Autism Bigot Bryna Siegel: “If they have a secretary, they do not have Asperger’s syndrome.”


Whatever you do, keep your autistic child, and your autistic self, far, far away from Bryna Siegel and the facilities with which she is associated.  An adjunct professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco, Siegel is a director for their autism clinic.  And she is proudly bigoted against the population she claims to serve, as she explained to Casey Schwartz for an article at The Daily Beast:

The confusion extends outside of patient-doctor conversations. At the height of the Silicon Valley tech bubble, Wired magazine published a questionnaire developed by autism expert Simon Baron-Cohen, a self-report test for Asperger’s syndrome.

Siegel, whose office is in San Francisco, recalls that the questionnaire caused such a stir among the techie set that she was flooded with responses.

"I ended up telling my intake coordinator, 'If they leave you the number of their secretary to call back, do not call them back,'” she says. “If they have a secretary, they do not have Asperger’s syndrome.”

Got that?  Siegel wants you to take your kid to her for therapy, but she thinks people who need that therapy can never be competent enough to have secretaries.  Just to make the most obvious point, many autistic people who have succeeded have done so because they have had access to secretaries and other support people.  Siegel must believe that Temple Grandin does not have autism, because Dr. Grandin has assistants and displays undeniable competence.

Siegel and her ilk believe that incompetence is the primary diagnostic criterion for autism:  they cannot conceive of a competent autistic person because they see autism not as a neurological difference but as a series of problematic behaviors.  So people who can repress those behaviors well enough to succeed must not have autism.

The biggest problem with this is for those kids who Siegel thinks are in fact autistic enough to deserve her services. Because the most important factor for any student's achievement, and even more for an autistic student, is high expectations, the belief in surrounding adults that success is possible with hard work.  An expert like Siegel who believes that autism and incompetence are synonymous is unable to create an atmosphere where autistic kids will succeed, so I would stay far away from both the UCSF Autism Clinic and Siegel's Autism JumpStart Learning to Learn program.

But there is one group of people who should seek Siegel out: those with an unwanted diagnosis of Asperger's syndrome.  She'll gladly get rid of it for you:

Bryna Siegel, a child psychiatrist at the University of California, San Francisco, was a member of the DSM IV working group. She says she “undiagnoses” Asperger’s far more frequently than she diagnoses it. For every 10 children who come to see her with a diagnosis of Asperger’s, she “undiagnoses” nine.

Research indicates that what autism diagnosis patients get depends much more on the doctor they see than on the symptoms they present, so Siegel is, unfortunately, not unusual in that she has made her decision before even knowing the patient's name.  But most doctors, I hope, would wonder if there was something wrong with the instruments they used if they reached the same conclusion 90% of the time. 

The people who hire Siegel to get rid of diagnoses of Asperger's syndrome are not, of course, the people who have it.  She is hired by regional educational centers to remove these diagnoses so that they will not have to pay for services.  They hire her because she makes the same decision 90% of the time. I hope that parents whose kids have been denied services on Siegel's word will request review by a less biased professional.  No one should be listening to a doctor who admits to making the same diagnosis 90% of the time.  I would think that an expert who has admitted that in print would have a hard time with judges and juries.

It's not just having a secretary that means you can't have autism, as Siegel told Alan Zarembo when discussing the case a 7-year-old girl who she "undiagnosed":

Siegel also noted that testers had at various points written that she was “friendly and cheerful,” engaged easily in conversation and used a variety of gestures and facial expressions.

“The girl told me about her friends,” said Siegel, who interviewed her and her mother during a two-hour video conference.

If you believe that autistic people cannot seem friendly and cheerful, you have met too few of us to claim to be a expert on us.  If you believe we cannot have friends, you have never tried to befriend one of us.  If an expert on autism like Siegel does not have autistic friends, she needs to recognize that she is not interested enough in us on a personal level to be able contribute meaningfully to the field.

If you think autistic people can't have friends, you have no business saying a word about us, ever again. 

You don't know enough for your opinion to have any validity. 

You're just a bigot.