Monthly Archives: February 2008

Some side-by-side analogies

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In the recent Wired article, Volkmar used an analogy that said that acknowledging autistic people’s right to remain autistic, or acknowledging our capabilities, went like this:

Yale’s Volkmar likens it to telling a physically disabled person: “You don’t need a wheelchair. Walk!”

The Autistic Bitch from Hell responded, partially, with:

He deliberately promoted a false stereotype that all autistics need extensive help from psychiatrists to do the simplest things in life, while conveniently ignoring the large number of autistic adults who already were (and, in some families, had been for generations) successfully integrated into society.

A more accurate wheelchair analogy might be to say that Volkmar and his accomplices grabbed people who were walking along the street, forced them into wheelchairs, tied their legs so that they couldn’t move, and then pointed to them and said, “Look at how much help these unfortunate people need because they can’t walk without their wheelchairs!”

And all of this reminded me of an analogy I made several years ago for how psychiatry treated me when I was essentially terrified, despairing about my future, and losing assorted skills day by day while wondering why on earth I couldn’t sustain my previous abilities in some areas. I had no model for existing as a person like who I was, so I variously tried to escape this reality by coming up with an imaginary world that was better than this one, trying to decide that dreams were being awake and being awake was just a really bad dream, trying to force myself to forget that reality existed, trying to turn myself by force of will into assorted kinds of non-autistic people, and eventually attempting suicide. I eventually also figured out that none of that is the best approach to the situation, but I gave it all a really good try before giving up on it as an effective coping mechanism. :-P

The analogy seems really apt when stuck next to Volkmar’s and the ABFH’s, so I’m not even going to add to it:

To use an analogy, it was as if I had wandered into the middle of the street, oblivious to any danger in standing there, obviously missing some combination of knowledge and ability to apply that knowledge, but essentially still me. Someone had run over me and broken my leg. Then, instead of helping me out of the street and fixing my leg, they ran over my other leg and broke that, and then both my arms. Seeing that this was not working, they kept running over my legs and arms and telling me that there was something wrong with me for not getting up and walking away. Then, they got out of the car and started beating me over the head and screaming that there was something wrong with me. This is an analogy, but I believe it is a good analogy to what the system does to people who are different, or simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.

It didn’t just happen to me; it was happening to everyone around me, too. […] The puzzling thing was that while there were indeed many sadists and power-trippers in the system, there were others who no doubt went along with this puzzling behavior because they felt pressured to do so, and others who had been taught that this somehow constituted “help.”

I think those analogies are all interesting to line up side by side, since they’re all using walking as an analogy for other things, but at the same time going very different places with the same ideas.

Some quick corrections and clarifications.

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There is not a lot I needed to correct or clarify, but there is a little bit.

In the Wired article, I’m described as cueing up a video. It can be inferred that it is a video I made, but it’s not, it is a video made by ChristSchool, and it is this one:

Then there was a quote attributed to me at one point, that actually belongs to D.J. Savarese. I was telling the reporter a story about how when Savarese was interviewed on CNN, he was asked whether he thought autism ought to be treated, and he said, “Yes, treated with respect.” That quote is attributed to me in the article, when really I was telling a story about what someone else said, and did say clearly that it was D.J. Savarese who said it.

I am guessing that both of these things have to do with the fact that the reporter’s tape recorder broke and did not record the interview as planned, so he was going off of notes, which probably involved writing down the words but assuming the tape recorder would pick up the exact names of the sources or something.

Another thing slightly off is the amount of time it said I spent on the Internet. I was emailed and asked about that, and I said sometimes I spend a lot of time, and sometimes I spend very little to no time. I am guessing that the “scary amount of time” part fits in better with geek culture. ;-)

But I do spend a fair amount of time offline, in reality: I have obligations in the rest of the world too, given that I have a neighbor I go over and assist with a time-consuming medical device on a near-nightly basis, a volunteer job involving cats (who don’t have net access) that I sometimes do often and sometimes barely at all depending on what I’m capable of, a cat and dog living with me who want to spend time with me, and a fair degree of exhaustion just getting through everyday stuff (I can get online from bed, but don’t always do so).

