Monthly Archives: June 2010

From my mother.

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I don’t normally respond to the various bullies that try to make false claims about my life. Generally, it’s something really inane, like they’ll claim to be revealing a secret about me when it’s something I’ve written publicly about before (often many times, in many places), they’ve made something up, they’ve played on inaccurate interpretations, or they’ve twisted something real and given it sinister meanings. But when I made an important post about the way police treat disabled people, my mother (who has been commenting on my blog for years) replied and gave more details about an incident that happened to me when I ran away from a day program after a fight broke out. A particularly asinine repeat-bully (not just of me but of many other people with ties to autism) responded by attempting to tell me that I had written what my mother said. I told my mother, and she sent me the following video in the mail:

http://www.youtube-nocookie.com/v/s9ISrTDmryI&hl=en_US&fs=1&rel=0

It’s fully captioned, but if you can’t play videos for some reason, this is what it says:

“Hi, I’m Anna Baggs. Amanda Baggs is my daughter. I’d like to make some things clear. Amanda is autistic. She was diagnosed when she was 14. I sometimes write on her blog under the name ‘Mom’. No one else blogs there under that name. Amanda does not tell me what to write, and neither does anyone else. I’d like to make some things perfectly clear. Amanda has my infinite support. I’ve had a chance to meet some of the other bloggers at Autreat last year. I took Amanda and it was an incredible experience. For others that I have not had a chance to meet, this will serve as our introduction.”

Regarding Neli Latson

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(For those who don’t know, he’s a guy who was arrested for sitting outside a library while autistic and black.)

Before I even heard much more of the story than those details in the last sentence, I wrote the following:

And the guy’s both autistic and black. In America that’s two counts against you and cops have been known to make up stories in either case and outright kill both disabled and black people who have not assaulted anyone and then make up some “well he was violent/he LOOKED violent” thing to cover their own asses. And as an autistic person who has been in similar situations (had the cops called on me multiple times for sitting and waiting outside for people, walking down the street, and other major crimes) the cops don’t even always approach you from the front. And if someone grabs me from behind without warning I am going to fight back because who knows it’s not a rapist and my reflexes work like that.  Because I’m female and white and a crappy fighter (at least that’s my guess) I’ve been either detained in the police station or institutionalized as a “danger to others” at that point (after fairly nasty but not life-threatening treatment by the cops) rather than jailed or shot.  So far. But I can completely imagine that being me, and when it’s the cop’s word against yours weird things happen. (And don’t get me started about the “psycho” and “retard” jokes I hear cops swapping at times like that — including the time I was picked up as a missing person for something as benign as running away from a day program after a fistfight broke out, which I still see as a reasonable response.  They do not value us highly.  Not enough of them anyway. Dennis Debbaudt is the exception.) 

And, surprise, when more details came out, he was grabbed from behind and threatened with racist language. How did I know this? From spending my life since adolescence in situations where cops have been called on me. In all but a couple instances all I was doing was sitting down outside, or walking down the street (the exceptions involved a few times when I screamed and one time I was trespassing, but mostly it was just sitting or walking).

As for how he remembers these things so vividly, first off lots of autistic people have good memories (or good memories when the right thing triggers them, as in my case). Second off, these sorts of events are pretty effing memorable. I can still remember details of similar instances over half my lifetime ago.

If you want to know more then google it. I don’t have any links handy and I’m posting from my iPod. Comments on this entry will be heavily moderated, people wanting to express the idea that this didn’t happen or that this doesn’t happen can go to any of the huge number of websites out there that welcome that sort of thing. And such people deserve a wakeup call about what life is like for those of us who have any (or all) of a number of differences that are obvious enough and devalued enough to get this kind of crap. But if that’s you, this incident has me utterly furious and I’m writing to a deadline which already makes me crabby so just go away.

Edited to add: makoto/pome has commented with several links:

Here’s some links for people:
http://autism-news-beat.com/archives/1146
http://autism-news-beat.com/archives/1137
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ken-reibel/teen-with-aspergers-arres_b_610530.html?page=2&show_comment_id=50670437#comment_50670437
Audio interview of Latson’s mother:
http://www.blogtalkradio.com/aut_toknow/2010/06/20/lisa-alexander-from-a-voice-for-nelifight-against-
A web page she has set up:
http://avoiceforneli.com/

Educational History

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I’ve written about most of these things before in lots of places but it seems that some people are confused about the order. Here’s my formal educational history:

One year at a Catholic Montessori. Age 4.

Four years of public school. Age 5-8

Four years of private school. Age 9-12

Three months of high school and the rest of the year in homeschool. Age 13.

One year of a college for young students that combined college and high school material. Age 14.

Three years of some combination of no school, institution school, and special ed. Age 15-17

One year of community college. Age 18.

A month or two of university in a college for atypical students. Made it to class two or three times ever. Age 19.

My actual education?  Mostly stuff I figured out by doing it or reading outside of school. I’ve close to instantly forgotten nearly everything school tried to teach me. The things I remember about school have nothing to do with the curriculum and everything to do with the lessons we were taught without anyone saying:  What it means to be autistic among mostly nonautistic kids, middle class among rich kids, kid dominated by adults, kid declared gifted who was nothing like the other “gifted” kids, shoved into harder and harder classes because people thought I was bored when really I was struggling to comprehend, trying to look like I understood the words pouring out of the teacher’s mouth when I couldn’t at all, special ed high school student who’s been to college, and on and on. Those are the lessons that I really learned in school, rather than just briefly memorizing and then forgetting.  I learn from life, not from lesson plans.

More detail on these experiences is scattered throughout my blog.

What I just told someone who didn’t match current autism stereotypes.

