So there's this thing that happens?
Where an autistic person will say or do something dumb or thoughtless?
And then we're all supposed to decide not to like them anymore?
Let's try not to do that.
Let's remember that autism impairs communication and socialization, pretty much always.
So-- those big famous autistic people who speak so well and write so movingly?
Still are likelier to mess up and say something wildly off-key than our neurotypical heroes are.
And we have to remember that,
In order not to make some faction of Autismland hate you with what you say or do,
You have to walk such a complicated network of tightropes that sooner or later you're going to fall.
And if you talk publicly about autism, you're going to be spectacularly wrong from time to time.
No matter how smart or good-hearted you are.
No matter how autistic you are.
Because autism is hard.
when I read that someone autistic who I admire is working with a celebrity who says dangerous things
Or a charity whose work I oppose
Or has made insensitive comments about gender
Or about "functional levels"
Or what have you
I try to say-- "Oh, autistic people are just like everyone else.
Imperfect, and frustrating and
Different From Me."
Why do I try harder to do this with autistic people than with most other people?
Because they have social and communicative challenges that most other people don't.
Because they are My People.
Because I know that probably not enough other people are trying to understand and keep empathy
When people get autistic, not in a nice way.
It's not my job to be Fair.
It's my job to promote the rights of autistic people.
One of those rights
Is the right to disagree.
Even with me.
"I think this kid's cool. I think I'm like him."
My friend Adam Bailey wrote this, in part because I asked him to. He's the guy who does the OWL comic strip, and he did the music for this cartoon we made together based on it. Adam has Asperger's syndrome. He works full-time repairing things. His wife and he have two sons, Colin, who just turned six, and Brendan, who is four. Colin has the sort of autism that makes life very difficult for himself and his family. Brendan is not autistic. When his mother recently asked Brendan what autism is, he replied, "when you need help to play."
Colin at Six
by Adam Bailey
One of my primary metaphors for the autism community is the LGBT community. And, by the way, my choice not to include other letters there is deliberate, and I will not appreciate being corrected for it. Because I'm talking about history, and history is specific.
It's hard for parents of autistic people to understand that they have power that we do not, because they are themselves a disenfranchised community. How can we say that you have all the power when you are powerless to affect the changes you really need?
Well, there is power, and there is power.
And I think it might help a little bit to think about the differences between the power that the people represented by the letters L,G, B, and T have.
I'm a gay, white, man who lives in California. There are powerful organizations like the Human Rights Campaign who are going to make sure that my interests are not ignored. If I were a trans woman of color who lived in Arkansas, who would be looking out for me? Me and my friends, that's who.
There are gay men who are taken seriously, like Nate Silver. There's a lesbian in the Senate. The L and the G are doing a lot better than the T, even though we aren't doing okay. The appearance of trans people on television or in sports can still give rise to shameless and outrageously bigoted reactions. Trans teens are less safe than gay teens, and gay teens are not safe. This segment of The Melissa Harris-Perry Show was unusual for showing real trans people in a substantial conversation on TV. I can see a gay guy talking about gay stuff on MSNBC every week. I can see a lesbian tell me the news every night.
I have the HRC behind me. I get heard in ways that transgendered people don't. I hate that. Actually, I don't like the HRC. I wish their top priorities were passing laws that made it illegal to discriminate against LGBT people in hiring or housing and getting LGBT people appointed to political positions. Instead, their top goals have been marriage equality and the repeals of Don't Ask Don't Tell. Those are good things, but they won't save as many lives as making it illegal to deny homes and work to trans `people and gay people in the states where that is still legal (most of them).
Do I have equality as a gay man? No.
Does this piss me off? Yes.
Do I have tremendous privilege, in comparison to trans people, especially if they aren't white, especially if they don't live in very blue states? Of course.
Is that my fault? No.
The parents of people with autism are represented by Autism Speaks and other powerful organizations. Parents may disagree with what Autism Speaks or the Autism Science Foundation do, they may cringe at some of the statements made by their leaders, but Autism Speaks is almost always going to get a seat at the table if they ask for one, just like the Human Rights Campaign. The HRC is never going to have a board made up mostly of B's and T's, just like the Autism Speaks board is never going to favor the interests of autistic people over the interests of our parents.
