Monday, June 23, 2008

How Good We Ought to Be

As the organization Autism Speaks continues to use their political and financial muscle to silence the voices of autistic people (as seen here), I am reminded of just how misleading their claims to serve autistic people really are.

While many people who are seen as having different types of mental impairments are often lumped into the same group for many purposes, at times I've seen people who are primarily diagnosed as having mental illness or learning disabilities being more likely to have their mistreatment justified as punishment for their behavior that is described more in pathological terms as bad or wrong and sometimes those with disorders that are seen to be more neurological in origin will be more pitied for what is seen as their misbehavior.

However, once anyone shows themself to be overly able to interact personally with those who need to convieniently keep anyone with substandard behavior at arms length, their behavior automatically gets described in pathological ways and therefore punished accordingly. Some people don't want us to get too close for fear they will see in us too many aspects of themselves.

When so many children were seen as having ADD beginning a few decades ago, it was decided that amphetamines and dietary changes would aid in their learning and behavioral problems. In many ways I see this as a gateway to how so many autistics are seen and treated now.

Also, in a similar way to those drug and dietary treatments, behaviorism isn't a new way to treat autistics at all. It's now just more isolated, defined, and marketed as being a more humane form of treatment than it was previously.

Punishment therapy however has been the primary means of dealing with the entire population of people who are considered mentally impaired (in whatever ways) for a long time. However it sometimes gets sugarcoated, behavioral treatments begin with the negative aspects of what others see in someone rather than who any person really is which one can only see by looking beyond how they are responding to their environment at any given time.

Contrary to some popular beliefs, we don't become people only after we have had our behaviors evaluated and adjusted. It seems like some people tend to forget that all people really start out being people when we are born. There aren't any standard methods of any behavior that a child can exhibit that make them more that way.

Whatever goals may be achieved by working backwards from the outside in (so to speak) I think we need to discourage any means of attaining behavioral changes that can be terribly abused and justified by defining it as a means of some sort of treatment.

Whenever I hear the story of Helen Keller it is usually described in a couple of ways. One way that it is described is by emphasizing what a triumphant and overcoming hero Helen was. The other is by emphasizing what a patient and diligent therapist she had. While both of these women are due this respect, I think they miss the boat entirely when they confine what is important about her story to either one of these descriptions of these people. To me the most important thing about Helen's story that should be emphasized is that people who are seen to have impairments have so much to offer that is often not accepted or understood.

The key to understanding people is to keep our humanness first and foremost as the priority for how we should be viewed and therefore worked with. Too often we who are seen as disabled are not at all like people think or we don't become what we want to be and could be because it can be difficult for any oppressed population to break out of a stereotype weather those within that population have impairments beyond societies view of them or not.

So the question that I have is: Does society want this population to be empowered? If so, how many methods of discouraging this empowerment that are currently being used are others within the general population willing to accept as part of the problem and how willing are they to work toward changing them?

Mentally impaired people are more likely abused than other populations of disabled people. What I am reminded of though, is how few number of incidents of abuse that are carried out against this population are ever reported. If we are ever even listened to (which is rare), we are taught in harsh ways that we should never report these things and how we will be further punished if we do.

I often wonder if many people have any idea how good a person must look and how refined their speech must be as a part of this population in order to report how we are mistreated. Of course the other problem is that if we look too good, sound too good, or write too good we are often seen as someone who couldn't possibly know about or be a victim of the kinds of situations that we are reporting.

Whether or not abused people breaking out of this cycle is difficult or not isn't really doesn't need to be focused on as the primary issue, as long as there are so few efforts being made by others to correct the problem.

The efforts to silence the autistic population such as the ways Autism Speaks is doing are becoming more blatantly abusive and therefore more clear to the general population, and I hope that this kind of awareness will create the campaigns that are really needed to change things.

What's the point in claiming that some autistic people can't speak for themselves when so many efforts are made to prevent so many others of us from doing so?

We don't come and neat packages. We don't come without pathological problems or even bad attitudes. The next time you simply don't like what an autistic person thinks or says remember how often they may have been ignored, and what they thought didn't matter at all to others. Whenever you see an autistic person whom you think dresses too nice for speaks too well for an autistic person, please remember that often them being seen as autistic in the past may have also meant them being seen as someone who wasn't supposed to look or sound very good and consider whether or not you only want autistics to be seen in negative ways and how your views may affect our future .


At 10:23 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...


Autism Speaks does not speak for me.

Matthew Israel does not speak for me either.

Both are examples of very twisted peices of work, from my point of view.

Both can FOaD, and the world would probably be better off.


At 10:27 AM , Blogger Ed said...

Hey Patrick,

Yeah, I think twisted pieces of work sums them up from my point of view also.

At 12:36 PM , Blogger Autisic Annie said...



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