Myth-Debunking, and an additional myth


Standard Disclaimers and Personal Myth-Debunking Reference

That’s a post by Zilari that everyone should read. Laurentius Rex also wrote a Larry Arnold Myth and Reality post recently. I’ve wanted to write a post like that for awhile, but the reality is often far longer and harder to write about than the myth, so I’ve steered clear of it.

One myth that I haven’t seen mentioned on either of those posts, though, is one that’s still hard for me to wrap words around. Something like: The myth of the autistic person as having priest-like powers to absolve parents of real or perceived sin.

Years ago, I was talking to a mother of an autistic kid. She seemed to have some desire to get me to pronounce things she was doing okay, as if me saying they were okay would make them okay. She talked about how she stared at her son sometimes and wondered what things would be like if he’d been normal. And she talked about wondering and wondering and wondering if it was the vaccines. And she seemed to not be satisfied in telling me this until I said something along the lines of “Yeah, those things are understandable.”

Later, I’ve had people throw things they’ve done in my face, weapon-like. Another parent who had institutionalized their child told me all about what a wonderful and caring parent they were, and what a wonderful and caring institution their child was in. They really seemed to want some kind of acknowledgement that institutions were really okay. When I didn’t give it to them (and told them I was not going to continue the conversation), they wrote several times a day with increasing amounts of detail about what a loving person they were and how I had grievously attacked them even if I looked innocent. The accusatory posts (ones in which many false and negative things were said about me) came so many times a day that I had to stop reading the forum until the person either left or got banned (I can’t remember which).

That’s an extreme example. Most people don’t become quite so overtly hostile. But many people do seem to look to autistic people to reassure them that what they are doing or have done is okay. And often go to greath lengths to justify to any autistic person they meet that whatever program they do or don’t have their child on is really okay and really useful in this child’s case (whether or not it actually is).

The reality of the myth is that neither I nor any other autistic person I know has the power to make things right that are not right, or to convince a person that they are doing the right thing if their conscience keeps bugging them. If we do provide such reassurance, it won’t make it real, it won’t make certain things right. Those things are between a person and whatever it is in their life that they attribute a sense of ethical behavior to.

An autistic person’s reassurance won’t make anything better. What it will do, though, is possibly make a person feel better for a time about whatever they are doing, whether what they’re doing is right or wrong or some combination of the two. It will also lend some kind of credence to what is going on — “See, an autistic person approves of it, therefore it must be okay.” And it can even be used against other autistic people: “See, this autistic person approves. He’s a nice autistic person who is truly interested in the welfare of other autistic people. The rest of you who don’t approve? You’re just cold, heartless people who don’t understand the real situation.” One thing it doesn’t do is automatically make something okay. Any so-called “treatment” for autism can acquire at least one autistic person backing it. It doesn’t make them, or the mindset behind them, correct.

So, to anyone who comes to me (possibly to any other autistic person, but for all I know some don’t care) and tries to justify everything they’ve ever done to their child, in the hope that I’ll tell them, “Yes, that’s really a good thing” (and I’ve known people who are explicitly doing that, so if you’re truly not doing that, I’m not talking about you, but if you are doing that and want to think you’re not, go detangle your head or something) you’d be better off just trying to figure out right and wrong. I’m tired of being put into situations where the only acceptable or compassionate answer is considered to be “You’re right, you’ve done nothing wrong, you need to change nothing.”

When people interested in the rights of rabbits tell me that keeping rabbits in hutches with no stimulation grievously harms the rabbit, I do not tell them, “I put my rabbit in a hutch before. And that was right for my rabbit. Please tell me that was okay. I’m a good person. Really. I petted my rabbit. I fed my rabbit and gave him water every day. I’m not a monster. I didn’t do anything wrong. I loved my rabbit. And I was only a kid. Don’t hold it against me.”

Most, in fact, understand the concept of having done something wrong and knowing it was wrong and changing what you’re doing. But I doubt they’d have the patience for someone trying to prove that what’s really a form of animal cruelty is right, even if it’s genuinely true that for a long time I didn’t know any better. If I were sitting there trying to justify it to myself by justifying it to the House Rabbit Society, I’m sure the HRS would eventually just want me to go away, and they certainly would not sit there and tell me that my attitude was understandable and that I was clearly a loving person so what I did didn’t harm that rabbit after all. If I showed remorse, most of them would accept me and even work alongside me, but I doubt they’d want to accept what I’d done, and I wouldn’t want them to, fear of being wrong gets in the way of doing what’s right (and is also, in the form I’m talking about, just plain self-centered, always directing things back to “Am I a good person?” and making everyone around the person get into the role of reassuring them and taking care of their feelings).