And in some ways this is fair and right. Gay people built the Human Rights Campaign and have contributed most of the money that makes it strong. Parents founded Autism Speaks and have paid to make it as powerful as it is. It's not wrong to have this power.
We just have to acknowledge it.
I don't think the organizations run by autistic people have a combined annual budget of $2 million dollars. Autism Speaks alone reported income of over $50 million and assets of over $20 million of 2010.
There's just no comparison.
And it's okay that it makes me angry that the parents of autistic people have something like 100 times the power that autistic people do. This should make me angry, it's an unhealthy state of affairs.
Just like it's right for transgendered people to be frustrated that gay people have power that they do not.
And in each case, some members of the more powerful minority group buy in to the majority prejudices against the less powerful minority group. Christian Siriano, Dan Savage, and Ryan Murphy are all white gay men who have wounded the transgender community with unthinking bigotry. Murphy and Savage have both also done wonderful things for transgendered people.
Many parent advocates for autistic people have sometimes acted with unthinking bigotry toward autistic people. Several of those same people have also done wonderful things for us.
It's good for trans people to praise Ryan Murphy when he gets things right and complain when he gets things wrong.
It's good for me to do the same for parent advocates.
One place where both autistic adults and trans people still have to fight that gay people and the parents of autistic kids don't have to is get acknowledgement that we even exist. My friend Jay Jackson told me this story:
I look young and was going to play a teenage patient for the local hospital's "simulation day", where they would run medical simulations to test out their new pediatric ER. Once they found out I was transgender though, they asked me not to play a patient because "it is very unlikely that a young person would be transgender".
Even the MEDICAL COMMUNITY is grossly misinformed about transgender issues and it causes a lot of hurt.
I can imagine an adult with Asperger's syndrome being turned away for the same reason. I would not be as a gay man-- although someone might find an excuse to get rid of me for being gay, they would not tell me to my face that gay people are unusual. They might get rid of the parent of an autistic kid because they think it will be too much trouble to make things work, but they won't doubt your existence. That still happens to autistic adults. It still happens to trans people.
There is power, and there is power.
Five gross things from Jessica Ryen Doyle's article for FoxNews.com about using worms to treat autism.
1. Using worms to treat autism is gross:
Dr. Eric Hollander got the idea to study the use of the hygiene hypothesis to treat autism when he noticed one of his patients’ behavior improve while self-medicating with Trichuris suis ova (TSO), the eggs of a whipworm.
2. Telling people how to access a treatment that has not been approved by the FDA is gross:
The Food and Drug Administration has not yet approved TSO therapy, but there are ways to buy the product – either online or by traveling to another country.
3. Calling an autistic teenager a child is gross. The guy Hollander is talking about is sixteen:
“So based on the fact that this child had substantial improvement – it didn’t cure the autism, but it had a major impact on repetitive and disruptive behaviors,” Hollander said. “So, we designed a study to test this in a more systematic fashion.
4. That doctors are actually planning to put worm eggs in autistic people and study what happens is gross:
Hollander said the trial will focus on 10 adults between the ages of 18 and 35, who are of normal intelligence with good verbal skills – that way the participants can describe the effects. Participants will also have allergies or a family history of autoimmune diseases.
During the first phase of the trial, participants will either get TSO (administered in a clear, odorless liquid) or a placebo for 12 weeks. There is a washout period of four weeks, after which patients will switch to the opposite (if they first received a placebo, they’ll get the TSO product). This way, everyone has the opportunity to get active medicine and a placebo.
5. The Simons Foundation is gross for funding this study.
Basketball players at William T. Rogers Middle School love playing with autistic team member Nicholas Grippo:
“I like the Nick play,” Nicholas Grippo said. “Me, Jack and Frank run the Nick play.”
“It just felt happy, not a lot of kids who have autism like Nick — they’re not gonna get that chance and he just had the happiest face you could ever see. It was just great,” teammate Jack Cutillo said.
“I was crying. I was crying. It was just amazing,” Denise Grippo said.
“It’s been a special time. He made everyone laugh and smile,” added teammate Paul Cooper.