Hierarchies in the autistic community

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There are two articles I read today that touch on hierarchies in the autistic community.

One is a post by a mother, called Making the Case for the Boring Autistic. She talks about how the special skills of autistics are highlighted in an attempt to make a case for our existence. And how this doesn’t need to happen. As far as I’m concerned, this has needed to be said for a long time.

The other is an article on Autism Speaks, called Autistics Speak. In the course of the article, the author inteviews the creator of Getting the Truth Out, who at one point talks about the way certain autistics value themselves over other autistics.

While I’m at it, I’ll throw in my own Oak Manifesto, which I wrote in response to both hierarchies and false categories. And Autistic Pride Day: Do We Celebrate It Right? by Joel Smith, who describes some false and damaging kinds of “autistic pride” that he’s seen floating around. (Contrary to their own belief, that article was not meant as a slam on the creators of Autistic Pride Day, whom Joel doesn’t even know.)

I want to write more about this, but the Neverending Migraine has been bad today and I need to go to bed again. I’ll just say that both ethically and personally the autistic superiority attitude turns my stomach.

About Mel Baggs

Hufflepuff. Came from the redwoods. Crochet or otherwise create constantly and compulsively. Write poetry and paint when I can. Physically and cognitively disabled. Anything you hear in the media or gossip is likely to be oversimplified at best and wildly inaccurate at worst, the only way to get to know me is to actually know me. I'm not really part of any online faction or another, even ones that claim me as a member. The thing in the world most important to me is having love and compassion for other people, although I don't always measure up to my own standards there by a longshot. And individual specific actions and situations and contexts matter a lot more to me than broadly-spoken abstract words and ideas about a topic. My father died a couple years ago and that has changed my life a lot in ways that are still evolving, but I wear a lot of his clothes and hats every day since he died and have shown no sign of stopping soon.

10 responses »

  1. Hi, Thanks for linking to my essay. Now there is controversy.

    I just had to post my first rebuttal right on the heels of yours, but I’m willing to defend my position for as long as it takes before I become too overloaded to continue. I would not have bothered to write this piece if I did not feel passionate about the topic.

  2. I wanted to add a note of thanks for Joel’s article on Autistic Pride Day. This is the first time I’ve read it. It’s interesting not so much that we both sensed the same thing, but that we both used the term “autistic superpowers” to try to describe what we were sensing about the problem in the “autistic community.” I just wanted to thank Joel for the article and to reassure him that I didn’t lift the term from his article. It must have been floating around in the atmosphere and my internal radio honed in on the frequency.

  3. Ms Collins, if you want to win the argument, then I’ll stop posting. You won’t ever have to contemplate views different from yours, or the evidence on which those views are founded. I’m not sure what you “win” though, but if that is your goal, then I’ll go away.

    I don’t really feel okay or welcome posting anywhere but on my own comment boards, so it’s easy to make me go away.

    I’m willing to change my position if someone provides me with evidence that it’s inaccurate or unethical.

    Criticism isn’t “controversy”. Without excellent criticism, my own work would be worthless. I get terrified (in fact, am currently terrified) when I have work out there which I believe has not adequately been criticized.

    I have persistently annoyed my colleagues when they have failed to sufficiently provide criticism of my work. And I have in some cases gone far and wide to find the toughest criticism available.

    But I accept there’s nothing I can do about someone who says “I’m right because I feel really strongly about this, and if you don’t agree with me, you are just generating controversy” or words to that effect. “

  4. From the comments page of my blog to here as well:

    Hi Michelle,

    I didn’t think I would have had to put the word Boring in quotation marks throughout the essay to indicate irony, meaning *I* don’t think any autistics are boring but *others* probably do (or worse, hence the term “retard” in the story) if they can’t identify anything *of conventional value* in the autistic person they have met or seen up on the screen.

    You wrote:

    If autistics had no strengths relative to typical people (versus relative to our weaknesses), then there would be no significant results to report, versus the large quantity (with replications) that now exists (across decades and continents).

    Another consistent and salient point throught this essay was the idea of marketing and making something that will be popularly viewed, *and* who is doing the marketing, and through what preconceived notions about what they are documenting. Even if all autistics have strengths relative to NTs, that doesn’t mean NTs will find certain of those strengths *interesting*…which was my point. The “conventionally interesting” things are hand-picked and fed back to us, and the “noninteresting” (“boring,” or things that appear to be unenviable by the NT viewer) are not. My son David can do many things that NTs can’t, such as tell me the exact order of the play list on the back of his CD box, regardless of length, but while that is indeed a skill, if it were put into documentary form by today’s standards, that would be seen as something kind of weird and tragic, whereas if he were composing symphonies, it would be celebrated as genius.

