Tag Archives: news

How the media is shaping public perceptions of autism for the worse.

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.

You can find my new book here: http://www.jkp.com/uk/communicating-better-with-people-on-the-autism-spectrum-34251.html

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Are autistic people at a greater risk of being radicalised?: My response.

A few days ago an article was published in the Daily Mail in which Clare Allely, a lecturer in psychology at the University of Salford, stated that she thought autistic people might be at more risk of being radicalised and explained why she thought that was. I will cover some of the points made in the piece and talk about why I disagree with the article itself, but it might be worth you having a read of it before or after reading what I have to say about it. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-4633128/Autistic-people-risk-radicalised.html

Let’s start with the opening lines. First of all the article talks about people with `traits` of autism. Right from the start this is vague, and unhelpful language. If you know anything about autism then you know that you are either autistic or you are not. You can’t have people with `traits` of autism, but what you can have is people who act in a way that is stereotypically thought of as autistic. What I mean by this is people who would be classed as `loners`; those people who do not have a lot of friends and tend to spend most of their time on their own in their rooms. Yes some autistic people might be like that, but this in itself is not a sign of autism.

The article then goes on to explain what terrorism is, and that the last few years have seen a rise in so called `lone-wolf` attacks where an individual commits an act of violence due to being radicalised without necessarily being part of a wider group. It lists the types of terrorist, and then jumps in to explaining how being autistic can make you more likely to participate in terror activities. The aim being to “ ..illustrate how some of the symptoms of ASD can ‘help’ make a pathway towards being inspired to act on behalf of a terrorist cause, join a terrorist organisation, engage in directed attacks – or indeed carry out lone wolf terrorism.”


Now where to start with this? First off there are no `symptoms` of autism – autism is not a disease. This might sound like a small point in the wider scope of the article, but when as an autistic person you hear words like `traits` or `symptoms` being thrown around it’s hard for you to take anything else that is being said seriously.

Then we have the so-called `symptoms` themselves; the things that apparently make autistic people more likely to go out and murder innocent people. The article makes the point that autistic people can often be lonely and isolated and feel a need to belong, as well as having a tendency to hyper-focus, which if they focus on the wrong thing can lead to an obsession. Let’s break these down, starting with the last. Yes autistic people often, but not always do have a special interest or more than one, and often we do dedicate a lot of time to said interest. But why would taking an interest in something lead to a loss of feeling or a desire to kill? I know a lot of non-autistic people with a keen interest in serial killers: they know all the names, read books on them and watch hours upon hours of TV about them. But this in no way means they want to hurt anyone let alone kill them. It means they have an interest in a dark subject. Of course this is different from looking up terrorist videos online, but my point is – autistic or not – having an interest in people who do bad things does not mean a loss of all human feeling, or a desire to go out and replicate the things read about. Autistic people are making the point more and more that special interests can be, and often are a good thing, and most of the time if they are not positive per say, they at least are not negative. But too often they are still talked about by professionals as `obsessions` and treated like something that at best should be tolerated, but never embraced. Linking them to an interest in terrorism and acting as if they can be the first step on a path to murder is hardly helping autistic people fight the old and out-dated negative image of autism itself, and special interests in particular.

What about the issues of autistic people being lonely and isolated?

It is true that some autistic people can find themselves in this situation. I have spoken to, and know many autistic people who do most of their communicating via their computer as they find it hard to go out and interact with people face to face. I myself don’t go out and socialize much, and I never have.

I understand the underlying idea that if you find yourself alone, and not fitting in you can end up falling in with a `bad crowd` so to speak. You can end up changing yourself to fit in with the people around you, whether you’re autistic or not. But again making the jump from that to someone being willing to kill people, and then die themselves just to gain a bit of respect from someone on the internet seems a bit far-fetched to say the least.

In fact autistic people from what I have seen (and I don’t have statistics, I am just going off the hundreds of autistic people I have spoken to, or read about) seem much more likely to hurt themselves when they sink in to the depths of loneliness. Depression can set in and people can turn to self-medicating with drugs, drink or self harm as can non-autistic people. Again I am not saying this is the case for all autistic people, but it is much much more likely than someone planning to deal with their loneliness by committing murder.

