2. “Allergy” gets 22. Significantly, not all of these mentions pertain to autism specifically, unlike those of AS and NAA.

However, Generation Rescue gives “behavior” 73 mentions. “Cognitive” gets 17. “Emotional” gets 22. “Development” gets 73. “Neurological” gets 14. “Sensory” gets 32. “Speech” gets 31. “Social” gets 48. “Repetitive” gets 10. “Obsess” gets 10. “Communication” gets 21. “Wander” gets 5. “Deficit” gets 12.

Finally, let’s look at Age of Autism, a larger organization with a large website which more seriously competes with Autism Speaks with a biomedical focus. AoA gives “autoimmune” and “autoimmunity” a startling 496 mentions. “Seizure” gets 497. “Migraine” gets 37. “Gastrointestinal” gets 376. “Allergy” gets 189 (excluding the advertisements). Like GR, and unlike AS and NAA, AoA discusses autoimmune, epileptic, allergic, and gastrointestinal disorders as medical conditions in their own right, not merely as contributing factors to cognitive/behavioral/neurodevelopmental autism.

But AoA also gives “behavior” 494 mentions. “Cognitive” gets 336 mentions. “Emotional” gets 494. “Sensory” gets 413. “Development” and “developmental” get 503. “Repetitive” gets 167. “Obsess” and “obsessive” get 146. “Speech” gets 509. “Social” gets 519. “Deficit” gets 192. “Communication” gets 505. “Wandering” gets 88.

I don’t claim that my method is scientific or exact, but I do believe these numbers show that, despite many pro-cure parents’ claim that they don’t want to change their autistic children’s personalities, only to cure the chronic illnesses they insist on referring to as “medical autism,” the autism-pathologizing organizations they support devote significantly more ink to pathologizing autistic cognition, behavior, and personality than they do to chronic illnesses.

This presumes, of course, that parents who say that they have no interest in treating or curing their children’s cognitive/behavioral/neurodevelopmental autistic traits are being completely honest about their desires, but there is another possibility: some parents may be completely truthful in stating that their primary concern is their children’s chronic illnesses, but they may also hope that when their children’s medical conditions are successfully treated, their autistic behaviors and personality traits will lessen as well. This is clearly a mindset encouraged by all of the autism-pathologizing organizations. However, this, too, is flawed. Pathologizing cognitive/behavioral/neurodevelopmental autism actually worsens the medical treatment that autistic people receive. Autistic adults receive worse health care–medical, not psychiatric, healthcare, mind—than non-autistic adults. The pathologizing deficit model worsens this. Autistic people are even denied lifesaving organ transplants, based largely on the false beliefs that autistic people are mentally incompetent and have poor quality of life—falsehoods promoted and perpetuated by autism-pathologizing organizations. Disabled people in general receive worse health care than do typically-able people; developmentally disabled people in particular. The same is true of people with psychiatric labels.

When people have their personalities, cognition, and behavior pathologized (as all autism-pathologizing organizations advocate doing to cognitively/behaviorally/neurodevelopmentally autistic people), the pathologized people will be perceived as less competent, less credible, and less valuable. This manifests itself in healthcare just as it does in education, employment, and other fields. Anecdotal evidence of autistic and other neurodivergent people having their physical illnesses dismissed is rampant. How many of us have reported medical symptoms to doctors only to be told that we must be depressed or anxious? Or had injuries dismissed due to unusual pain response? Belief that the mind is defective results in less attentiveness to the needs of the body, not more.

If your autistic child has a chronic illness that you call “medical autism,” don’t be fooled into thinking that organizations that seek to cure “autism” take any interest at all in your child’s illness, or that pathologizing your child’s personality will increase the quality of physical health care he receives. Instead of an autism-pathologizing organization, to support research and treatments into chronic illnesses that disproportionately affect autistic people, please support organizations such as these:
Epilepsy Foundation
American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association
International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders
Digestive Health Alliance
About IBS
Food Allergy Initiative
Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America
Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network
Migraine Research Foundation
Alliance for Headache Disorders Advocacy
CFIDS Association of America
Patient Alliance for Neuroendocrineimmune Disorders Organization for Research and Advocacy
National Fibromyalgia Association
National Fibromyalgia Research Association
Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America
American Celiac Disease Alliance
PANDAS Network
Arthritis Foundation
National Multiple Sclerosis Society
Lupus Foundation of America
Multiple Chemical Sensitivity Referral and Resources

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