Monthly Archives: July 2006

Research on dehumanization.

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What You Think But Don’t Say

You may fancy yourself a lover of all humanity, but according to a new study out of Princeton University, when confronted with extreme social outcasts, such as drug addicts and homeless people, your brain may unconsciously categorize them as less than human.

Neuroimaging research to be published in the October issue of Psychological Science shows that the stereotyping of groups as being sub-human can happen on an unconscious, neurological level, even when a person is not outwardly repulsed.

“People spontaneously categorize other people into ‘us’ and ‘them’ and they do that within milliseconds of encountering other people,” said Princeton psychologist Susan Fiske, a co-author of the study.

I wonder if many people instantaneously view autistics the same way. That would, if so, explain the reactions I’ve seen of open revulsion when some people see images of me or other autistic people. If people openly say things like that, I don’t want to know what people’s brains are doing about it.

I also wonder how it relates to within-group interactions. If a person is a member of whatever devalued group they’re talking about, are they going to have this reaction despite being that “kind of person”? (Or, are some people going to?) Like, do some autistic people have this reaction to other autistic people? Etc.

During some of my worst periods of self-hatred, to see another person who reminded me of myself (being autistic or something similar) created an instant sense of hostility and revulsion. I’ve seen autistic people trying to distance themselves from Those Other Autistic People, too. If these are more or less conscious attitudes, what are our unconscious reactions? (By unconscious, I mean the reactions that we’re not consciously aware of. I don’t mean the psychoanalytic unconscious, which I don’t believe in.)

They talk about people judging others in terms of “warmth” and “competence”, and people being more likely to dehumanize those that they consider “low warmth” and “low competence” in combination. Surely that is how autistic people and many other disabled people are perceived by most people. And people routinely view us and many others as expendable, sometimes even explicitly.

I just hope this doesn’t become an excuse to say that bigotry and hate is biological and can’t be helped.

Questions

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How much of our lives do people think they’re entitled to know about?

Do they ever think about the fact that they’re asking people to dissect themselves?

What are they thinking about when they do this?

(Is there any possible way to point this out to them that won’t just cause lots of apologetic dithering and then continuing to be just as probing and invasive and inconsiderate? And is it possible to answer one of their questions without then getting forty more?)

Edit: I forgot I wrote this, but I’d certainly love to throw those back at people.

Forced drugging and autistic people.

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I spent four or five years of my life forcibly drugged. Sure, some of it was technically voluntary. But here’s what they did if I showed signs of not wanting to take something:

  • Told my family (and me if they bothered) a very dire future that awaited me if I didn’t take their drugs. I was either going to die, or be homeless, or a revolving door mental patient, or be institutionalized forever.
  • Organized my family (after scaring them enough) to all “explain” this to me where possible, and to take things away from me if I didn’t take the drugs.
  • Stuffed drugs down my throat. Literally.
  • Locked me up, or if I was already locked up, locked me up even more.
  • Brought me as close as they could to death and told me this was what happened to people who didn’t do what they said, to get me to take something “voluntarily”, only letting up once I took it.
  • Injected drugs.
  • At one point, even told my family to threaten to throw me out on the street if I didn’t take something that was (literally) poisoning me.

So, I took things dutifully after awhile.

These days, I’m seeing that these drugs, particularly the neuroleptics, are being targeted at more and more autistic people than I ever saw on them when I was on them.

And, what prompted this post, I saw a post on a message board today saying, basically, “My parents are going to force me to take Abilify. What’s it like?”

And most of the other posts went under the assumption that the person had some “behavior” that was out of control, that the person just didn’t understand, and maybe needed to ask about, so that the person would understand why all these people were just trying to help them.

No.

I had pretty much every “behavior” that these drugs are used to target in autistic people. Doesn’t make it right to force a mind-altering chemical into my brain. Doesn’t mean that the solution was to meekly approach all the people who saw me and the way I acted in such a medicalistic light, and say, “Help, what’s wrong with me, what can you see that I don’t, in all your great medical wisdom can you explain to me why you want me on this drug? Oh, I understand now. I see. Yeah. That makes sense. You know me better than I do, after all.”