But in the autism community, one role given to autistic people is to absolve parents of any guilt they feel about their attitudes and practices. And that’s not something we have the power to do. Even if we pretended to have that power, it would be hollow. We can’t do that for you. That’s the sort of thing parents have to work out (and really work out, not just come up with a long string of rationalizations glued together by prejudices and misconceptions or something) for themselves. Nobody — not autistic people, not other parents — can do that for them, any more than a person telling me that my prior attitude to rabbits was okay, could do that for me.


About Mel Baggs

Hufflepuff. Came from the redwoods. Crochet or otherwise create constantly and compulsively. Write poetry and paint when I can. Developmentally disabled, physically and cognitively disabled. I'm not really part of any online faction or another, even ones that claim me as a member. The thing in the world most important to me is having love and compassion for other people, although I don't always measure up to my own standards there by a longshot. And individual specific actions and situations and contexts matter a lot more to me than broadly-spoken abstract words and ideas about a topic. My father died in 2014 and that has changed my life a lot in ways that are still evolving, but I wear a lot of his clothes and hats every day since he died and have shown no sign of stopping soon.

32 responses »

  1. Hi Amanda

    I don’t seem to have the interactions
    that you do with parents via email.
    I don’t have many interactions with people in

    But one thing that has me puzzled about things you
    write about reguarding parents is that you never seem
    to have any bitterness towards your own parents
    and the decisions they made in your past to put
    you in a mental hospital.
    I am just curious why that is so.

  2. Hi ballastexistanz
    Thank you very much for a so adult and important post about. I appreciate very much.
    María Luján

  3. Scruffy: When I write about “parents,” I’m writing about the autism parent community, which my own parents don’t have a lot of interaction with (if any), and I’m generally only writing about portions of it anyway. My parents did not choose to have me put in those places (it was more than one, and more than one kind), the most choice they got was which place for me to be in over which other place. It was out of their hands and there were even people threatening to take me away from them at one point. They have also apologized to me about all that.

    Sincere ignorance does not bother me much. Willful ignorance does. What angers me is when people hear what institutions are really like, hear what really goes on in there, hear that there’s rarely such a thing as a “good institution,” and continue to make it all about themselves and how loving they are and how since they are “good people” then their child being in an institution can’t be “bad”, and sort of demand acknowledgement from autistic people that they’re “doing the right thing” even when they’re not. (Substitute a whole lot of things for “institution” there and you’ll get the drift of the post.)

  4. I see, I think.
    It seems you have some very strange interactions with
    parents of autistic kids when you say that they want
    some kind of absolution from you which you are unable
    to give them. I would find that rather disturbing myself
    if I were in a similar situation.

    Was it with your situation being intitutionalised that
    your parents were relying on doctors opinions to hospitalise
    you? This is still not clear to me.

  5. I have a question/comment about all of this. I know someone who has a son (who is considered low-functioning with severe MR and seizure disorder) in a residential placement. He comes home many weekends for visits, and he comes home on holidays and for a few weeks in the summer. I know this family very well, and we have discussed the institutionalization issue at length many times. The arguments she has put forth in support of institutionalization are:

    1) isolation and depression at home, whereas at the residential placement he has opportunity to be with friends and do all sorts of activities that he cannot do in the typical neighborhood community

    2) behaviors that surfaced as a result of this boredom/isolation/depression in the teen years, including severe spike in self injury, destruction of the home and appliances, and aggression toward mom

    3) ailing health and advancing age of the parents, parents unable–physically–to care for son

    4) they are unable to give him the consistent, round-the-clock medical care/vigilance that he needs because of his seizure disorder, but the institution has a nursing staff that can meet his medical needs

    These are their issues, but she mentioned that there are family members on her LFA newsgroup who have additional issues such as extreme, life-threatening aggression toward siblings (one child slammed his sister’s head against a concrete slab) and the constant threat of child welfare forcing the institution of their own agency’s choosing or removal of other siblings from the home.