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It’s not really that you contradict what autism is, it’s that descriptions of autistic people came about like this:

Kanner saw a bunch of people and grouped them together. He observed some things about them. Some of the observations were accurate. Some were more conclusions than true observations. Then he came to conclusions based on both types of observations. Many of his conclusions were false. (Note: Most of Kanner’s patients would today have a high chance of being diagnosed as AS and all but maybe one or two fit at least one definition of high functioning. Several went on to college. There are many modern myths about who these people were.)

The next person came along and put more people into the category of autistic. These people included people who appeared like Kanners patients appeared, people who were like Kanners patients were, people who appeared like Kanners conclusions, and people who were like Kanners conclusions.

This has been going onin many iterations for generations. And since 1980 it’s been happening to Asperger’s patients and conclusions too. (His patients were roughly the same as Kanner’s, but he drew different conclusions.)

This means that people who get called autistic are an incredibly diverse group of people and that virtually nobody matches the conclusions. And yet those who either match the conclusions, think they match the conclusions, pretend they match the conclusions, or may or may not match but other people can force fit them to the conclusions — those people will get called more typical or more autistic. Even though they are neither.

So knowing all that I’m never surprised when people don’t match the conclusions. The conclusions come from generations of faulty observations, faulty logic, and faulty science. And then no matter what the conclusions are, people who match them or who think they match them or can be said to match them by others, suddenly start getting diagnosed more. It’s a disturbingly tangled thing and I wish more people noticed.

Adding on to what I said before: I am extremely disturbed by the amount of people, autistic and otherwise, who actually believe in the various tangled threads of the idea of autism. Why don’t they notice how these things inevitably have to come about? Why do they take people’s word for it that “This is so because someone with authority says it’s so”? Why do they put stock in tangles on top of tangles on top of the flimsiest foundations? Why do they believe whatever the latest thread of the tangle that is descriptions of what autism is, and then privilege those of us who (say we are/think we are/pretend we are/really are/aren’t but don’t have the power to resist being represented as if we are) the same as the ideas in that thread? Why don’t they notice the difference between being that way, thinking we are that way, force fitting ourselves and saying we are that way, pretending we are that way, and having those with more authority insist we are that way? Why are such people considered “more typical” even when they’re a minority? Why is it that people read Kanner or Asperger and believe their conclusions and value judgements as if they are true unbiased observations? Why don’t people see the contradictions between their observations and their conclusions?

It really harms people when people don’t question all these abstractions piled on top of more abstractions piled on top of still more, for generations now until they are steep towers reaching into the clouds, rather than on or near the ground. (Is it my inability to climb that high that makes it easy for me to question these things?) It makes me feel vaguely ill when I see the various consequences of autistic people themselves believing these abstractions so intensely — whether it’s people thinking there’s something wrong when they don’t fit a stereotype, or acquiring more status because they (do/think they do/say they do/pretend they do/have others with more authority convinced they do).

Mini-feline-ethics post: the power of life and death

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I haven’t yet got to my third post about feline ethics, which is going to be about power. But I just found out today that an article I thought was only in a print copy of Mouth Magazine is also published online by Disability Studies Quarterly.

I had gotten the article because someone claimed in response to a feline ethics post, that everyone who loved animals would agree that euthanasia is a good thing. And AnneC pointed out that this is not in fact the case, and that she (as I do) has serious problems with the overuse of euthanasia on cats. And I remembered this article. Unique in breaking the massive taboo against questioning pet euthanasia:

Disability Culture Meets Euthanasia Culture: Lessons From My Cat

The biggest power we have over cats is the power of life and death. Whether or not we swear we would never use it we still have it. It is not a crime to take a cat to the vet and have her killed because she was scratching the furniture, or because she is homeless. We have this power and cats know we have this power. Every animal knows that a bigger, stronger animal is a potential threat to their life. And this is just talking about uses of euthanasia that have nothing at all to do with terminal illness. I won’t go into everything I think, but suffice to say that I think in a better world euthanasia would not be used for trivial reasons ever, and would not be considered the first and best option (rather than, say, treatment and palliative care) the moment a cat is diagnosed with something scary. And there would be better pet insurance than currently exists, and there would be more research into feline pain management (very different from humans), assistive technology, and modifications to the home. And only then should euthanasia even be brought up as an option, if it has to be. We have too much power, we are too frequently persuaded to use it wrongly, and that we use it out of love and guilt doesn’t make the cat any more alive in the end. (And I’m as guilty as anyone else.)

Awkward questions about thinking.

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A few years ago, someone asked me what I had been thinking at a certain point in time, and nothing true that I said seemed to satisfy him.

I described what was happening at the time.

“But what were you thinking?”

“That is what I was thinking.”

“Really, what were you thinking?”

“Well I was uncomfortable with being touched…”

“That’s a feeling. What were you thinking?”

“The dark behind my eyelids. The sensation of pressure on my arms. The sound of rustling.”

And eventually I gave up and he was never satisfied.

The thing is, most of the time I’d give similar answers. As far as I’m concerned, processing sensory input, including emotional responses from inside my body, are part of thinking. They are the main part of my thinking, at that. Yes, I do have the kind of thoughts that everyone calls thinking, but not all the time. Not most of the time. Sometimes it pops up automatically and sometimes I push my way into it. That kind of thought takes work and work takes energy. Even locating touch as on my arm takes energy, but it takes less, especially if I’ve had time afterward to work it out.

So that’s yet another common assumption: That everyone uses that standard kind of thinking1. So much so that many people (including many people like me) decide that my predominant way of thinking isn’t thinking.


1 When I say standard thinking I mean a wide variety of kinds of thought. It doesn’t matter if it’s in words, pictures, abstract ideas, or what. And it’s not a matter of being “NT”. What makes it “standard” for these purposes is that it goes beyond taking in your environment in realtime. I’m sorry I couldn’t come up with a better term for it.