But that’s the line I hear all the time. In so-called “support” groups. Pretty much anywhere where large amounts of people whose lives are medicalized and who don’t care that their lives are medicalized, or don’t know there’s any other way, gather together. They talk about themselves, the way they act, the way they think, the way they feel, in terms of symptoms. And of course since “symptoms” makes everything medical, forcing pills at people sounds almost acceptable.

It’s not acceptable.

And what someone in that situation needs isn’t just words of sympathy.

MindFreedom International (which is, to dispel any myths, not a part of $cientology in any way) is an organization built to counter psychiatry. It has its problems. Mainly that psychotherapy is not targeted as a negative thing, it’s primarily biological psychiatry that’s targeted. And in targeting biological psychiatry, a lot of people have gotten wrapped up in the dogma that there is no such thing as any neurological internal difference that might cause people to act differently, and some people there honestly believe the Refrigerator Mother theory of autism.

But.

If you need help getting out of a forced drugging situation, these are the people who will do it.

The MindFreedom Shield program is all about doing that.

Ideological differences aside, these are people who do things. They go into psych wards and assist people in trying to get out. They go to court with people. Some of their members do take drugs, but they do it voluntarily — and being told “You’ll die if you don’t” is not “voluntary”. And they will help people who are being forced into psychiatric situations they don’t want to be forced into.

If you’re being forced into taking a particular drug against your will, or even heavily coerced, try contacting them. Try finding out if there’s any member groups in your area that will help you get out of that situation. If you don’t agree with them on some particular point, fine (I disagree with them on several points, the biggest of which is that they allow psychotherapists to be in too much control of the movement and its ideas rather than crazy people), but they may still be of assistance when you need it.

A newspaper article that one day shouldn’t be newsworthy.

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Caregivers Help Disabled Man Lead Able Life is a news story about something that should become too common to be newsworthy.  It’s about a non-speaking, non-typing autistic man who’d been institutionalized most of his life, living in his own place.  I know a lot of people in that situation, some autistic and some not.  Yet people continue to insist that there’s a kind of “Those People” who are in institutions and “have to” be there, and then another kind who don’t.

I’ve written in several places before that some of the reasons I ended up in institutions to begin with had to do with what I’d begun to realize about the world, which was that this was where adults who shared significant things in common with me tended to live.  I’ve read about other people having the same reaction, leading them to be locked up as well.  The more people perpetuate the idea that “some people” belong in institutions, the longer this will keep happening to every generation of children who can see no other future for themselves.  The more people of all kinds live outside of institutions, the more people will see that there’s nothing necessary about institutions.

The moment you create a kind of person that institutions have to be there for, you are creating an artificial “need” for institutions where there was none before.  The more people’s lives prove this wrong, the more examples there will be of why these places simply are not necessary for anyone.  Everyone who perpetuates the idea that “some people” belong in institutions is partly responsible for the continuance of people being institutionalized.

This is not to say that the outside world is perfect as it is.  A lot needs to be changed.  There have to be real alternatives to institutions, for everyone.  But someone getting out shouldn’t depend on whether, as in the man in the article, people see something interesting about the way he looks.  People should all have the chance to get out (and move somewhere better, and be able to retain friendships they formed in institutions, and all the other things that people are always overlooking when they close institutions — this is not an either/or situation).
I look forward to the day when all of this is history, and there is nothing extraordinary in disabled people, including those currently identified as the most severely disabled, living outside of institutions.  But in order to move towards that, people have to stop assuming that there’s some class of people who’s “better off” there automatically.

Having emotions versus therapizing emotions.

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I’m in the middle of writing a long post responding to the ideas in several articles I’ve just found on the topic of how psychotherapy and political activism (in these articles, specifically feminism, but has broader applications) have incompatible goals. I don’t agree with every single part of the articles, but I’m finding a lot of them say exactly what I’ve been thinking for a long time. And I can’t write the full post now because I’ve got a nasty migraine, so I’m settling for discussion of one part.