    Because of all these things she has told me over the years, when the subject of institutionalization came up on my group several months ago, I felt torn between agreeing with the person who was against institutionalization in every single case no matter what versus understanding that there are some situations where there can be no other choice for that family. I also feel like I can’t even speak to it because I’ve never been in one and I’ve never been faced with the prospect of my children going into one, although at one point it could have happened if I had wanted it to happen…but I said no.

    I don’t know if this post is a comment or a question.

    I guess what I’m saying is that I don’t know how *I* could be dogmatic about this issue for other people, whereas I think that you can, having gone through it so many times. In other words, if someone comes to my group and says, “I think institutionalization is horrible, and here’s why,” I would agree with them. OTOH, if someone came to my group and said that after a long, painful, difficult process of decision making and soul-searching the family made that decision to put their child into an institution, I don’t know how I could tell them why that is wrong for that family, especially considering the wide variety of possible institutional placements, including whether there is visitation or not, how close the institution is to the family residence, what kind of reputation it has, whether it has an open visitation/drop-in policy, and so forth.

    I guess I’m feeling a little bit conflicted about this issue, and I’m bringing it up because it was something that came up on my group. Because I did not offer a blanket condemnation of all institutions for all families under every and all circumstances, the anti-institution person became angry with my “world view” and left my group.

  6. I don’t think I’ve ever had acknowledgement demanded from me that somethng I don’t agree with is okay, but I’ve witnessed it online on several occasions (one particular exchange on Livejournal comes to mind — I think that the originator of the discussion was talking about how her brother was in an institution, and someone suggested that he might not actually be as happy as she thinks he is, and she got extremely upset by this suggestion).

    I can see someone perhaps reacting with surprise and maybe even shock when they first hear that something they think is good or helpful might actually be harmful, but I think people need to set a policy of not letting that initial emotional reaction direct their actions forever in relation to that subject. Emotions aren’t evidence, and feeling that something is good for someone doesn’t mean it IS good for them.

    Figuring out if someone is actually happy, healthy, and learning can take hard work and time — it’s much easier to intimidate or drug someone into passivity than it is to help equip them with tools to live effectively, and I think sometimes passivity is mistaken for “functioning”.

  7. I’m sorry to ask such a naive question, but what constitutes an institution? Is it any residential place? I’ve seen lots of schools for autistic kids where the students spend the night and come home for 2 months a year. I was just reading a Time magazine article about autism where a mom raved about one of these places where she sent her 11 year old son. Is that what you are writing about? Also are group homes intitutions as well? I just want to be sure to understand what you are referring to.

  8. Awww, but the priest act is so much fun. I like them at least asking an autistic who’s been there. But as for attempts at validating their ideas (and then their possibly being upset when I’m forced to “lose face” and tell them where they are wrong) is not always fun and nor is their intent or idea very logical. Default mode for so many is “generalize”. If you get tired, (maybe this is even cliché) do what one person I know does…hand them something they likely will have no use for. ie: your eyeglass prescription, your shoe, your customized communication board. ;) That’s the thing I think is the “more annoying” part of that. That and a narcissistic need to be “right”, “all the time”, “and more than most others”. They especially like it I think when someone else is there who they are hoping to upstage and they can use me as a tug of war ribbon pulling me and my “expertise” to their side and giving them a boost of essential fathead acids and rightamins(special coinage just for this article). Essentially using me without having to really get to know me or why I am thinking the way I do or understanding me or why I might recommend something (that may or may not be good for them on some occasions).

  9. uggh, eyeglass prescription should be “prescription eyewear” in that last one. I’m going to try to be a little more proofread for you. I’m mostly annoying myself here with how often I need to edit that essential something for people to get what I mean.

  10. What Zilari said sums up my views on the subject. I’ve already discussed institutions (and definitions, consequences, etc, thereof) elsewhere. I don’t have the energy to go into all that right now, so maybe look through what I’ve written on the subject already and come to your own conclusions.

    (I think I said somewhere, that some institutions are better than some home situations, but that this is more a criticism of the home situation and/or the supports available at home, than meaning anything good about the institutions. And of course institutions are more than the building, if the power structure is the same in “community” settings you get the exact same thing only distributed over several houses.)

