The Schafer Report, by the way, is going away.
But there was something I wanted to bring up about an old issue of it, that I never got to say quite how I wanted to.
It’s part of In Defense of Behaviroal [sic] Treatment for Autism, the old smear campaign against Michelle Dawson, that attacked the idea of autistics wanting or being able to communicate, in order to discredit her, and us, without having to actually take on our arguments.
Here are some of the things that were said in that report.
One of the first articles said things such as this, and many have echoed the idea:
…autistic people would not, by definition, be interested in a career in communication…
…even as they behaved in ways that a person with autism would never choose to do (seek public speaking opportunities, seek recognition, constantly communicate, etc.)…
Autistic people, as he is defining us for his convenience, do not communicate, do not seek out opportunities to communicate, do not have any interest in people, and so forth. Even though these things are proven false, that’s what’s printed in this edition of the report.
Some of the other articles acknowledge that some autistic people communicate in words, but that, for instance:
Suppose you were the individual who, without treatment, was destined to be standing alone in a corner of an institution, dependent on everyone around you to take care of even your most basic needs, rocking perseveratively and eliminating in your clothing, unable to sample what life has to offer. Would you like someone who could speak and could interact in the everyday world speaking on your behalf and counseling against treatment? No, I wouldn’t either.
In that case, the person has decided that it’s mainly bad if autistic people who can talk (or write) say certain things about autism or autistic people.
So it’s okay if we talk, we can remain autistic then, but it’s not okay if we say certain things.
And then, after all this, commentary by parents and professionals to the effect of either “Autistic people can’t communicate” or “Autistic people who can communicate should only stick to certain topics,” here comes the following, which is printed without any hint that the person is not autistic:
David Corbett was very animated with him and asked him about his autism, to which he replied by stretching his arms out really wide, “I used to have a lot of autism now I just have a little (he brought his hands close together to show a little), but I want to have none (to which he dropped his hands down to his side and told them that dropping his hands meant zero).
David asked him about a letter he had written and gave him a copy of it. David asked him if this was his letter, he said “Yes, and I’m working on making my printing better!” David asked him if he had given his letter to the government, he replied “Yes, I took it to the government that lives close to our house”.
David then asked him if he would please read his letter for the court, which he did with great pride.
David then thanked him and told him it was a great letter! David asked him if he had worked hard himself, and he said “I worked very hard, though Mom says that I got rid of the autism myself by working hard, I needed my tutors they helped me a lot, I wouldn’t have been able to get rid of most of it without my tutors”. He continued, “It takes a long time to get rid of it, it just doesn’t happen quickly, it’s not fair to take the teachers away just because they are six”.
So, in that case, an autistic boy not only communicated, not only spoke out loud and wrote, but went into a court room and engaged in public speaking.
And nobody in the Schafer Report questioned that he was autistic. Bobby Newman did not say, “He can write, he’s not autistic enough to speak for these children.” Jenny Ladew did not say, “He hasn’t raised an autistic child while juggling a family and career so he has no right to comment.” James Mulick did not say “He is not autistic, because he speaks, and real autistic people would be uninterested in public speaking.” Lenny Schafer did not call him an “Asperger imposter”.
Because if you say the right things, nobody’s going to question you.
As I was writing this, another thing came up that’s somewhat related to my last statement.
The Autistic Bitch from Hell wrote On Authenticity, about a rumor she heard (I don’t know how substantiated of unsubstantiated) that someone in the autistic rights movement is not who they claim to be, is in fact a journalist working on a book. She further writes that it’s hard to want to say anything, because the person could do us a favor with the coverage.
I wonder if this is another instance of “If you say the right things, nobody’s going to want to question you.”
Marty Murphy, a middle-aged speaking autistic woman, posed as a 25-year-old non-speaking autistic man, and was defended by many people because of her message. I was offended by the fact that, as a 25-year-old non-speaking autistic person myself, the stereotypes of the sort of person I am were being exploited to send a message I would never send. A lot of “autism is evil” types were fine with her deception, and still are, because they think it’s the message that counts, not the deception.
Is it really any better when one of us turns out to not be who they say they are? I mean, I’m hardly the Autism Police (I in fact usually detest that form of policing), but if someone is not who they say they are (and I don’t know enough of the facts to know for sure), and lots of us protect them, how is that better than people protecting Marty Murphy just because they liked her message? If we are enraged by other people doing that, should we really be doing it?
I do think there is a difference between choosing what to say and what not to say, and the fact that all words are in essence lies — and the act of deliberately deceiving people about a major aspect of who we are, by deliberately lying. Some of us hide certain aspects of our lives, sometimes for good reason. Some of us also say things that people take wrong.
For example, I am frequently represented as having spent my entire childhood in an institution, as never having spoken in my life, and as only having been in one institution, usually people assume the kind reserved for developmentally disabled people. In fact I only spent part of my childhood in institutions, I spent time in several of varying sizes and shapes and with varying kinds of people inside, and I have produced plausible-sounding speech sounds with my mouth in the past. Some people view me as misrepresenting myself when they find this out, or even as lying about events in my life, but it’s usually more a matter of the fact that I’m not going to tell my life story every time I meet someone, and my life story defies enough stereotypes that people’s initial assumptions are likely to be wrong. It’s simply too complicated to give out every nuance every time I talk to people, and I am aware that people assume all kinds of things that I don’t have the time to correct them on. If I cannot now speak, have spent time in institutions and say so, and did so in childhood, people fill in the blanks with the rest.
But there is a difference between all that and saying that we really are unemployed when we have jobs, or other sorts of deliberate lying. Posing as an autistic person when you’re really a non-autistic journalist is different than either not having the exact words for the truth or choosing which parts of the truth to tell.
And I don’t see any difference between that and Marty Murphy.