TRIGGER WARNING: DOMESTIC VIOLENCE and ABLEISM
For those who don’t know me from my online presence, I tend to be outspoken against Autism Speaks. Autism Speaks has been trying to reform their image. In my opinion, the legacy of the damage they inflicted is so profound that it cannot be easily sanitised or redeemed. The language around autism has forever been altered by Autism Speaks in ways that have turned Autistics into a focal point for fear. Autism Speaks cannot erase the memory of their commercial, “I Am Autism” from the minds of those who have seen it, no matter how hard they try to move past the decisions that led them to making the video. The following is a direct quote from the “I am Autism” video created by Autism Speaks.
*sinister male voice plays while the image of children flashes in the background*
I am invisible to you until it’s too late. I know where you live. With every voice I take away, I acquire yet another language. I work faster than pediatric AIDS, cancer, and diabetes combined. If you’re happily married, I will make sure that your marriage fails. Your money will fall into my hands, and I will bankrupt you for my own self gain. I don’t sleep, so I make sure you don’t either. I will make it virtually impossible for your family to easily attend a temple, birthday party, or public park without embarrassment. You have no cure for me. I derive great pleasure out of your loneliness. I will fight to take away your hope. I will plot to rob you of your children and your dreams. You are scared, and you should be. I am autism. You ignored me. That was a mistake.
I imagine there are people who didn’t see this video back when it was playing on television several times a day, maybe because they were too young. If you doubt me, you can look the video up on youtube. I’ll warn you that it is very upsetting.
Autistics (I use Identity-First language, as most Autistics do), are regularly abused in the media. Autism Speaks has only added to the problem by giving the impression it is alright. We are called sociopaths, burdens, home-wreckers, and worse. Sometimes the portrayals are upfront about their intentions, and sometimes they give the cloying sense of having the best wishes of people with autism at heart. In a way, I’d rather read something written by a person who is clownishly forthright about their prejudice, and who doesn’t hide behind the idea that they are legitimate advocates, rather than something produced by Autism Speaks. At least then I could tell myself that people might see through it, rather than buying into it.
I also see a lot of damage done to Autistics by the people who are closest to them. I am going to discuss articles written by two bloggers. One of the blogger’s is a woman who appears to have decided autism is the reason her former partner was abusive. As a person who had an abusive spouse, I feel for the pain she suffered, but know it’s a mistake on her part to blame autism. Autistics are far more likely to be the victims of spousal abuse than the perpetrators. I should know. The second person is a spouse who talks about how she loves her husband, but proceeds to rip him to shreds.
The second blogger tends to appeal to an audience looking for ways to connect to their Autistic partners. The first blogger is very straightforward about her negative feelings about Autistics, unlike the second blogger, who is clear that she at least wants to have good intentions, even if it goes wrong sometimes. I think that’s why the first blogger is easier to set aside. They are so clownishly forthright about their prejudice that a person who is like the second blogger, wanting to have good intentions, wouldn’t feel bad about dismissing what they have to say. If you read the comment sections of both, you’ll see the second blogger has many other spouses of Autistics reading her work. She also has readers who are spouses unhappy in their marriages, looking for a way to blame their partner for everything. The first blogger is so openly vitriolic, most of her comments are in defence of Autistics. Again, that speaks volumes.
Blogger #1 normally writes about Mental Health issues. Considering the way she writes about autism, it wouldn’t surprise me if she’s equally cruel towards all varieties of neurodivergence, and all members of neurominorities. Frustratingly, she points to how only Autistics attacked her for what she had to say as further evidence that they are the abusive, dangerous people she makes them out to be. Mentally ill people are amongst the most marginalised. It isn’t always easy for a mentally ill person to confront prejudice. It’s risky and draining. If they are Doxxed as a response to standing up for themselves, social stigma around mental illness could have real life consequences.
Please, don’t reach out to Blogger #1. Nothing good could come from it. She won’t listen to anything you have to say, but she will attack you, and treat you as less than human.
Here are some horrifying examples from her post about Autistics:
“…if you get involved in a relationship with an “Aspie”, as they’re called, you will get hurt. Badly.”
“…a key feature of their disorder is the inability to understand their disorder.”
“Aspies are very similar to sociopaths, with the most obvious exception being that sociopaths are socially charming and aspies are socially awkward. Despite the lack of empathy, one of the core traits of a sociopath, aspies are treated as totally legitimate in our society.”
“…get it tattooed on your f**cking head or whatever, I don’t care what you do, just stick with your own kind and stop destroying people!!!”
“…life’s too short to deal with assholes, no matter what their hangup is… Just because you clueless dumbasses don’t mean to hurt someone, doesn’t mean that you don’t.”
“…go back to tracking weather statistics… stick with your own kind is all I’m saying.”
She is bound and determined to prove all Autistics have ZERO empathy. She starts by quoting David Finch, from his book called Love is Blind – Marriage is the Eye-Opener. Why does she use this quote? Hint: David Finch is Autistic, and he blames this fact for the destruction of his marriage.
She repeatedly writes about how “They” try to censor her. “They” stalk her online. It’s entirely possible she’s including me as one of her stalkers. I have written about this article, but otherwise, avoid her like the plague.
It is depressing to see someone who believes they know so much about Autistics, but fails to understand we are not a homogenous group. The Autistic community has intersectionality of race, religion, language, culture, nationality, socio-economic background, gender etc.
She claims everything she writes is protected under free speech. What does that have to do with what people say in response? Isn’t that also protected under free speech? Freedom of speech doesn’t mean you will be free from backlash.