    There’s absolutely nothing good done in institutions (the buildings or the power structures) that can’t be done (and done better) outside of institutions, so to me institutions seem like a relic of bigotry, not something to create and emulate. (And people can pick nits all they want about definitions of words, but I don’t have all the words in the world right now and hopefully anyone likely to pick nits knows what I’m trying to get at.) I mean, seriously, what is it about a building that gives people this illusion that more support goes on there than can go on anywhere else? Because it’s a totally false notion. (And by the way, that “round the clock supervision” in most places is anything but what it claims to be. And where I live most people who need such supervision can get it outside of institutions provided they have the money go to them instead of an institution.)

    Basically, institutions have (are even defined by the presence of) power structures that lead inevitably to abuse, dehumanization, etc. If you’re having trouble with the idea, imagine whether you would actually want to live in the place. Not an idealized version of you, which is more acquiescent than the real-life you, but you as you are now. Most people don’t want to, yet most people think so-called “residential placements” are okay for other kinds of people besides themselves. It’s like the end of “When Billy Broke His Head,” where Billy is talking to his father about visiting disabled people at a nursing home, and his father goes off on a long tangent starting with “What’s keeping them there? Their disabilities. What else are you going to do with them?” When Billy brought up the fact that his father could have a stroke and “need” to go to a nursing home, his father said that he’d rather jump off a bridge.

    I’ve seen several (easily dozens) institutions in several states in America (some as an inmate, some as a visitor, some as a volunteer, some as the daughter of staff), and read about an even greater number from a wider range of places, but the bad parts seem eerily consistent across location, culture, language, philosophy, etc. I just can’t see saying “Oh this is a wonderful choice you made,” when knowing that almost none live up to the “good institution” stereotype. And I’m not going to sugar-coat the fact that outsiders have absolutely no way of knowing, not even by asking people on the inside, that a place is “good”. None. I don’t have any way of knowing that about a place. You don’t. Random autistic people don’t. Parents don’t. Only people who live there know, and possibly only some of them.

    Which is again why I won’t do the absolution thing. If people want to make that kind of choice it’s their own conscience, and their child, and reality in general, that they have to deal with as honestly as possible. And the only person they need to be looking for forgiveness from is their children. (And they’re more likely to get forgiveness if they’re honest rather than defensive.) I’m not going to say “You made the right choice, I’m sure you can tell it’s a good place” when I know the statistics for abuse in institutions and have a good idea of what “quality care” actually is in those places from several vantage points, and know how things are hidden from outsiders. That’s just not going to be very honest of me, to know how likely it is that it’s a bad place and then to go “Oh yes it’s good you put someone in this place I know is bad.” And.. as I’ve said it’s not my job or any autistic person’s job to do this absolution/forgiveness stuff for the parent or on behalf of the child who is institutionalized.

  11. I don’t think I’ve ever had acknowledgement demanded from me that somethng I don’t agree with is okay, but I’ve witnessed it online on several occasions (one particular exchange on Livejournal comes to mind — I think that the originator of the discussion was talking about how her brother was in an institution, and someone suggested that he might not actually be as happy as she thinks he is, and she got extremely upset by this suggestion).

    I have been in several conversations of that nature. I think I get into them more because the ratio of politics to self-description (not that self-description is not political it itself, but anyway…) in my autism-related writing is much higher than a lot of people’s. (I know politics is a dirty word to some people. What I mean by it is, the study of power relationships.)

    So I am more likely, rather than giving a personal account of my experiences in institutions (although I’ll do that in the right circumstances), to instead mention the fact that no outsider can truly know what goes on inside them. And that gets me into these conversations.

  12. “I don’t seem to have the interactions
    that you do with parents via email.
    I don’t have many interactions with people in

    That is my experience too. I wonder if Ballastexistenz gets this reaction, and gets asked so many questions, because she presents as an expert, has website, blog etc about these very topics. So parents value her opinion. Maybe it’s the price of fame?

    I’ve been in plenty institutions over the years, but they are mostly being closed down where I am, which just leaves poor services for people like me. Isolation, if you can’t make friends over the internet and have nowhere IRL to hang out. Substandard housing in bad areas can be a dangerous situation. A great proportion of the day is spent on tasks like getting food and preparing meals. That’s fine when I’m well as I like my own space, but if I’m very stressed or ill, I’d like to be able to check in for respite care.

    All the crap that happens in institutions can happen in the community too. I think it’s better to campaign for better community acceptance, rather than complain about institutions which are disappearing anyway.