The article has no weight to it whatsoever. It says that because autistic people can be lonely and need to fit in they are more likely to become terrorists, and yet all it offers us to back that up is two cases of autistic people becoming terrorists. I don’t for one second dispute the fact that there will be autistic terrorists as I feel that there are autistic people in every walk of life – both good and bad. But to make the headline-grabbing claim that autistic people are more likely to be radicalised is just foolish and lazy writing.

But it’s not just lazy.

To make the jump from saying some autistic people might be lonely and looking to fit in, to them being willing to go out and commit murder is a strange jump. I worry that the only real way to make such a jump is to accept the defunct idea that autistic people don’t feel empathy. This is an idea you still see pushed by professionals in some places despite it being outdated and wrong. Autistic people sometimes do find it hard to express how they feel, or even understand it themselves, but that’s not the same as not valuing human life, and being willing to take it. In fact lots of autistic people are overly emphatic, and are profoundly affected by what they see on the news. This might not always be visible, or even understood by the autistic person themselves (it might just come out in a sudden bad/low mood).

Autistic people have been fighting to get rid of the idea that we are unfeeling and cold-hearted for years, and saying that we are more likely than non-autistic people to become involved in terror is not helping that fight at all.

But it is nothing new; each time there is a school/college shooting in the USA what is one of the first things we hear? The shooter was `kind of a loner`, and then within hours that changes to `perhaps autistic?`. Why? Because he spent a lot of time alone and was `weird`, and apparently that’s all you need to be to be classed as autistic. It’s just something else that makes the killer `other`. In the shock people cast around for something, anything to help themselves make sense of the senseless violence. And they light upon the idea of autism. Autism is different. Not all children are like this so what are people meant to think when they hear that “ if your child’s class has an autistic kid in it, he is the most likely one here to start shooting”. That might not be what’s said, but if you hear autism talked about in the wake of each and every shooting it’s what people start to think. I know of one case where a mass shooter has been autistic (not saying there is just one, just that’s the one I know about) but I know of a lot more where autism has been talked about despite the killer being dead and undiagnosed.

Autism has nothing whatsoever to do with violence. And yet we keep hearing it spoken about as part of the motivation for killers. If we start hearing it talked about each time there is a terrorist attack, to where could this lead? At best it will lead to a more negative and fearful view of autism and autistic people – putting the public image of autism back years, and undoing a lot of the good work done by autistic people to promote a more positive, and realistic view of autism.

At worst it could lead to the public viewing autistic people as a danger, and autistic people suffering because of this. We have seen Muslims being attacked due to the idea promoted by some of the media that they are `all terrorists`, or `sympathise with terror`. It might seem like a jump to imagine the same thing happening to autistic people down the line, but there is already an idea in the media that we are dangerous due to the constant linking of autism and shootings. If the same starts to happen with terror attacks then given the current climate, and desire to place blame, it would not be wholly unlikely to see autistic people being shunned, or even attacked.

Also, without wanting to turn this in to a personal attack, I do find it worrying that the writer of this article teaches the next generation of psychologists. When you see a point being made in the national press with so little weight to it, that can cause so much harm to the people it talks about, you do worry about the fact that the next generation of professionals might believe it, and have the ideas generated by such stories in the back of their minds when working with autistic people.

The article claims that it is going to offer advice on how to help autistic people avoid being radicalised. This is apparently the justification for writing about such a topic. But in fact the article hardly says a word about how to stop this supposed problem. It simply makes a lot of wild claims, talks up the idea, and then ends. It is not as if this is a real documented problem and the article is there to provide help. In fact the article expressly states that there is no evidence for the claims that it makes and the research in to autism and radicalisation is `in it`s infancy`. Given that this is explicitly stated toward the begining of the article it seems even stranger that towards the end there is a call for all terrorist suspects to be assessed for autism. It is highly irresponsible to make a call for action as big as this while at the same admitting you have no hard evidence to back up the claims that this call for action is based on.

People with Autism Spectrum Disorder may be vulnerable to ISIS propaganda

  • Autistic people are more isolated and lonely and so may be easier to target
  • Their obsessive and compulsive tendencies could also put them at a higher risk
  • Findings suggest people involved with terrorism should be evaluated for ASD

    So if people with ASD could be at higher risk, how can we protect them from falling under the spell of terror organisations such as the so-called Islamic State?

