All too many discussions about developmental disabilities focus on parents and children, as if developmentally disabled adults didn’t exist, hence: Helen Lovejoy, Alpha Concern Troll.
I have a couple of longer posts spinning out in draft form right now, but right now, there is this post on Slate:
In the piece, Kahn compares psychopathy to autism, not because the two disorders are similar in their manifestation, but because psychologists believe they’re both neurological disorders, i.e. based in the brain and really something that the sufferer can’t help. This caused me to note on Twitter that even though the conditions are similar in this way, autism garners sympathy and psychopathy doesn’t.
That could be an excellent point. I just don’t think it’s true to the lived experience of autistic people or their caregivers.
I like a lot of Marcotte’s writing, and just this morning I developed a fawning crush on Is This Feminist, which came out of a Twitter conversation between Marcotte and Sady Doyle. but she sometimes paints with too broad a brush, and (on an embarrassingly regular basis) responds to critics by claiming that the fact that they’re mad must mean she’s right. In fact, she does it in this piece, writing, about the people who criticized her on Twitter, “The size of a logic hole is directly proportional to the amount of umbrage you’ll get for pointing it out, as I quickly discovered.”
I read through some of the comments directed at her, though, and a lot of the people she told to “calm down” didn’t seem outraged. Some people were offended at the comparison made between autistic people and psychopaths, which Marcotte brushed off as the indignant reaction of one group (autism advocates) that sees another group as inherently “less than.” I think I have seen horizontal hostility in disability communities — with people with a particular diagnosis or physical disability looking down on members of a different disabled group — and there are interesting conversations to be had about it, for which I will happily show up and shut up.
But Marcotte doesn’t acknowledge that autistic people are not only still subject to myriad negative stereotypes. In fact, they are often stereotyped in precisely the same way psychopaths are — and brushed off or ignored the people who pointed that out. And then patronizingly told them to calm down.
I also disagree with Marcotte’s statement that “for parents of psychopaths, there isn’t much hope at all” — at least, based on what was presented in the NYT Magazine piece she referenced. The story focused not just on the research, but on the available treatment options — which sound, to me, a lot like the positive behavior support techniques taught to many people who care for folks with developmental disabilities including, but not limited to, autism. I’ve seen firsthand the effect appropriate supports can have on reducing violent and inappropriate behavior in people who appeared, for their whole childhoods and a good portion of their adult lives, to be unwilling or unable to control themselves, either because they couldn’t comprehend the rules of social engagement or because they just got too mad sometimes to care about them. I think it could work for psychopathic kids, too.
Which might lead me to my final point: if you’re going to compare one neurological disorder to another, research them both well. Then still be willing to listen when people tell you where you’re wrong, acknowledge and move on.
In the interest of shutting the hell up myself, here’s part of a post from Katherine Bjornstad-Kelly on the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network blog. The post was about Autism “awareness” and Autism Speaks, but I think it also works as an illustration for why any argument premised on the notion that autistic people get all the breaks is just busted all to hell. Unless you do your research, unless you qualify the hell out of every comparison you make, people will always take issue with it.
I was taught to pity myself, to detest my Autistic traits, and to be sorry that I was putting the world through such a horrible ordeal just for existing. That’s what I had before I accepted myself. Awareness had taught me that I was broken and needed to be fixed, that I was something to be mourned. When I found acceptance, it taught me that my brain was beautiful and that I mattered.
In the mainstream autism community, the domain that is ruled by non-Autistic adults, autism acceptance is controversial. That autism is bad is taken as a given, so much so that hearing someone thinks otherwise can enrage people. But acceptance is about respect, loving people for who they are, and apologizing when something you’ve done or said inadvertently hurts people. Until awareness is mainstream, the mainstream autism community is not a safe place for Autistic people to be. If we do not feel safe in that community, no matter how good their intentions are, the members of that community are not truly helping us. A society that sees Autistic people as burdens is not a society that can truly appreciate the needs of the Autistic community, because that characterization robs us of our humanity and leads to our voices being ignored.