  13. Thank you for the link provided in comment #11. Some of the pictures blocked some of the text, but I was able to get everything you were saying, and I’ve read some past blogs of yours on this issue. They were not at the forefront of my thinking when I wrote comment #5, so please forgive any denseness on my part.

    I guess what I was trying to say was this: Two people belong to my group, let’s say. One is, like you, against institutions and has actually been in at least one and has spoken out against them. I agree with them publically in postings, but then I remember that there is at least one person I know of in my group whose child is in an institution aka “residential placement.” Suddenly I feel like I have criticized that other parent’s decision by publically stating “I would never put my child in an institution” (I did say that). I find myself in the weird position of having to backpedal on my own statements because I feel there is a credibility gap in what I just said, since (they could say to me if they felt insulted) *I have never been in one.* If I say, “I would never put my child in an institution” and then provide a link to your writings, the parent would feel like I was using somebody else’s writings and experiences as justification for my criticism of their decision.

    I wanted to comment on this thing you wrote: “provided they have the money go to them instead of an institution.” That is a huge caveat.

    This same family is within a couple of years of their son’s aging out of the residential placement and being sent home. If they will provide full-time care for him they are likely to spend most or all of their retirement money on programs in the community (if he can even get into any, and they have serious doubts about that), and by then they will be older and sicker and will need a nest egg for their own medical/retirement needs. I don’t know what to say to these people when they talk to me about it. There is only so much money that they or any family has, and when kids age out of their district funding, then what? So I don’t know what can be done for kids and families in this situation because, sure, if everyone had nearly unlimited funds they might be able to choose better things for their kids, but what things? If the child stays in the community, there might be nothing the community has to offer, which goes back to the sense of isolation that kids like this can feel when they are home with nothing to do (he is nonverbal, doesn’t watch TV, doesn’t type, doesn’t use the computer, doesn’t use other kinds of communication technologies….). That is not to say he doesn’t know what’s going on; it’s just that the mom has expressed to me that she can’t find things for him to do when he’s home.

    As far as how she assesses that he’s happy where he is (I’ve actually asked her on several occasions), she’s said to me that he seems happy when she comes to visit him, but when he decides it’s time for her to go, he shows her to the door. Likewise, if he’s home for the weekend visiting, he doesn’t become distressed when she tells him it’s time to go back there. So that is why she believes he is happy and well adjusted there. She can never know for sure if he is or he isn’t. All she can do is try to “read him” to figure out or at least feel personally satisfied that he is happy and being well cared for. The scary thing about all of this, and this is something I never was able to talk to her about, is that another friend of mine heard about the placement this boy is in, and she told me confidentially that she had heard “horrible things” about this place. This made me very upset, but again feeling like, “What can I do? This is not my business.” That kind of thing.

  14. Hmmm… I’m reminded of the post you did about institutions where you talked about people who keep insisting that there is some kind of person out there whom institutions are actually good for, who “really need it.” I think a lot of people who have had a child or other relative institutionalized cling to that myth and want to believe that their relative was one of “the types of people who really need it,” even in the face of evidence from people who are or were at some point exactly like that relative talking about how it didn’t help them.

    Another comparison comes to mind, also: A lot of people firmly believe that they “know what a cult is,” because they saw it on TV or knew someone who was involved in an organization that fit stereotypical ideas about cults. However, a lot of cults don’t look like cults at all– more like self-help groups, or business or sales organizations, or even friendships, or something that starts out being non-cultlike can become that way as it goes on. Even in the face of evidence that an organization or group they’re involved in is trying to exercise a cult-like level of control over their personal life, thoughts, or emotions, some people will refuse to admit they’re in a cult not just because they’ve bought into group dogma but because they believe that they are an intelligent and reasonable person who would never be stupid enough to fall for the claims of a cult. People think that they “know it when they see it.” They’ll also think the same about institutions, from what we’ve seen– “this school can’t be an institution, the staff all seem so good and kind, they really want to help.” (Of course, people falsely assume that “wanting to help” = “can only do good.”)
    And people will bring up all sorts of “buts,” like “But he harmed himself/others,” “But he was really delusional,” etc, with the assumption either that institutions actually do stop any of these things from happening or that it was justified to use force on the person in question.

