This just in: some guy who writes for a New Jersey news site has enough authority to write reasonably about autism… Ok, I’ll bite. What are his qualifications? Oh, his son has autism, you say? Ok, so maybe he can provide some insight on what it’s like to raise and live with an autistic individual so that we could get a slightly more comprehensive picture of autism. Oh, he’s not doing that? He’s writing instead about what he thinks the definition of autism is…no, wait… should be? I see.
James Terminiello is yearning for the days when the definition of autism was more clear-cut. This guy reads like an old man cursing at the younger generation for listening to “rat music” and playing around on their “uPhones,” checking their “FaceSpace” and their “MyBook.” Life goes on and he’s an old man stuck in the 90’s, ignoring the fact that ideas change over time and so he ends his op-ed on an awkward note by stating “As for me, I want my autism back,” as if someone raided his house one evening and stole his autism right off his bedside table. Now, he wants his autism back on his bedside table and chooses to get it back the only way he knows how: by writing an op-ed piece on some bumblefuck news site. You heard him, guys. Put James’ autism back on his bedside table right now.
Ok, I’ll stop with the personal attacks and talk about what’s actually wrong with this article. Starting with this line:
“Anyone with the mental and verbal ability to challenge autism research is not autistic on a scale that I care to recognize.”
So basically, what he’s trying to say is that he refuses to recognize the many, many variations on what he thinks autism is, despite them falling onto the spectrum nonetheless. Despite my extensive personal experience with it and what I’ve had to put up with because of the label, he’s denying that any of this shit has actually happened to me and thinks that I’m in no position to challenge the public perception of autism simply because I am articulate and intelligent enough to be able to do so. I challenge the perception because of my experience of being the victim of that perception. He’s implying that my autistic brothers and sisters should be content with their status as second-class citizens and not even think about speaking out. He thinks that people with autism are hopelessly inarticulate, despite the existence of people like this. This is like saying ‘any black person who doesn’t eat fried chicken and has no criminal record is not really black as far as I’m concerned.’
Besides, if us high-functioning auties are not allowed to challenge bunk autism research because we’re supposedly not really autistic, then who will? Somebody has to and auties are perfect for the job because they know their condition better than anyone could ever hope to know. It seems that Terminiello is, at the very least, uninterested in hearing what auties who are able to articulate have to say.
Anyway, moving on:
“It is time to stare directly at the plain, raw face of real autism: a world of painfully slow, unrewarding therapy carried out by near-angelic professionals who suffer very high burnout rates. It is a place where marriages are wrecked or destroyed amid tears, accusations, anger and arms thrust in the air to the words ‘I can’t deal with this anymore!’”
Of course, only neurotypical James Terminiello of NJ.com knows what “real” autism is. After all, he has an autistic son and that’s all you need to be an authority on autism.
Ok, I’ll admit that there’s a grain of truth to what he’s saying here. Autism families are indeed more likely to get divorced. I myself am a child of divorce. However, I’m getting the impression that he is totally caught up in how bad autism can be and wants to spread his negative and unhelpful image of autism for no good reason. There are numerous exceptions to this negative image like Temple Grandin, Donna Williams, Carly Fleischmann, and countless historical figures like Isaac Newton, Adam Smith, Nikola Tesla, Albert Einstein, Ludwig Wittgenstein, etc. And when we discuss the historical figures in question, the question of their being on the spectrum virtually never comes up. Autism has been around for a very long time (Personally, I have a hunch that Aristotle was on the spectrum) but it was never given a name until the early 20th century. I should address this stuff in a future post.
All throughout the article, Terminiello unquestioningly panders to all the usual stereotypes about autism, which I consider to be a red light. He says that we live “in a swirling, nearly impenetrable world of [our] own punctuated by violence, lack of articulate speech, weird obsessions, incredible indifference and a hundred other heart-breaking negatives.”
According to this man, my obsession with music is, rather than being constructive, “weird” and a “heart-breaking negative.” Nikola Tesla’s (not that I’m comparing myself to this man) obsession and work with electrical energy is, rather than what gave us alternating current – which gave us homes lit up by electricity rather than candles (plus the awesome Tesla coil), “weird” and a “heart-breaking negative.” Einstein’s obsession with science is, rather than what gave us the theory of relativity that totally turned the field of physics on its head, “weird” and a “heart-breaking negative.”
Sorry, sir, but there is no room for sentimentality and excessive pathos-laden platitudes in serious discourse on, well, anything but especially autism because there’s already so much of that. I generally advise people who are interested in autism to avoid anything that is designed to elicit your sympathy or anything that paints a portrait of the child with autism as a lost cause. Acknowledge the existence of this bunk but take it with a grain of salt nonetheless. I like to highlight well meaning but still detrimental idiots like Terminiello to demonstrate examples of irresponsible autism discourse.
P.S. Also, it’s perfectly conceivable that someone who “holds a job, owns a car, pays rent and earns $75,000 a year” could be on the spectrum. No question. If they have something valuable to offer society, and they usually do, they are capable of making more than $75,000 per year. (By the way, it’s not “a year” in writing. It’s “per year.” And you call yourself a writer, Mr. Terminiello…)