"Non-Human Persons": The Shiny, Happy Side of Neurotypical Bigotry
Neurotypical experts come at autism from different points of attack, and the place they start from always matters very much. George Dvorsky is "the founder and chair of the IEET's Rights of Non-Human Persons Program, a group that is working to secure human-equivalent rights and protections for highly sapient animals." And he has written a breathlessly "positive" article that treats autistic people as highly sapient Non-Human Persons.
We learn about people by talking with them. Dvorsky learned about autistic people by talking to neurotypical experts. He chose good ones, Steve Silberman and Andrea Kuszewski, but he did not, apparently think it was necessary to talk with any autistic adults. Only one autistic person is quoted in the article. And he is fifteen. The parent of a little boy who may or may not be autistic but does not like sports (close enough?) is also quoted.
Dvorsky thinks of autistic people in much the same way Troy thinks of his friend Abed on Community:
Abed is a magical, elf-like man who makes us all more magical by being near us.
His main idea. that autistic people are changing society, and making it better, is sound. And nice:
The signs of autism's reach are beginning to been seen virtually everywhere. People on the spectrum are driving the creation of alternative forms of expression, new businesses and institutions, and cutting-edge technologies. "And not only do they make these things comfortable for themselves," noted Silberman, "they're useful for all of us."
But he ignores the very real challenges that autistic people still face:
Today, talk of autism is normal, and most of us are familiar with it. But as recently as two to three decades ago, kids on the spectrum were mercilessly teased as being nerds or geeks. While many today wear those labels as points of pride, it was certainly not the case back then — they were used as put-downs, a way of calling out kids who had a hard time socializing — and who at the same time exhibited a kind of smartness that caused them to be alienated from the "normal" kids.
Dvorsky, apparently does not know that this is how autistic kids like Alex Libby are treated in school today:
Even if he saw the movie Bully, which this clip is from, Dvorsky might not know that Alex and Tyler Long, who killed himself after relentless bullying at his high school and is another of the film's subjects, are autistic. The filmmakers chose not to mention the fact, making it easy for breezy NT dilettantes to ignore the fact that most kids with Aspergers are currently being bullied.
Kuszewsi isn't helping:
"If anything," she says, "it's slightly trendy to have Asperger's."
Dvorsky is sloppy, failing to differentiate between famous people who are speculated to be on the spectrum (Stanley Kubrick, Mark Zuckerberg) and those who actually have diagnoses (Bram Cohen, Satoshi Tajir).
He deals in stereotypes without qualification:
Indeed, it's hardly a secret to admit that autistic kids and adults are drawn to technology — science fiction in particular — and fascinatingly, it has almost always been that way. Back in the 1960s and 1970s, it was the fixation on rocket ships and flying to the Moon that convinced pediatricians that there was something deeply wrong with these kids — that their unworldly and impractical obsessions were signs of a deep psychological malaise.
Yep, that's autistic people. We're naturally drawn to water and technology. We all love science fiction.
He scoffs at the idea that autism is an actual disability:
For a group of people who supposedly suffer from a "social communications disorder," autistics like Joey Hudy have shown a great desire to be social and share in their achievements with others — at least when they're given the right tools.
iPads and the internet fix everything!