None of this is to say I don’t like the article, I just don’t want people to mistakenly attribute other people’s quotations and work to me in the process.

Hills and cliffs.

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I was just having a conversation about a difference I’ve observed between various autistic people. I want to note, before I describe it, that it’s not some kind of cut and dried division, nor is it scientific. It’s just an observation I’ve made. It’s not even a matter of “types of autism” necessarily, because a person can function in both ways at different times in their life, or bits of both at once. But I notice that some of my friends and family are primarily one way, and some are primarily another.

And be aware that when I’m talking about abilities, below, I’m talking about surface-level stuff. I’m not talking about the deeper neurological/cognitive sorts of abilities, which might be both stable and very much similar in all groups of people described, for all I know.

Basically…

Some people seem to have very stable abilities. If there’s things they can’t do, they just can’t do them. And if there’s things they can do, they always can do them.

Other people seem to experience a lot of change and fluctuation. They might be able to do something one moment and not the next, and they might always have various abilities moving out of the way to make room for whichever one is being used.

And I thought of an analogy to this, or rather elaborated on one of my old ones. Think of elevation as ability in any particular area.

Some people seem to have started off at a certain low elevation in this particular area. Then as they got older, they hiked up the slope. At the top of the slope was a nice, large flat area where they could find a place to live very easily on a long-term basis.

Other people seem to have started off at the same low elevation, but what’s in front of us look more like cliffs. We can get very adept at climbing those cliffs, but when we are, there is nothing else we could possibly be paying attention to, since too much is going to dealing with this cliff face. When we reach the same elevation as the other person, we are hanging onto a cliff face with our hands and feet. There is no possible way we could stay there. We might even be able to reach much higher elevations than the other person — the cliff seems to not have a top, from our perspective — but we will eventually have to either climb down voluntarily, or fall down involuntarily, back to our original level.

Some people might actually find a top to their cliff eventually, and thus be able to remain stably at that ability even if it took a lot more effort and falling down than someone else took to get to that point. Other people won’t find that, and will end up having to deal with cliff faces all the time.

And there is a definite difference, even in two people doing the exact same thing, between one person standing on flat ground at a certain elevation, and another person hanging off a cliff at the same elevation. They might be doing the same thing, and at the same elevation, but they’re getting at it in very different ways, and only one of them will be able to sustain what they are doing for very long. There are all kinds of things this analogy can’t get across — particularly the complexity of having skills shift around all over the place while you’re climbing those cliffs — but I hope that is one of them.

This difference between ways of doing things seems to exist within all so-called “levels of functioning” and other ways of trying to divide autism into little parts. Both sorts of people, and all combinations and variations of those ways that skills can work, seem to exist among people with all ability labels. I do suspect that some of what gets called ‘regression’ is actually just that someone was cliff-climbing and fell back down to the ground, rather than that the person was not autistic until they ‘regressed’.

I’d also like to note that at my own version of ‘ground level’ in many areas, there is a lot of stuff that’s invisible to people way high up in the air from my perspective (including me, on my climbs up here). Not all of it is bad stuff. There are abilities down here that don’t exist so much once you start climbing, and that I rely on as my more reliable abilities, that exist without too much effort or forcing. So climbing high in one area can mean leaving other things behind on the ground. And even people who climb cliffs to get to where most people start out, have actual abilities that do stay the same at some basic level on the ground. They’re just not usually considered to be that. (And people who mostly live up high but happen to walk by a cliff and fall onto lower ground, have a very different experience of this than those of us who live on lower ground but climb up onto the cliffs. Even if both sets of people look identical in some contexts.)