I know this blog is a few days late in responding to the article, and some of you might feel that I should have ignored it instead of drawing more attention to it, but as I have tried to make clear I do not feel that the article is the whole of the problem. I feel it is part of a wider issue where autism is linked to violence, and autistic people are demonized. And once a group of people are demonized it changes the way society views them, and leaves them vulnerable to abuse and even physical attacks. Autistic people are misunderstood, and vulnerable enough as it is.

You can find my new book here: http://www.jkp.com/uk/communicating-better-with-people-on-the-autism-spectrum-34251.html

If you need any help or advice abut Asperger`s/Autism or simply want to talk about it check out our free help and advice service ASK-PERGERS?

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Why politics can be life or death for disabled people ….

(Note: I should have written and published this before the election, but I think it`s worth putting out now. One because the result is still not fully confirmed yet, but also because it will still be relevant for other elections, or just to help people get a sense of what is going on in this country.)

Some people are happy to let politics pass them by. They turn off the news and skim past links on Twitter, acting as if it has nothing to do with them. “Its boring” they say, or even worse they make the close to unforgivable statement that “None of it matters anyway”. It should be clear to anyone reading this how silly such a statement is, and I wish that I could just say “On their own heads be it” and leave them to their ignorance, but the truth is the consequences of such ignorance falls on all our heads. Politics underpins everything in life, so by all means if you have no interest in how much tax you pay, the cost of what you buy, the state and price of your healthcare, education, the emergency services, terrorism, poverty, civil and equal rights, crime, homelessness, war or the environment, then feel free to take no interest in politics.

But if you do care about any of those things then you already have a vested interest in politics. This means you can`t just sit back and ignore what’s going on in front of you in the political world. It means that you understand that what you see on the news will have an impact in your real life. There are some groups of people who can see, and feel this more than others.

If like me you are disabled/autistic, and have lived for the past seven years under the Conservative government, you won`t have been able to avoid seeing the devastating real-life impact of their policies. I could sit here and list the atrocities committed by this government, and the coalition before it – and perhaps I will do so in another blog – but for now I want to talk a bit more about what it feels like to watch the fight for number 10 unfold in front of your eyes knowing the very human cost that losing this fight could bring. I will touch on the destructive policies of the Conservative government, but if you want to know more I suggest following these links. ( https://www.theguardian.com/profile/frances-ryan

The Conservatives have launched a two-pronged attack on disabled people, both cutting our benefits, and also cutting the budgets of local services set up to help disabled people. There are people with mobility issues who have to drag themselves around on their own floors because they are no longer able to get carers to come in, and help them to care for themselves. Some people find themselves confined to their homes as they have their mobility benefits taken off them, or find that they are no longer entitled to the modified cars they depended on to get out and about. Disabled people who are unable to work are having their benefits cut to the point where they can no longer feed themselves, let alone pay for care. It`s not going too far to say that disabled people in England in 2017 are treated as less than human by their government.

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The welfare state is being butchered in front of our very eyes, and the cleaver falls first on those least able to defend themselves from its blows. There have been hundreds of suicides linked to cuts in benefits. Think about it; if you need X amount of money to live and you find that money cut, cut and cut again it`s not hard to see what the outcome is. You can`t pay for your care, you have to face the daily struggle of just trying to stay alive, only now you have the Conservative government blocking your attempts. It`s not hard to see how people are driven to, and past the point of giving up all hope. And its not as if disabled people are not speaking out about this. On the BBC`s Victoria Derbyshire show a disabled woman named Fiona confronted Dominic Raab M.P. about these very issues. She told him of people she knew who had been driven to the point of taking their own lives by the harsh cuts to disability benefits. Raab said it was childish. He was recently promoted to the roll of Justice Minister.

Fiona summed it up when she said “This election is life or death for us.” Disabled people don’t get to ignore politics any more, we don’t get the chance to pretend it does not impact on us. We can see the levels of humiliation, degradation and death caused by the Conservatives and their heartless, soulless, brutal brand of politics. We can`t just flick the T.V. off and stop thinking about this. We are watching the election, and its outcome knowing that if the Conservatives remain in power real people will die as a direct result of their actions. Some people will be watching events unfolding, knowing that the chances of them surviving five more years of life under the Conservatives are slim at best.

