I was planning to write a few more specific response blogs to some of the stories that have been doing the rounds on Twitter over the past few days, but I just don’t have the inclination to sit down and give each story so much time. If you`re not sure what I am talking about let me explain.
First of all we had the autism/radicalisation story in the Daily Mail; a story which implied that autistic people are more likely to become terrorists, and I did take the time to write a full response to this one. Then over the weekend I came across another story, this time linking autism to screen time. In this article a professor of neurology talks about two studies which he claims show a link between screen time and autism. The idea being that some children can develop a type of autism from spending lot of time on Ipads or laptops, and if parents take those away and play with the children more then the autism will go away. A ridiculous story that harks back to the days of the refrigerator Mother, and once again a story written by a professional, based on work by other professionals, that has angered and offended the autistic community.
Then there was a story by writer Kathy Lette, again in the Daily Mail, in which she talks about feeling the need to hire a sex worker for her autistic son as he felt he would never be able to get a girlfriend on his own. As a lot of people on Twitter have already said, it`s not the idea of using a sex worker that’s the problem. It`s the fact there is nothing in the article to suggest that Lette talked to her son about the idea, not even when she came close to picking a women up on the street. It reads as if her plan was just to pick the woman up, turn up and present the woman to her son. Not even going in to the fact that he might not have wanted sex then, or with that particular women, there is the issue of planning. Doing anything that is not planned for, or part of the routine can be hard for autistic people. But something like this should never be sprung on anyone, least of all some one with autism. There is also no input from her son in the piece, and not even a line to say that he is happy for her to write about him in this way. I fully understand that there is a limit on words in an article, and perhaps she did talk to her son both about her idea and about writing the article, but what’s angered a lot of autistic people on twitter is that neither of those things are in anyway clear. It reads as if the plan was hatched and nearly put in to action without him knowing at all. And while this point might have nothing to do with autism, there is also the fact that the writer seems to make no distinction between hiring an escort from an agency, and picking a women up off the streets. From what I understand women working for escort agencies are perhaps less vulnerable, and exploited than women who are forced to work the streets.
All of these articles drew a lot of reaction from the autistic community. There was anger of course, but the overriding feeling seemed to be one of frustration. How many more ridiculous stories about autism are there going to be? We live in a world where, based on one debunked lie from a disgraced former doctor, thousands of people believe that vaccines cause autism. A world where people can go on T.V. and claim to cure autism by changing children’s diets. A world in which some parents will buy and then feed their children bleach because some con-artist has sold it to them as a cure for autism. And not just a world where every school shooting is linked to autism, but now a world where professionals think it`s OK to go in a national news paper, and link terrorism with autism as well.
There are of course other issues: hate crime, so called mate-crime, benefits being slashed, lack of employment for autistic people, autistic people being locked up for years in institutions with no good cause, and there are stories in the media of parents killing their autistic children, and almost being given a free pass by the press due to the stress of `putting up with` their autistic child for so long. I could go on.
It might sound like I am being negative, but I am just stating the facts when I point out the issues that face the autistic community. It`s important to recognise what these issues are if we are ever going to do anything to deal with them, and bring about some changes. But sometimes it does feel overwhelming, and that’s where the frustration comes in. Autistic people want to do what we can to fight against the levels of ignorance in society, but when we see that ignorance floating down from the top levels of the professional world it can feel as if everything we are trying to do is being undone by those who claim they are trying to help us. And it`s not just professionals, it can be some parents too, like those who cling to the idea that vaccines cause autism.
I feel – and this may sound a bit self-serving, but I am not just talking about myself here – but I feel that reading the writings of autistic people is the best way to understand autism. I know when I read other autistic peoples` blogs or posts on twitter I lean more, and recognize more that I never realised or thought of, than I do reading any study or report. And yet it seems that for the most part it`s harder for autistic peoples` voices to break out of the autism community, and in to the mainstream than it is for parents and professionals.
What I mean by this is that autistic writers and bloggers talk a lot of sense, and yet it feels like our voices are mainly being heard by those already in the autistic community. This does not mean there are not some well-known autistic writers in the mainstream such as Temple Grandin, or that nothing autistic authors write gets picked up by the media. But I do think overall it is harder for us to get our voices heard. Where as a professional – and to a slightly lesser extent a parent – can have an idea and no matter how silly it is, or how detrimental to autistic people, it can and often will get mainstream press coverage. Leading to ideas such as autism being caused by vaccines, being cured by diet, or being linked to screen-time filling up peoples timelines, and becoming part of the casual view of autism held by those who are not autistic, and don’t know anyone who is. Whereas genuinely good, thoughtful, insightful, and helpful ways to deal with real-life issues facing autistic people are often stuck within blogs, or on message boards being viewed by only a small amount of people.
It feels as if what you have to say about autism matters more if you are someone who works with autistic people, or a parent of autistic children than if you are autistic yourself. This makes it harder to fight the other battles that need to be fought when those who are meant to be helping you hold so much more power than you do. Even more so when they use that imbalance of power to spread silly or dangerous ideas, and to add to myths and stereo-types around autism.
Often, all the responses to articles like the ones I talked about above will only be read and spoken about in the autistic community, whereas the articles themselves are out in the mainstream.
So what? You might think that as long as autistic voices are being heard by autistic people what’s the big deal?
Well it`s the mainstream that shapes the view of society as a whole, that gets read by the next generation of parents and professionals, and helps to shape their view of autism and autistic people. And I, for one, would rather have those views shaped by the writings and thoughts of autistic people themselves.
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