  15. I see more requests for reassurance that “I’m a good person” than requests for validation of actions. It’s not always explicit. Sometimes it takes the form of “Now you’ll think I’m a bad person, but … .” And the reader is supposed to say, no, you are a good person, you are doing what you think is best. Even if the reader doesn’t really know the poster and has no idea if he or she is a “good person” or not.

    In truth, there can be plenty of guilt involved in being a parent of anyone. Some things are done that seemed like a good idea at the time but, in retrospect, turn out not to have been. Some things are done based on wrong or incomplete information. Some things are done out of anger or frustration.

    Regarding institutions, they can make themselves look really good. They can hide a lot of what goes on from parents. I don’t think it is a disservice for somebody to give parents a heads up on this stuff.

  16. Institutions – n. a big organization usually operating in a big building where big people govern littler people and keep them from escaping and in otherwise tight control. A giant cage. Examples: schools, prisons, barracks, “mental”, “rehab”, orphanages and possibly “office building” too. (Office Space flick comes to mind)

    Big buildings aren’t necessarily bad. It’s the power heirarchies and their self protection systems inherent that are bad. If power corrupts, institutions are the embodiment of that kind of power that is absolute enough to corrupt absolutely by the very nature inherent in it. This is not to say though that that which is not an institution is necessarily better but it does tend to lack much of the bull dog wrist slapping, big unaccountable bureaucrat payoff mechanism.

    Anything with fences and alarms would probably qualify too.

    Other little problems include: too much technology being wasted/unused that would be more humane, less control freakish. too much low quality, fattening cafeteria food, lack of low stress exercise/sport only high stress activities. Tendency for medical problems to be dismissed as a kind of escape attempt. Lack of trust in these “little people”. (to them)

    Yes, they seem potentially safe and secure and self-contained/life supporting at first but they can be anything but. It’s an illusion of orderliness and security. Vivé individual independance! Qui tacet dissentit!

  17. In most places they’re not going away, they’re just mutating into smaller versions of the larger ones. It’s good that they’re getting rid of the larger ones, but that won’t fully solve the inherent problems of these places. Too many people like to claim they’re on their way out, or even gone already, when they’re not. For that matter a lot of places are clamoring to build more of them, and some are succeeding.

    They do have to be replaced with something good, not just removed. (As discussed in a previous post that I linked to.) But they’re still here, and speaking out about them is still an important thing to do as long as they’re still here.

  18. I see more requests for reassurance that “I’m a good person” than requests for validation of actions. It’s not always explicit. Sometimes it takes the form of “Now you’ll think I’m a bad person, but … .” And the reader is supposed to say, no, you are a good person, you are doing what you think is best. Even if the reader doesn’t really know the poster and has no idea if he or she is a “good person” or not.

    (I wrote a reply to this already and my browser crashed. Trying again.)

    The problem is that “I’m a good person” is too often so tied up in “validation of actions” that if you say that someone’s actions may have been wrong (or even just fail to categorically state that someone’s actions are definitely right), then they will take that as calling them a bad person. So even if you say explicitly “You’re a good person,” the person will hear “You’re a bad person” implicit in any criticism of or even skepticism about their actions.

    Which somehow then becomes your problem.

    So not only do (under these rules) you have to say that people are good people whether you know them or not, but you have to say that you approve of their actions or at least trust their ability to figure out whether their actions are correct, whether or not you can in good conscience say you do so.

    Which comes to another thing — it seems like there’s another implicit expectation, that is that you’re not ever supposed to state explicitly that child abuse happens to autistic children, or that you can’t know whether or not someone else abuses children.

    In the online parent communities over time, I’ve known of one parent who steals her child’s SSI check. Another who adopts children and harms them or makes up stories about them so that she can bring them to doctors and get them medical treatments they don’t need. Another who beats and threatens his wife in front of the kids and probably abuses the kids as well. (I’m talking about people I knew awhile ago, by the way, not people I can trace right now.)

    And I know the rates of abuse in the autistic adults I know, from family members. (I’ve myself been abused by non-parent family members.) And the rates of abuse in general.

    And yet somehow I’m supposed to somehow believe that every parent I talk to is totally honest about how they treat their children. Even though I know that nearly all the people I know who’ve abused their kids put up a front, and nearly all the people I know whose families abused them, their families put up a front. It’s not that I’m looking at every person and seeing a child abuser, but generally when I meet people I figure I don’t know whether they are or not, and don’t like being expected to take at face value that they don’t.

