A couple handy lists for dismissing autistic viewpoints.

Too autistic to know what you’re talking about. Not autistic enough to know what you’re talking about.
  • Low-functioning
  • Non-communicative
  • Savant (if used to show that whatever your talents are, you’re really clueless)
  • Lacking empathy
  • Lacking understanding of others’ perspectives
  • Black and white thinking
  • Ineducable
  • Mentally retarded
  • No Theory of Mind/Mind-blind
  • Too emotionless
  • Incapable of thought
  • Empty
  • Vegetative
  • Lacking self-awareness
  • Perseveration
  • Rigidity
  • Lots of sentences starting with “S/he will never…”
  • Appears to be able to do this, but can’t really.
  • Too pure, gentle, sweet, and passive to ever object to anything
  • High-functioning
  • Asperger’s
  • Not really autistic at all
  • Misdiagnosed
  • Malingering
  • Savant (if used to use your talents to dismiss your claim to being an autistic person)
  • Attention-seeking
  • Manipulative
  • But you’re toilet-trained, aren’t you???
  • Clearly highly intelligent
  • Verbal
  • Too concerned about others’ problems to be autistic
  • Too caring to be autistic
  • Too concerned with what people think of you to be autistic
  • Pretends to be unable to do this, but really can.
  • Clearly capable of complex, conscious thought
  • Too self-aware to be autistic
  • Self-diagnosed
  • Too angry to be as gentle, sweet, pure, passive, and otherwise emotionally one-dimensional in favor of the person speaking, as real autistic people.

The interesting thing here is that if you actually go back through what has been said to dismiss the viewpoints of autistic people, you’ll see these things being used simultanenously. You’ll see that a person will use back-handed compliments about a person’s ‘intelligence’ and ‘verbal skills’ to distance that person in people’s minds from the stereotype of autistic people, may even question openly whether the person is autistic, and then at the very same time will say that the person engages in black and white thinking, lacks empathy, and clearly has no compassion. This of course happened to Michelle Dawson recently, but it’s been going on for a very long time, as has my desire to document it in a list in this format.

Another very interesting thing about these list is the way that the apparent meaning behind the rhetoric changes depending on which side is being used. If a person is argued to be too autistic to understand what is going on, the implication is that autistic people cannot understand what is going on at all, and therefore always need non-autistic people to make the decisions about us. If a person is argued to be not autistic enough to understand what is going on, the implication is that only someone more autistic would be qualified to speak on the matter (in which case, the non-autistic person has even fewer qualifications themselves).

These implications actually oppose each other, but they serve their purpose. Their purpose is not to illuminate anything useful about the people they are being used on. Their purpose is instead to be a fancy way of shutting autistic people up. Since many people, particularly people unfamiliar with autistic people, are swayed by arguments like this, it becomes a handy way to defend anything that autistic people oppose in large numbers. Simply declare us, one way or the other, unfit to comment, and go on saying whatever you were saying to begin with. The whole point seems to be to push us out of the way.

Of course, non-autistic people are not the only ones to use this kind of rhetoric. There are plenty of autistic people who do so as well, but that takes on a slightly different form, and I think I’ve written a fair bit about that already.

About Mel Baggs

Hufflepuff. Came from the redwoods, which tell me who I am and where I belong in the world. I relate to objects as if they are alive, but as things with identities and properties all of their own, not as something human-like. Culturally I'm from a California Okie background. Crochet or otherwise create constantly, write poetry and paint when I can. Proud member of the developmental disability self-advocacy movement. I care a lot more about being a human being than I care about what categories I fit into.

9 responses »

  1. I’ve seen “splinter skills” used against older autistics too, and also against in people who have obvious intellectual talents but don’t score well on IQ tests (translated into staff-ese: “he’s severely retarded but he’s got this splinter skill where he memorizes spatial information…” blech).

  2. This analysis captures the heart of Joanna Russ’ How to Suppress Women’s Writing. Until very recently, the paucity of published women writers enabled men to define the terms of what “real writing” was.

    It’s exciting to see how your work, along with the Autism Hub and the scores of others linked here and elsewhere, are beginning to similarly change “what autistic humans are capable of.”

  3. I’ve also seen the “too much/not enough” line of reasoning used in discussions on various so-called mental illnesses. Most often, it was in the context of telling anyone who wasn’t currently in therapy or taking drugs (even if only because the “cure” turned out to be worse than the “disease” and they HAD to learn to manage it on their own), especially if they lived independently, that they weren’t sick enough to understand the plight of those who need these things. No matter how “severely affected” they had ever been described as being in the past, no matter how poor a prognosis they were given, and even if they had been described in the same ways as Those People at any time in their life. (Even though descriptions of that sort inevitably reveal more about the observer than about the subject of the descriptions.)

    If you suggest that whatever you experienced that had been described as a disorder was, in fact, not necessarily a sickness, or even just a different way of being in the world that has its own advantages and disadvantages, then you tend to get hit either with the charge that you’re too sick to be involved in the debate, or are an attention-seeking faker because you don’t act sick enough. That you’re “faking mental illness for attention” (right after you get through saying that you don’t think it’s an illness) and “you can’t possibly understand how sick, fucked-up, crazy, suffering, etc, Those People are, don’t try to talk to me about Those People, I know just what they’re like, my mother was a psychiatric nurse who worked in an institution and I know all about Those People.”

    About getting hit with both sides at the same time– yeah, we’ve experienced some of that, and the “Anyone who holds such crazy beliefs as that shouldn’t be trusted to speak for themselves. Oh, wait, but I don’t mean you. You aren’t like all The Others. You’re sane and decent and rational and etc, etc.”

    I remember particularly a few debates about plurality in which multiples were declared unfit to speak for themselves because simultaneously “these people hold these bizarre, wacky beliefs and are obviously insane and need either to be institutionalized or laughed at and left to kill themselves” and “I/my friend/relative/etc worked with Those People and I can tell you definitively that these people are faking because they aren’t sick enough.” When someone who actually did fit the clinical model would enter the debate, they would be told “that condition doesn’t really exist, it’s made up by attention-seeking fakes” and “you obviously are too sick to say anything rational,” at the same time.

  4. Huh…wow. I’ve gotten a few accusations on both sides, but oddly enough, the majority of them have been from the “you’re too LOW functioning” side! I say “oddly enough” just because for so many years I had no idea what autism was…I just knew that there was something weird about the way I was treated, and the way people reacted to me, but it didn’t occur to me that my brain was fundamentally different.

  5. I have a son with HFA and I have had OCD since childhood and during one discussion on a parent group I was told that the OCD had effected my ability to relate as a child and therefore my ability (apparently) to decide if I was happy being more self-isolating. I really had to admire the incredulousness of someone to make a statement like that. It is so utterly dismissive.

  6. I love this post, I have seen some very good points brought up
    that can stifle us right away in other blogs, one of them is the
    useless attitude of “not like my child” “NLMC” that was so aptly
    brought up by Bev at Aspergers square 8. This totally shut my
    mother down, “NLMC”.

  7. Pingback: Rodentfancy - Representing Autism: Culture, Narrative, Fascination

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