    I don’t find this boring at all,

    Neither do I. That wasn’t the point. I would not find a reality TV show called Autism House boring…*at all.* Do you think it would get good ratings?

    or deserving of mockery or ridicule, or something to hide when we go out in public, or to deny because it doesn’t fit in with various beliefs about what autism is allowed to be in this society.

    Again, the point was *all* people should be allowed (for lack of a better word) to be as conventionally “boring” or as interesting *to others* as they are or care to be, but there is a double-standard when it comes to autistic people, which I have amply pointed out already.

    This is not about winning or losing this argument. I stand by my essay. If you want to have the last word on it, that’s okay. I never asked you to go away. I said I welcomed a dialogue with you.

    I used the word “controversy” on Ballastexistenz because initially I thought you were saying that the entire piece was condescending, etc., but you were not saying that.

    I still believe, without denying your valid arguments, that you are missing the overall point of the essay.

  5. And I, likewise, stand by what I said before: I never denied the existence of autistic strengths, or claimed that they should not be discussed, but merely that some people discuss them in an elitist fashion.

    Michelle: If you have not encountered autistic elitists before (and I never said or implied that you were one, or that talking about autistic strengths made anyone one, or I would be one too, and I don’t consider myself one), then consider yourself lucky. I have.

    I have encountered people who insist things like:

    1. That we are the next step in human evolution (yes I know that with the way evolution works that is a faulty concept in itself), and that NTs will and should simply become obsolete.

    2. That all NTs should be destroyed because autistics have these superpowers of being able to control our emotions at all times and assorted other things like that (things that are not even universal to autistics), and that we are just overall better than they are.

    3. That “AS/HFA people” are, let’s see, great at language, unemotional, great computer programmers, and other skills like that, and that they, at least, are assets to society, unlike people they consider “LFAs” and many other autistic people (who are not assets to society according to them).

    And so forth.

    If you haven’t said things like this, which as far as I know you haven’t, then maybe you ought to be aware that you are not the kind of person, at least, that I am discussing. And I am not sure how to make it clearer than that.

  6. I’ve encountered all kinds of inaccurate views of autism and autistic people. And, as I wrote already, the problem is not that some of these inaccurate views are about strengths. The problem is that these views are inaccurate, condescending, demeaning, possibly harmful, etc.

    My view is that replacing one kind of inaccuracy with another kind is not helpful, however creatively and compellingly it’s done.

    There is an important problem in the science, re autistic strengths.

    I would not feel able to discuss it in the current atmosphere, in which “strengths” has become a bad word (accompanied by automatic gales of mockery). In contrast, I can discuss this in a few corners of the research community, because, contrary to popular presentation, there are at least some researchers concerned primarily with accuracy.

  7. I’ve summarized some of this here http://www.quicktopic.com/27/H/vJvhV4fDnBgw7/m3041 I might add something later about the science vs Bonnie Ventura’s position.

    And I really apologize for dealing with this on other people’s blogs (I’m not sure whether I’m being asked to apologize, but I screwed up, so I am apologizing). There is a comment board set up by my boss Ralph which has the specific purpose of discussing stuff like this (which is of really limited interest to most people), and I should have kept (and will keep) my views confined to that space.

  8. If strengths were a bad word that immediately equated to mockery then I wouldn’t talk about them. I’d mock them. And I don’t and I never have.

    Elitism is one particular problem. And I talk about particular problems in particular snippets because that’s how I can talk. If I happen to talk about the misuse of autistic strengths at one point, that does not mean I am against autistic strengths or mocking autistic strengths or anything else. Any more than when I talk about the routine underestimation of autistic people, I am somehow saying that autistic people have no difficulties in the world.

    This is how I talk. I can’t (with a few rare exceptions) talk about all these things at once. If I happen to talk about the problems of elitism on one day, that does not mean that I think that autistic strengths do not exist or should be made objects of mockery. If I happen to talk about the problems of underestimating autistic people on another day, that does not mean that I think that autistic people do not experience difficulty or that autistic people should be pushed to do things we cannot do. I have been accused of both of those thanks to people who assume both when I try to talk about either.

  9. Michelle, I’ve read a bit about your work, and there’s a world of difference between the thoroughly researched strengths you report and the kind of sweeping generalisations made by, say, an insecure autistic who’s chatted with two others and found “the Big Advantage that will enable autistic people to rule the world”. Those people do exist, and in my opinion they’re no better informed than those who bury themselves in self-hate.

    I do sometimes speak of the kind of strengths that you report, mostly in a context of illustrating differences, and do so without fear of being thought either gravely mistaken or elitist, since such discussions have nothing to do with the mechanisms described and criticised in Lisa’s article.

  10. I am what I am, no more and no less

    So if you think about it, is my Land Rover. It is a Land Rover no more and no less.

    You will curse it if you are stuck behind it on a single track road cos it can only go so fast, but then again offroad it can go places that no other car can.

    We each go our own way in our own way at our own speed

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