One of the most interesting comments someone made in one of them, was about something I’ve noticed happening to me a lot: Being accused simultaneously of being too emotional, and of not “opening up” enough emotionally. The author discussed this mainly in terms of social class, but acknowledged that many of the things she was describing were things that could happen on the basis of other differences.

Anyway, she said that the difference was between two different approaches to emotion. The more therapized version, she said, involved a totally intellectualized version of emotion in which, for instance, someone could calmly sit around and say something like “I have a lot of anger issues around that” and then go into a lot of “process” (a word I still don’t understand, but that I’ve heard a lot in these contexts) about it. The other version, her version, did not involve saying things like that, but did involve actually acting pissed off when pissed off. It was more about having emotions integrated into your daily life without necessarily going “Here, here’s an emotion, I’m going to dissect it and destroy it because it’s scary unless I can do that.”

Anyway, she said that this way of doing things could get her in a lot of trouble at political meetings of people who saw things in a very therapized light. She might raise her voice or use forceful language when she got mad about something, and people could then call her “too emotional” and tell her to “quit scaring people”. But then she would not be sitting around publicly describing every nuance of her internal emotional state — that is something she reserves for close friends, and still probably doesn’t do in a therapy-like way — and would thus be also regarded as “too guarded” and “not opening up enough”.

This explains a whole lot about how people react to me. Apparently the “I am nice” signals I’ve talked about, are partly signals of using the sorts of language accepted in the therapy culture, which is part of why I get seen as, well, not very nice. And as too emotional in various contexts. And so forth. And apparently the fact that I don’t self-therapize in public (or for that matter in private, although like the author I was reading there’s a lot I’ll discuss in private that I’ll never discuss in public) also contributes to the fact that I often get responses like “I know what you’re about, but you don’t let us know who you are” or “We’ve known you a long time but I don’t think any of us really know you” or “You need to learn to open up more about your feelings” and so forth. These things had always baffled me, especially since they’re often said by the same people who are super-uncomfortable with any actual display of emotion on my part, but who go on and on and on about their own emotions (in that detached sort of way) at length and in fairly non-productive ways.

So… this makes sense to me. It’s two different ways of experiencing and looking at emotions, and I’m far more into the “If I’m scared or mad I’m going to act scared or mad rather than talk pseudo-objectively about my ‘fear or anger issues'” range of things despite being heavily and forcibly therapized at one point in my life. (The forcibly therapized bit just means some echolalia along those lines will occasionally slip out.)

How many of our staff harbor scary viewpoints?

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When I read about various issues surrounding disability on the net, some of the worst viewpoints about us seem to come from people who work in the healthcare system or as personal assistants.

I’ve started to cringe when I hear a sentence starting with “I’ve been in in-home support worker for 20 years, and…” or “I’ve worked with autistic children for 10 years, and…” or anything else like that.  I know that frequently what will follow is some sort of misrepresentation of our lives.  Whether it’s some myth about autism being repeated, or the notion of “…and I’d never, ever want to live like Those People live, not in a million years,” it really makes me wonder.

There’s an LNA cleaning my bathroom as I type this.  She just finished giving me a shower.  I wonder whether she harbors these “better dead than disabled” sort of thoughts or not.  I wonder what she thinks my “quality of life” is.  I know that “quality of life” is consistently underestimated by medical professionals as compared to how disabled people see ourselves.  I wonder how prevalent this toxic mix of pity and revulsion is.  I wonder how many of my staff can’t see me or my friends the way we see ourselves.

The way we see ourselves is of course pretty much as people.  People who operate differently in some important ways, even people inconvenienced in some pretty important ways, and of course people shut out of society in some pretty important ways, but people.  We are not necessarily any more unhappy than anyone else, and when we are, we tend to try to change our circumstances, not mope about how disabled we are.

