What in the holy flying crap is this?? Read some of the article and got to the bit comparing Autistic people to dogs – and not for the nice reasons and thought ‘hmm, the researchers have got into the absinthe again”
That was me on Facebook this evening, somewhat baffled and upset by some very dubious research (I use the term very lightly in this instance) relating to Autistic people apparently being less ‘domesticated’ than the non-autistic folks. There was a comparison to dogs at one point and physical features pointed out using a crude diagram apparently of an autistic boy with arrows pointing to all his apparently ‘undomesticated’ features.
As an Autistic person I see this sort of this stuff way too often. It goes hand in hand with other unhelpful advice – charlatans preying on parents of Autistic kids whose need for information and support they exploit with expensive ‘cures’. One example was the $35 per litre camel milk which will ‘make your child more neurotypical’. The inverted commas are because the is actually a quote form someone who had somehow got a PhD and was a paid sponsor at a conference. The same person beseeched conference delegates to forgo antibiotics in pregnancy! So if you have bacterial meningitis and you are pregnant, apparently you need to die or your child might be autistic (which presumably according to this speaker was worse than dying)! Sadly this is the tip of the ice beg with dangerous and unproven ‘cures’ from chelation to bleach enemas apparently somehow magically ‘fixing’ Autistic children. Some of these things are outright violence on defenceless kids and about as likely to ‘fix’ autism as eating Mr Kitty’s whiskers!.
I think there is one main reason for these charlatanism, ’cures’ and dodgy research. Now I am usually someone who describes her little cat-loving, book-writing self as an advocate rather than an activist – but when it comes to this sort of thing I do have good reason to pop on my activist hat. The reason is that these ‘cures’ and related things come from a very nasty premise, that Autism is some horrible curse which means parents will never bond with their child, that the Autistic person will be a burden and it is all so tragic and that Autistic reality is just this big, puzzling, strange world of freaky weirdness. ‘Your child will never say I love you!’ these folks shriek. ‘
This is all pretty fraught territory but it shouldn’t be. Autistic people are not broken. We are not fundamentally unfathomable. Certainly Autistics and their families can go through some pretty challenging, unpleasant stuff. So can non-autistic children and their families. If we start from the premise that a child is never going to be able to express ‘normal’ emotions (I’m not sure what these are, but anyway…), that your child will be a drain and a burden and you will be supporting them forever and ever…. well I feel this is coming from the wrong direction. Yes, Autism can be challenging – very challenging at times for the Autistic person and those that love and care for them too. But if this deficits model is our basis we are denying autistic children and adults the ability to reach their potential.
Another issue with this model is perception. I have autistic friends who use non-speech communication and require support people for daily life but they aren’t por sad little burdens, they are advocates and students and working to make things better – rather like I do I guess. If your focus on the difficult stuff you might miss someone’s potential.
I have a friend in the US who is an advocate and employment specialist. His name is Patrick Schwartz. When he describes people that he places in jobs he will say ‘This is Ben. Ben has as an attribute Downs syndrome…’ or ‘This is Jeanette. She has as an attribute Autism and schizophrenia…’ An attribute, part of the person’s identity, not a curse or a burden. Patrick finds engaging and meaningful work for so many people who were described as unemployable. He does this by shifting the focus from deficits to strengths. What CAN a person do? What do they enjoy? Make a spot or find a job they can do.
My mum once told me if I had been diagnosed as a child that my family would have been much more hands on and might have been less keen to let me move out of home and study and find work. In fact if you look at that time in my life then shortly after I moved out of home, I found myself with the ‘wrong crowd’, in prison and was soon a homeless drug addict with schizophrenia who deliberately went to prison thinking in a delusional state that it would cure my depression. This poor broken little me spent the next five years in and out of hospitals, prisons and crisis accommodation. I was a whopping great ‘burden’ if you think like that. However I got the right support to make positive choices. I now sit writing this in a home I own, having come home after a day at work as a middle manager in the public service. I am looking at my beautiful cat and beyond him the bookcase full of all my books and magazines and DVDs of me doing advocacy stuff. A week from today I will be at an awards night with my mum – the same woman who I imagine thought I would die and would have no future but the grave – my mum will be in the audience watching me as a finalist – and maybe the winner – of the Australian Capital Territory 2017 Woman of the Year award,
So the research and the dangerous and just simply ineffective ‘cures’ for Autism, the dangerous anti-vax foolishness telling the world that essentially it is better your child die from a preventable disease than be Autistic, all the things stacked up on the side of deficits / burden / Autism is a tragedy. I hope I can be seen standing opposite that encampment of idiocy and prejudice saying “We are valued. We are worthy. We are different. Learn our language not silence it.”