Daily Archives: May 16, 2006

Exactly who is unresponsive here?


I just watch the horrible public service announcement by Autism Speaks. (I wonder how that girl likes having her mother announce to the entire world that she’s thought of killing her, if you’re wondering why I called it “horrible”.)

One thing that struck me was that the children in the video were described as unresponsive, over and over again. And yet the children were responding to their parents and to their environments in general, and they were doing so in incredibly clear ways.

However, by the way the parents were acting, it might as well not have been happening. They went right on doing whatever it was they had been doing, as if the children were not communicating anything. The body language of the parents did not change in the slightest in response to their children, it stayed constant, and very very socially smooth.

Then, in order to get their children to “respond” to them (as if the children had not been responding already), they’d do things like try to force eye contact. As if eye contact is “connection” and “response”. There was also some grabbing and moving them around, as if they were objects, but without any responsiveness to the reactions of the children. I even saw children being driven into overload and then parents sitting there looking “sad” that their children did all these “behaviors”.

Where is this fabled unresponsiveness?

I see a lot of unresponsive non-autistic people in that video, I see people being, in fact, unresponsive in ways that would strike me as outright cruelty if I thought they knew better. (I don’t think most of them know better.)

But where is this unresponsiveness supposedly existing in the autistic people in the video?

Is it because their faces are not pointed the “correct” direction? (Do you have to be looking at someone to know they are there?)

Is it because they are not talking? (Do you have to talk to respond to people?)

Is it because they are flapping their hands and stuff? (Do you have to move a certain way to respond to people?)

I don’t understand it at all. I look at those children and I see overwhelming, repetitive responsiveness in the face of being totally ignored and shut out.

I’m remembering a time recently when I was trying to find something out from someone, and no matter how many times I tried to find it out, she gave me the same useless piece of information. (Which amounted to, “Just do what you’re told,” which was not what or why I was asking.) When I started banging my head, she started yelling, “Listen to me! Listen to me!”

And the whole time I was thinking, “I am listening to you, why the hell do you think I’m overloaded, lady? Now stop screaming at me or I won’t be able to quit hearing you long enough to stop this.” But she was utterly convinced that I was not listening, and tried numerous ways of getting in my face to ensure that I was listening, all of which ensured I had no possibility of either communicating or understanding.

Then someone walked through and asked how I was doing. I hissed — like a cat, and one of my more unmistakable sounds — and the person I’d been talking to went into patronizing-cheery mode and said “Oh, she’s doing greeeat.” Like I wasn’t even there, and hadn’t just said something, and hadn’t been banging my head moments before.

The sheer amount of people who look at me and view me as “unresponsive” when I’m very responsive, is impressive. And the things they do when they view me as unresponsive, seem a lot more like unresponsiveness than anything I do to them.

It’s like they only see a tiny, tiny number of the possible human responses as “response”. When those responses are present, even if totally fake and out of context and plastered-on to someone who’s really not all that responsive to someone, they view it as “responsiveness”. When those responses are not present, even if every other possible signal of response is happening, they view that as “unresponsiveness”. And they call us oblivious?