But I’m not sure that’s how other people see us.  When I read descriptions starting with “I work with Those People…” (including descriptions written by physically disabled people who “work with autistic children” or autistic people who “work with physically disabled people”) they depict our lives as unrelenting suffering and horror, burdening all we come into contact with and returning nothing of significant value.  So… yeah, I wonder how many of our staff think of us as something much different than who we are.  It’s a creepy thought.

What do abusers and murderers look like?

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William Lash III, a former Bush aide, killed his autistic son and then himself after police came for him because he’d apparently either hurt or threatened to hurt his wife. I haven’t quite known how to post about this, hence the delay in posting. It hurts every time I read one of these things. And the odd thing to me about it is that everyone is saying he showed no sign of either abusive or murderous intent.

I’ve seen things like that before, in fact it’s almost a cliché, and I’m not talking about just when it’s an autistic person abused or killed. It seems that when things like this happen, people expect only a certain “type” of person to do this, often a person who matches their prejudices (“poor”, or “mentally ill”, or “bad temper”, or “ugly”, or any of a number of other ideas of who does these things). Maybe this is out of a human need for predictability, but from what I have seen, there is little of that.

I’ve known a number of people who have either killed people or tried to kill people. I’ve also known a number of people who have abused people physically or sexually. Very few of them fit any particular stereotype. Moreover, many of the people who fit the requisite stereotypes of “creepiness” haven’t actually done anything.

It is probably comforting to believe that you can predict these things, but in my experience they’re just not all that predictable, at least not to casual friends or neighbors. That “creepy” guy down the hall might just be harmless and autistic or something else that makes him seem unusual. That “sweet” elderly man who seems totally harmless may just be a murderer. Then there are the people who seem creepy and are creepy, and the people who seem harmless and are harmless. There just isn’t much of a pattern there. And people who kill or abuse love (in the emotional sense) their victims as often as not, love is no predictor either.

When Christopher DeGroot was killed, a lot of people online talked about how creepy his parents, who allegedly set his apartment on fire with him inside it, looked. I was uncomfortable with this. I have known a lot of people who look just like his parents and have done absolutely nothing wrong. And when William Lash killed his son, people were talking about how they couldn’t see it coming. That makes me just as uncomfortable. It’s as if, by both of these things, people are saying that people who look a certain way, maybe come from a certain kind of background, are more predictably killers or abusers, and people who do not, are not. This is one more way that people make themselves believe in safety that isn’t there, to the expense of all the people they are mistaken about. People like to believe they can “sense” these things, but very few really can.

My visit with Kathy.

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Kathy Grant posted a reply on this blog mentioning my visit with her. I just got finished with another visit by autistic people (the post-Autreat visit rather than the pre-Autreat visit), and we were discussing how cool Kathy is. So I decided to blog about how cool Kathy is.

She came into my apartment and ran at my map, pointing at places and reciting the names, including sometimes the names of places they used to be parts of, really fast, while rocking, flapping, and at times jumping up and down. When Laura came by, she heard Laura’s last name and said “Eastern European name, Eastern European name,” and got similarly excited as they discussed Laura’s Slovak family.

It’s hard to describe exactly why Kathy is so cool. I think it’s because she’s so unabashedly herself, and unabashedly autistic-and-proud (she’s one of the co-founders of ANI), and up-front, and blunt, and heavily political, and yet she somehow manages to have the social skills to pull this all off without offending even many people she strongly disagrees with. I’ve rarely heard of anyone disliking her, and I really can see why. I think her fairly contagious enthusiasm is even contagious over long distances, because I can still feel noticeably happier just remembering her. (I am told this is not an uncommon reaction.)

So, Kathy, if you read this, thanks for coming by and I really enjoyed it, and anyone else, if you read this, you’ve got to meet Kathy sometime (and if you do, talk geography at least some of the time). If you don’t get to meet her, you can read some of her writing in the anthology Sharing Our Wisdom or in back issues of ANI’s newsletter Our Voice.

