Daily Archives: April 27, 2006

Temple Grandin devalues us again, in print this time.


This is an unfortunate addition to my previous post, Temple Grandin, displaying near-textbook “HFA/AS elitism”. Because I have obtained Temple Grandin’s expanded tenth-anniversary edition of Thinking in Pictures. Here are some quotes.

Page 56:

There is concern among people with Asperger’s that genetic testing could eliminate them. This would be a terrible price to pay. Many gifted and talented people could be wiped out. A little bit of autism genetics may provide an advantage though too much creates a low-functioning, non-verbal individual. The development of genetic tests for autism will be extremely controversial.

Page 122:

Many individuals with high-functioning autism or Asperger’s feel that autism is a normal part of human diversity. Roy, a high-functioning autistic, was quoted in New Scientist, “I feel stabbed when it comes to curing or treating autism. It’s like society does not need me.” There are numerous interest groups run by people on the autism/Asperger spectrum and many of them are upset about attempts to eliminate autism. A little bit of the autism trait provides advantages but too much creates a low-functioning individual who can not live independently. The paradox is that milder forms of autism and Asperger’s are part of human diversity but severe autism is a great disability. There is no black-and-white dividing line between an eccentric brilliant scientist and Asperger’s.

In an ideal world the scientist should find a method to prevent the most severe forms of autism but allow the milder forms to survive. After all, the really social people did not invent the first stone spear. It was probably invented by an Aspie who chipped away at rocks while the other people socialized around the campfire. Without autism traits we might still be living in caves.

I don’t quite know where to begin with this. It’s not just autistic people who can be good inventors, and I’ll leave that part at that.

The really problematic part is, yet again, her view that so-called low-functioning non-independent non-verbal autistics are useless. If Temple Grandin reads this blog (and I sure wish she would read and understand Donna Williams’s and my responses to her anti-“LFA” sentiments), I hope she knows that she is essentially telling me that the world would be better off without me in it.

She draws a distinction between natural human variation and disability. It’s the usual stereotype, “natural variation good, disability bad”.

Well anyone who believes that, wake up! What you call disability is part of natural human variation and always has been. People with easily-recognized l33t Asp1e sk1llz, or whatever they are called these days, are not the only people of value on this planet, and the rest of us care just as much about impending genocide as you do. Don’t think that, if all us undesirable useless retards were all magically eliminated, you wouldn’t be next. The standards for normalcy only tighten when certain people are eliminated, and you would find yourselves in the position we now occupy. Even if you still want to throw us overboard to save yourselves, many of us will fight you on that.

(For anyone who has mischaracterized me as “angry” in the past, I really am angry while writing this post. But I tend to think that being told that you have no value in the world, especially by people in power, is enough to piss anyone off. Being pissed off in situations where it’s natural to be pissed off, doesn’t mean I walk around pissed off all the time. And the fact that I’m mad right now, doesn’t mean I’m wrong.)

Anya Souza is one of my heroes. No, not because she’s “overcome disability” or any of that fake-heroic crap. It’s because of the more traditional definition of hero, a person who puts themselves out there to fight for what is right. The article I Am A Person, Not a Disease describes her fight to stop the prenatal eugenocide of people with Down’s syndrome, which she herself has. I’m not sure Temple Grandin would come up with a lot of “uses” for Down’s syndrome, but Anya Souza seems clear that it’s a part of natural human variation.

Before anyone tells me that Anya Souza is high-functioning for someone with Down’s syndrome, let me tell you about David. I was locked up with David. He had Down’s syndrome and, like a disproportionate number of people with Down’s syndrome, he was also autistic. He made one sound over and over again, and was regarded as “not being in there”. But everyone but some of the staff valued him for who he was. To us, he was another person, a real person, not a mistake or a defect. To some of us, he was a friend. The problem was not that he was autistic, not that he had Down’s syndrome, and not that he was classified as low-functioning, but that he was born into a world where these things are not considered compatible with full personhood.

Let me be clear: When I talk about neurodiversity, I mean all neurodiversity. Not just the people that Temple Grandin happens to find worth in. I am fighting for a world in which there is a place for every single one of us and our value is not even questioned. I know it’s a long way off, but it’s way better than fighting for a world from the standpoint of, as Cal Montgomery puts it, “a legacy…of exclusion rather than inclusion, hierarchy rather than egalitarianism, and an imagination that was meant to open the world to certain kinds of people and then slam shut forever.

I honestly think Temple Grandin owes an apology to the many, many autistics she has used her position as the most famous autistic person on the planet to devalue. But more than an apology, she owes us a serious attitude change. Not, mind you, just because of our “feelings”: It’s our very existence she could help eliminate in the future.