    (And then there’s the whole thing with “I love my children, therefore I couldn’t possibly abuse them.” That’s back down to the “can be a good person and do bad things” problem. Most people who abuse their children, love their children.)

    So… yeah. It may be about wanting to hear “I’m a good person,” but that’s rarely enough. Even if you say “Yes you’re a good person,” you still end up having to “validate” most of their actions in order for them to believe you mean it. (And I don’t find validating certain actions to be constructive, even if it feels good to the person.)

  19. Institutions are more pervasive than we think. For instance the Metropolitan Police is an institution, if it were not why would it have been accused of institutional racism. The Houses of Parliament are an Institution. MP’s enter with the best of intents (sometimes) and are totally corrupted by the place, with its ancient procedures, its atmosphere, the very debating chamber itself is adversarial not in the least that the distance between the opposition benches is two swords lengths apart to stop the inmates going for each other.

    To my mind our schools are institutions, constructed not so much for the primary object of education but for the socialisation of the compulsory detainees, into the values and norms of prevailing society, that involves lerning the “pecking order” and enduring bullying, lerning not to grass that sort of thing.

    Those who favour and push for inclusion in education do not realise they are not closing down an institution and opening up equal opportunities, they are just swapping one sort of institution for another.

  20. Definitely agreed on the schools being institutions and not institutions of learning at that… except that I think that as long as they’re what’s there, we need to be allowed as much access to them as anyone else, even if they’re something horrid I’d never want to inflict on a child. People pushing for full inclusion as a utopian end goal miss the point, but as long as the options are what the options are, exclusion doesn’t seem good either (just as I think women and gays should be allowed in the military even if I don’t agree with everything the military does).

    Otherwise I’m with Tito on schools, but I can’t quote him because I don’t have the book in front of me. He asks why he should imagine a “good school” when the school system clearly doesn’t fit people like him at all (and possibly anyone), and goes on to talk about what he really learns from rather than what school would have him learn from. (The only lines I remember are “My school is the doubt in your eyes/And my withdrawing away.”) If I have kids they’re not going to school unless they ask to.

  21. Larry seems to be broadening the definition of “institution.” By extension, every society is an institution of sorts, full of coersions, punishments, groupthink/brainwashing, and other things that don’t always make sense (at least not to me). There are no torture chambers in society (although law enforcement can use brutality before a person enters the institution of a prison system), but there are other things in society that can at best annoy (arbitrary rules of conduct and etiquette) and at worst can torture the mind and poison the soul. Every society has a set of presumably shared “values” and every society has punishments in place for failure to share those values. Being friendly. Smiling. Making good conversation. Looking fashionable. Fitting in. Being a team player. Etc. If “institution” is a state of mind as well as a building or a system, I’m not sure if there’s any way to get away from it completely.

  22. I just heard this song on the radio and thought about what I just said above:

    What’s up
    4 Non Blondes

    25 years of my life and still
    I’m trying to get up that great big hill of hope
    For a destination
    I realized quickly when I knew I should
    That the world was made up of this
    Brotherhood of man
    For whatever that means
    So I cry sometimes when I’m lying in bed
    To get it all out what’s in my head
    Then I start feeling a little peculiar
    So I wake in the morning and I step outside
    I take deep breath then I get real high
    Then I scream from the top of my lungs
    What’s goin’ on
    And I say hey…
    And I say hey what’s goin’ on
    And I say hey…
    I said hey what’s goin’ on
    And I try, oh my God do I try
    I try all the time
    In this institution
    And I pray, oh my God do I pray
    I pray every single day
    For a revolution
    So I cry sometimes when I’m lying in my bed
    To get it all out what’s in my head
    Then I start feeling a little peculiar
    So I wake in the morning and I step outside
    I take a deep breath then I get real high
    Then I scream from the top of my lungs
    What’s goin’ on
    And I say hey…
    And I say hey what’s goin’ on
    And I say hey…
    I said hey what’s goin’ on
    And I say hey…
    And I say hey what’s goin’ on
    And I say hey…
    I said hey what’s goin’ on
    25 years of my life and still
    I’m trying to get up that great big hill of hope
    For a destination

  23. I’m not broadening the definition of institution it is a common enough one from Sociology, the classic work on Institutions is by Goffman, he talks of institutions and total institutions, the institution is not the building but the degree of control it has over your life, and in the total institution, the classic asylum, the army, prison, convent, boarding school situation the total control it excercises.