Survival situations

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I’ve had several people inform me recently that they want to cure people of being autistic because they want them to be able to handle survival situations in which they’re alone in the middle of nowhere or something and need to handle assorted aspects of survival.

Those situations are not all that common, but I’ve been thinking about it, and I think many autistic people, even autistic people who have trouble in conventional situations, would not have as much trouble with those situations as people assume. I don’t actually think, by the way, that most non-autistic people could handle a situation like that. Nor could many autistic people. But I know some things about myself that might contradict conventional wisdom on this matter.

In a survival situation, I would be constantly triggered into actions, and I would probably take whatever actions I needed to take in order to survive. If I were dumped out on the street or in the middle of the woods, there’s a lot I wouldn’t necessarily understand intellectually, but I think I would be in a position to take care of myself more than people would imagine by seeing me in my apartment.

In an apartment, there is nothing that triggers my body into action the way it would in those situations. There’s no feature of an apartment that makes it pressingly immediate to use a toilet or a refrigerator (when I first moved into an apartment I used everything from the floor to the front yard). Given that the majority of what I can do is based on stored knowledge that I can’t deliberately access but situations in the physical world cause me to access, I am indeed very incapacitated in an environment that does not lend itself to my strengths. I frequently need food set in front of me to trigger “eating,” water to trigger “drinking,” toothbrush handed to me to trigger “brushing teeth,” and many things just flat-out done for me.

Put me in a situation where I have to find my own food and water, go to the bathroom on the ground, possibly move around a lot in response to various threats, look for or set up shelter, and so forth that sets me up so that all the stored information is triggered and I’m getting very little information that is telling me to do something else irrelevant to survival, like, say, blog or stare at blocks.

Basically, if you put me in a survival-type situation for a month, I might be more likely to be healthy at the end of it than if you put me in an apartment with no services for a month.

I remember hearing several news stories about autistic children who were thought to be “too severely autistic to be aware of things like this” who survived for a long time when lost in dangerous areas of various kinds, until someone found them. It’s even rumored that the Wild Boy of Aveyron was an autistic boy who had survived a failed infanticide.

While it’s the case that many autistic people, as well as many non-autistic people for that matter, would not survive in those situations, I’m not totally sure that it’s the ones people would think. I know that if you dump me into a situation like that I’m far more likely to look competent than if you dump me into the situation I’m in now. Not that I don’t prefer the situation I’m in now, but that you have to take autistic learning styles into account when deciding what we might or might not be capable of.

Autism Every Day, or Autism Staged?

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Thierry told her subjects not to do their hair, vacuum or bring in the therapists. She showed up with her crew at their homes sight unseen and kept the cameras rolling as a mom literally wrestled with her son to get him to brush his teeth, as a 9-year-old had a public meltdown, as a 5-year-old had his diaper changed. And, as moms revealed dark and uncomfortable truths about living with autism. The result is a window into an exhausting world of interminable work.

That’s from an Alternet article that still seems to view doing the above as a good thing. The article even justifies and glorifies the quote in that video from the woman who considered killing her child. Apparently it’s “brave” to say something like that, and that makes it okay. (I don’t think so.) Apparently, also, nearly all parents of autistic kids have fantasized about killing us at one point or another and would know that if they looked hard enough. I’m not even going to dignify that last idea with a response.

But aside from the cultural shift towards basically “the courage of emotional honesty” being enough in what’s obviously a propaganda piece, read that paragraph I quoted from the article. They artificially made themselves and their houses look more unkempt than they were, and they kept the supports they normally use out of the way in order to get footage of autistic people — who were forced into this situation by the people making the film, mind you, which is beyond exploitative — doing things that made people feel sorry for the parents.

This was, as expected, not really a “slice of everyday life” from these parents’ lives, but a deliberately engineered take on the worst they could make things look. Why aren’t more people complaining?

Just imagine being an autistic kid and having your parents screw up your routine and make themselves look worse off than they are in order to talk about how miserable your presence in their lives is and how one of them has even thought of killing you. So that this can be shown to an entire nation. Yeah, doesn’t sound good to me either.