It must be nice to be able to exist in a state of blissful ignorance; a world where the savage reality of cuts to the most vulnerable, and the levels of suffering that they produce do not exist, or do not matter. But some of us can`t live in that state of ignorance. We know that the fight against the Conservatives goes far beyond a clash over political view points, and for some disabled people it is a fight for dignity, for the right to be treated like a human being, and for life itself.

You can find my new book here: http://www.jkp.com/uk/communicating-better-with-people-on-the-autism-spectrum-34251.html

If you need any help or advice abut Asperger`s/Autism or simply want to talk about it check out our free help and advice service ASK-PERGERS?

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And have a look at our books (at the time published under pseudonyms, but we did write them trust us on that!)  http://www.jkp.com/catalogue/author/1762

 

Writing about writing on a cake

Let`s talk about the cake story.  You know the one; woman goes in to a shop, buys a cake, it has messy writing on, and she finds out the girl who wrote it is autistic.  Moral of the story is be kind.  We all know it by now.  But what I want to talk about in this blog is how different people reacted to it – both in positive and negative ways.  Some people, a lot of people, loved it.  It made their day.  Some people were indifferent, and some people flat-out hated it.  Who was right? And why?

The people who loved it said that the story was heartwarming, it made them happy to think of someone being so kind to a person with autism.  A lot of autistic people liked it as it made them feel as if getting a job was not beyond them.  Parents of people with autism seemed to feel the same way.  It was, to the people who viewed it this way, a positive story in the middle of a lot of bad news.

Some people were totally indifferent.  A friend of mine told me her sister showed her the story.  My friends reaction was something like this ” So a woman bought a cake?”  She wanted to check with me, as I have autism, what I thought of the story and I told her that I felt pretty much the same as she did.  She just could not get what the big deal was with a woman going out, and buying a cake.

What about people who did not like the cake story?  Some people did say, in the wake of the cake story being on everyone’s news feed, that it in fact did more harm than good.  It can be read as saying that having a normal human interaction with an autistic person is, in and of itself, an act of kindness.  That treating autistic people with any level of respect should be seen as heartwarming.

So who is right?  I know it`s not that easy so perhaps I should rephrase that.  What do I think might be a better thing to talk about?  I can’t say it`s right, all I can say is that it is what I feel. I fall in to the camp that thinks of it as a negative thing.  It feels to me like those awkward times when your hear an older person saying something like ” He is black, but he is such a good Dad.” They think they mean well, and are trying their best to be kind, but it just comes out all wrong!  The implication obviously being that the majority of black men would not make good Dads.  Even though this isn`t stated, the racism is still there.  I totally see that the woman who first posted this just thought she had done something kind as she was told she`d made someone’s day.  I don’t blame her, or think she is bad.  And I don’t think you`re bad or nasty if you share this or enjoy it.  I just think it`s misguided.

Let me explain why, instead of just saying I don’t like it.  First of all I genuinely do not see the big deal here. Woman buys cake. That’s all I get from the story.  I might well be missing something, and if I am point it out to me!  But what it feels like to me is that just because the woman who wrote on the cake was autistic this buying of a cake became an act of kindness.  I don’t see the big deal and yet whenever I ask anyone what it is all they tell me it`s “Its cute.” or “it`s a feel good story.”  I might be over-thinking this, but I am autistic so that’s kind of what I do.   So bear with me here for a minute. I think stories like this do a lot more harm than good for autistic people.  If someone comes out and says “Autistic people are only there to make me feel good or to be pitied”  Then everybody would react. It`s right there in your face.  But things like this I feel are part of an insidious movement that seems to say just that, without even meaning to.  It feels like we are at a point where if a non-autistic  person decides not to bully, or to just interact normally with someone who is autistic, we celebrate them.

Should she not just be doing that anyway?  Why is just not shouting at, or bullying someone an act of kindness. It`s basically just how we should be all the time with anyone.  What gets me is quite how much people seem to love this story?  You can say I am reading too much in to a happy story if you like, and you are free to disagree with everything I have said.  But I still feel how I feel.  I can’t help the fact that this story seems all wrong on so many levels to me.

If you need any more help or advice about Asperger`s/Autism or simply want to talk about it check out our free help and advice service ASK-PERGERS?

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