For this next point, I am going to use a direct quote because it so precisely demonstrates the position I am arguing:
“Now if you do a Google search on “Asperger’s and Empathy”, you’ll see something strickingly at odds with that fact (the “fact” she refers to her is that people with autism have ZERO EMPATHY) – you’ll find an endless stream of links to articles claiming “not only do Aspies have empathy, we have much more of it than neurotypicals!” All these articles are written by Aspies themselves, and they should know, right? Don’t believe it for a moment! Remember what I said above – a key feature of their disorder is the inability to understand their disorder.
She goes on to clarify her opinion that if Autistic’s person calls themselves empathetic, it is an assessment that can’t be trusted unless it it verified by the non-Autistic individuals in their lives. This is the feedback loop – the very act of claiming to have empathy is proof you do not have empathy.
She really loves to quote Simon Baron-Cohen to prove her points. He also suggests asking the people in an Autistic’s life if they are empathetic, because they are a more reliable source.
Blogger #1 wants to prove a point, so she finds material that proves it. I can do the same with the idea that Autistics DO have empathy. It is called a CONFIRMATION BIAS.
I would love to hear about the articles you’ve read. If you have links, all the better.
Now for Blogger #2. As I’ve already stated, her spouse is Autistic. She refers to him as having Asperger’s Syndrome.
I am going to list words/sentences/phrases she uses that were insulting/incorrect:
- “High-Functioning” – People really need to quit using this. In my experience, it is used to silence people on one end of the spectrum by suggesting they aren’t “Autistic enough” to have the right to talk about autism. It is also used to suggest that people on the other end are incapable of having opinions worth listening to and gives permission for people to feel free to speak for them.
- “Notable lack of common sense” – Have you watched Youtube?
- “Brain disorders” – While not technically incorrect, in the context of everything else, it really bothers me.
- “More common in men” – Nope. It is more diagnosed in men. Research is trying to draw attention to ways autism looks different in men than women, but even this is too simplistic. What about people who describe their gender and sexual identities outside of straight, male, and female?
- “The shortcomings of adults with Asperger’s Syndrome have been camouflaged beneath layers of coping strategies and defence mechanisms.” – Yes, Autistics have coping strategies and defence mechanisms. Seeing these described as ways to camouflage our shortcomings made me throw-up in my mouth just a little. Our strategies often are the result of years of torture through Applied Behaviour Analysis techniques or simply having to live with the hypocrisy and double-standards of a society that lays the blame at our feet for any social interaction we’re involved in going sour.
- Behaviour comes off as “odd” or “eccentric” but is “passable” because they offer something special to society in the way of specialised skills or intelligence – This attitude is the bane of marginalised groups. It isn’t enough for a person of colour to be good at their job. They have to be the best. It isn’t enough for an Autistic to be gainfully employed. If they are anything less than extraordinary, someone is going to call them a “burden to society”. I recently wrote a blog about how terrifying the word “burden” is for people with disabilities. If you want to read it, click on this link: Burden – A Heavily Weighted Word
- “Appears normal” – The context of this was that her friends see her spouse as “normal”, so they don’t understand her “suffering” and won’t give her the sympathy when she expresses these thoughts. She says this leaves her “isolated”.
- “Spouses play an abnormally large caregiver role” – She says that her spouse doesn’t do his share of chores and isn’t emotionally available. Right, because no spouse of a non-Autistic has ever said anything similar. *sarcasm*
- “Although people with Asperger’s Syndrome do feel affection towards others, relationships are not a priority for them in the same way that it is for people who do not have Asperger’s Syndrome.” – I can’t help thinking of the Doctor who asked my cousin if she cares about other people, and what they think of her. When she answered that she does, he told her this is proof she isn’t really Autistic. What a jackass. In my experience, we spend so much time thinking about relationships and interactions, we wind ourselves up into big balls of anxiety. Sometimes we have to walk away from it just to be able to get our minds and bodies straight again.
- “Afflicted” – Ugh. It’s like she thinks we are diseased. Gross.
- Lack of Empathy – In my experience, which is increasingly being reflected in research, many Autistics are Hyper-Empathetic. They feel responsible for the whole damn world, which often is why people with autism are left-leaning and social justice activists. We feel people’s emotions like a physical assault.
- In many cases, the Asperger partner analysed the partner prior to marriage and assessed them as being capable of filling a compensatory role for his own deficits. – This sentence is so repulsive, I feel like it speaks for itself. She goes on to say the non-Asperger partner takes on the role of a personal assistant in a business relationship rather than a marriage. She also says this spouse will feel betrayed by not having their expectations of a mutual/equal relationship met.
- “Sacrifice” – It ranks right up there with “burden” on the obnoxious word list for people with disabilities.
- “Flexibility is exploited” – Here again, the Autistic is framed as abusive. This is coming from the non-Autistic partner who writes about their Autistic partner in this way. She goes on to talk about these things damaging the non-Autistic partner’s self-esteem. Seriously? You wrote THIS BLOG about your spouse and you want to talk about your self-esteem and empathy?
- Suggests the non-Autistic partner evaluate whether there is enough value in the marriage to continue, while also suggesting they keep all their financial affairs separate. I would love to suggest to her husband that he do the same.
The comment page for this blog was full of people thanking her for such an enlightening article, and for affirming what they’d been feeling. I wonder if this woman knows how many people in bad marriages try to armchair diagnose their “difficult” spouses so they can blame everything wrong in the marriage on them. When she suggests a person will resist diagnosis, she is basically giving people permission to harass their spouse to get a diagnosis (which they’ll use to explain everything that goes wrong in their life). There were comments that mirrored a tamed-down version of the first blog referenced. At least one of the anonymous comments could have been the author of that blog. Equally disturbing was at least one Autistic commenter accepted what was said as a more universal truth, believing she must be unfit for a romantic relationship.
My suggestion: Start reading with a discerning eye. Start questioning the message put out in the world by articles. Stop supporting the toxic representation of autism.