  24. If “institution” is a state of mind as well as a building or a system, I’m not sure if there’s any way to get away from it completely.

    I think that’s true. That doesn’t make it untrue that ‘institution is a state of mind’, however (perhaps I should borrow that phrase next time I try to explain about brickless/ invisible institutions). And whether or not it can be eradicated, that state of mind should be countered wherever it’s found – starting inside oneself, but not neglecting the world.

    No-one claims that murder’s all right just because it’s patently ineradicable; yet we’re asked to believe that *convenient* wrongs are all right. ‘But we can’t do without institutions’ does not equate to ‘institutions are good things’ – especially since it’s the most vulnerable whom we propose to make *more vulnerable by putting them in institutions.

  25. When I write, sometimes I don’t even know what I mean until I’m writing it…or maybe sometime afterward.

    You bring up something very interesting that tangentially relates to this: the inevitability factor. I’ve been thinking and writing a lot about this on my group for autistic Christians. We’ve been talking about the subject of war and how the Bible speaks of war as inevitable (wars, rumors of war) and yet how Christians are called to lay down the sword. Sometimes Christians use the Bible to justify Christian *participation in* war, whereas I have been trying to show that saying something is going to happen inevitably is not the same as being given the green light to participate in it. Likewise, being an onlooker and saying that one party has the right (or not) to defend itself in a war is not the same thing as saying that you are “pro war.” But I digress…I think.

    I thought about what I meant by the idea that “institution” is a state of mind. It kind of reminds me of that British series The Prisoner. He thinks he has finally escaped, only the joke’s on him because even in the “outside world” beyond that island where his room is bugged and so forth, he is still “inside” and he can never escape.

    The horrors of institutional facilities that warehouse people can be felt to lesser but varying degrees in the “outside word” where people are presumed to be “free.”

    This has nothing to do with (and I’m not saying you were saying that, but frankly I’m not sure) excusing what goes on inside those buildings called institutions. What I’m saying is that control, coersion, manipulation, social isolation, and other things that go on where there is no accountability occur in daily life where there is *also* no or little accountability.

    Unless society as a whole changes drastically in its view toward people who are different, the institutional state of mind will remain in society and people will not truly be free. People wouldn’t need to be “activists” anymore.

  26. I meant to say, there would be no need for activism (autistic rights, disability rights, human rights) if everyone were free.

  27. The prisoner was a classic series and one that left a lasting impression on me because I feel a lot like No6. I can’t settle down to a life looking like everyone else and doing what everyone else does just for the sake of peace and quiet.

    Oh well how does it go “questions are a burden unto others, ansers a prison for oneself”

    With the number of cameras about these days we can never be sure when we are being watched or not, never mind that eerie police helicopter that flies over the estate from time to time.

  28. This has nothing to do with (and I’m not saying you were saying that, but frankly I’m not sure) excusing what goes on inside those buildings called institutions.

    I should have been more careful about how that read. Sorry. Didn’t untangle my thoughts far enough.

  29. Honestly, Amanda, I believe many parents come to you for validation because you write often about debunking others’ perceptions of you based on how you “look”, and because you happen to be particularly articulate. That makes folks think twice about how they’ve evaluated other people in the past — possibly think twice about how they’ve judged their own children. With that comes a guilt factor, and a need for your approval, and an impulse to be “nice” to you — and I suspect folks think that asking you for advice or validation or whatever is a compliment to you, and that you ought to appreciate them valuing your opinion, and in turn be “nice” to them because they’ve flattered you, and tell them what they’re doing is okay — or, rather, that they are okay — because, again, folks tend to not want to distinguish between approval of their actions and approval of themselves.

    I seem to recall a comment somewhere on this site in which a person apologized for having “argued” with you in another forum. (S)he was obviously motivated by some schmaltzy form of guilt, most likely brought on by you citing and shattering some illusion someone had about you; this person may have maintained the same illusion and felt bad for doing so, and therefore forfeited whatever (quite possibly valid) argument (s)he had with you for the sake of being “nice”.

    Your response was somewhere along the lines of “If you had a valid argument with me, no apology necessary.” Fight the power, my dear.

  30. PTSD alert: Don’t watch if this will affect you to the extreme.

    Just added to You Tube two days ago:

    Human Rights Abuses at the Judge Rotenburg Center:

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