I hope I haven’t by now stretched this metaphor to its breaking point, but I figured it might be useful, and I’ve seen this difference create a lot of confusion between different autistic people before. (And I don’t think it’s limited to autistic people, I’m just talking about autistic people because that’s the conversation I was having that got me into this.)

If cats survive.

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This has absolutely nothing to do with just about anything I usually write about.

But I was watching this show recently about what would happen in the extremely unlikely event that something made humans but no other species go extinct. (They did not get into the near-impossibility of this scenario.) At first it was really depressing, but then they were showing how once all the cities were overgrown, housecats would take over living in the ruins off of all the small animals and birds that were now living there. (And they showed how cats already do that in some ruins.)

I know it sounds strange, but I could deal with the concept of extinction of the human race a lot better if I knew the cats were going to take over. I know that’s unlikely to happen — anything that would affect humans so drastically would affect other species as well — but if cats survive it seems less depressing.

When did ‘equality’ become middle ground between ‘extremes’ that all look identical?

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I hear a lot about extremes and middle grounds and the like at times, when it comes to viewpoints in the autistic community (and/or general disability community).

My question is this:

Let’s say there are two viewpoints under discussion (and there are of course more than two, I’m just trying to make a point about the way two of them are often described).

One of them says that all people are of equal value, and ought to be accorded equal rights, including equal access to a society that systematically enables some people (with certain strengths and weaknesses) over others (with different strengths and weaknesses). (Notice that “equal” and “identical” aren’t the same thing — I’m not even going to publish comments on this one that says “But not everyone’s equal because not everyone’s the same.” We’re talking equal value as human beings and identical abilities, that’s two totally unrelated things, comparing them is like comparing apples and dark matter.)

Another of them says that autistic people are superior to non-autistic people, or that disabled people in general are superior to non-disabled people. (And I don’t mean “better at doing certain things”, I’m talking value judgments here.)

Why is the second point of view considered a “more extreme” version of the first?

Why is superiority considered a more extreme version of equality? As far as I can tell, it’s just the exact flipside of the majority view of disabled people, which is to say no more or less extreme than the mainstream views.

I am tired of hearing that people who believe that certain kinds of people are better than others have a more extreme version of my (and many others’) views on equality, and that therefore my (and many others’) views on equality can be considered a midpoint between assorted views on inequality.

Not that either “extreme” or “middle ground” is inherently superior to the other either, it seems more to me that people ought to focus on what is ethical rather than how their ethics compare with the society they live in so that they can either find an extreme or take what they imagine to be the average of several extremes without any thought to whether it actually makes sense to do either one of those things. (I think that a lot of people just use “extreme” as a shorthand for “angry,” “unreasonable,” “heatedly emotional,” or “I don’t like it,” and therefore want to insist that whatever they’re doing isn’t extreme. And then others use “extreme” to mean “cool”, and therefore want to insist that whatever they’re doing is extreme. Whether or not either of those is the case when they take a good look around the society they’re involved in and compare their views to that.)

And also not that autistic and/or disabled supremacists can, regardless of the offensiveness of their views, even do all that much damage in a society that’s so entirely slanted against them. (Making the opposite more of a general threat because autistic supremacy amounts to blowing hot air, whereas non-autistic supremacy is enforced from every direction.)

But seriously.

How is equality a “midpoint” between one form of inequality and another? Is this part of my surrounding culture’s obsession with finding “two sides” to every story and defining everything else as somewhere on the line between them (and this of course passing for objectivity), or what? Because I’m not seeing equality as some kind of middle-ground position between various forms of inequality (whether disability-based or not), it’s off in a completely different direction. Equality is actually pretty extreme compared to the society I actually happen to live in. A society which prefers to always make one sort of person or another inferior so that someone else can be superior, rather than accepting that all people are equal in value and then working to make things happen as close as possible to treating people as if they’re actually equal in value.

(And now back to lying down, I caught a mild (but really annoying) bug. Just because it had to happen.)