Adolescence pathologized


I’ve been thinking a lot, lately, about the ways in which my autistic-style adolescence was pathologized, because there was no other view anyone around me knew to take of it. It was “regression”. And so forth. I had the kind of changes in adolescence that, I have read, you’re supposed to see a neurologist about. And I did. They had a lot of theories. Including some pretty scary ones. But they didn’t really know what was going on. I was growing up. Autistic style.

I wondered, when I thought about this, what would happen if ordinary adolescence were pathologized. I’d seen a bit of it when I was in the system with a lot of kids who were, for instance, locked up for things like being pregnant. (Not kidding. She got released when her pregnancy test turned out to be a false positive. Cleared of all diagnoses, too.) But I wondered, what if the natural changes and drama of the teenaged brain came to be seen as this horrifying regression that might kill the person and so on and so forth.

Then I read this article.

I guess I’m not surprised that someone’s gone and pathologized adolescence.

Something that amazed me about Tranquility Bay is that it encompassed nearly all the worst parts of institutions in stark detail. I don’t mean the physical punishment and solitary confinement. I mean the degradation refined to an art form. I mean the totalitarian aspects. The total lack of power. The brainwashing.

Those are the bad parts of institutions, and the parts that even all the sweetness and light versions of institutions never really get rid of, they just mutate in form, because an institution is an institution is an institution. Tranquility Bay isn’t a sweetness and light sort of place (even though the stupid names for everything are like that), but it’s still very heavy on the bad parts.

When Laura Tisoncik talks about being saved by bad insurance, this is part of what she means. The more expensive the place, often what happens is you get a clean pretty place that’s so overstaffed that they have the time and power required to truly mess with your head.

I remember once being offered a “choice” between a state institution and an idyllic-looking group home. The state institution had all the horror-film trappings of institutions, was loud and noisy and ugly and scary, but it was not very well staffed. The idyllic-looking group home was extremely well staffed, and all the restraints were on people’s minds where you couldn’t see or touch them. I chose the state institution. My choice was overruled by people who assumed I didn’t know what I was doing. I moved to the group home.

I have had staff try to kill me. I have been beaten. I have been tortured. I have been molested. I have had all of these things and more done to me in institutions. I am just relaying facts here, to illustrate a point, I don’t want sympathy. I would rather have all of them happen all over again and maybe also throw in being left to lie in my own piss and other “fun” things like that, than get sent to a place like Tranquility Bay, or like the group home I was sent to.

I can remember being taught to echo that my life was saved, too, in a position where I had much less communication ability around to resist than a lot of those kids do. Not that any of them really stand a chance in a place like that.

I wasn’t saved by that place.

I’m still trying to extricate myself from some of the invisible bonds placed on me in that beautiful group home. Despite many of the nightmares and flashbacks from other institutions finally starting to fade with time.

Brainwashing is not help. Teaching people unswerving obedience and to not think for themselves will create people who are, even if originally nondisabled, going to have a lot of difficulty functioning in society as adults. I wish I could say that I can’t believe that people were doing this, but in retrospect I think I used to know someone who was sent to one of those places.

I don’t think it’s worse that they pathologize normal adolescence than that they pathologize my kind of adolescence. But I do think it shows how far people are willing to go, and how out of touch some people are getting with the stages of life.


About Mel Baggs

Hufflepuff. Came from the redwoods. Crochet or otherwise create constantly and compulsively. Write poetry and paint when I can. Developmentally disabled, physically and cognitively disabled. 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 in 2014 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.

3 responses »

  1. L’adolescence, c’est une invention un peu récente du monde moderne—-childhood as we know it did not exist until (some say) the Victorians and in the ancient world, girls were married at 13 years old or younger. A lot of change has happened in the world, and a lot remains to be made.

  2. I realize I’m replying almost two years after this post.

    Pathologization (in general) is ignorance at best. At worst, it’s a cruel but very efficient form of control — more efficient than government and religion.

  3. I was treated like that by my mum at home. she had been a nursing auxiliary in a mental hospital, and had learnt the tricks of the trade there. She trained me to believe it was a criminal offence to love anyone so now I can’t have a relationship, or even hug anyone that I really love and am facing a future alone.

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