The Line Between ‘Too Autistic’ and ‘Not Autistic Enough’: Is There One? (No)

And this, ladies and men, is yet another mechanism of oppression to keep the autism agenda at bay! It’s a simple one, too. The idea behind this one is that when someone is ‘too autistic,’ they couldn’t possibly know what’s good for them and therefore they cannot speak for themselves. When someone is ‘not autistic enough,’ they either are not really disabled or cannot know what ‘real’ autism is and therefore they are not allowed to speak for themselves, at least as autistic people.

The line between ‘too autistic’ and ‘not autistic enough’ (henceforth, the line) is never defined and those who use these two terms cannot define them in a way that goes beyond ‘I can just tell.’ The truth is this: the line doesn’t just not exist, it’s actually a cop-out, a convenience for anyone who wants to make a distinction but doesn’t really want to go through all the intellectual rigor required to do it convincingly well. Those who really do take intellectual precaution will see that the existence of the line is not supported by any standard.

My main argument against the line is the fact that autism is recognized as a spectrum. The idea of autism as a spectrum and the idea of the line contradict each other because there are no lines in a spectrum; everything meshes into each other. Think of the color spectrum. We may have colors divided up for our convenience but this convenience is misleading. It’s not clear when exactly blue turns into purple or when red turns into orange; all the colors elide into each other. It’s the same thing with the autism spectrum. It’s not clear when autistic becomes not-autistic and it’s not clear when ‘severely autistic’ becomes ‘mildly autistic.’ I’ve personally worked with autistics who have a blend of characteristics from ‘mild autism’ and ‘severe autism.’ In addition, much like the many shades of blue, there are many shades of ‘mildly autistic.’

Of course, the main difference between color and autism is that while colors remain nothing more than abstract byproducts of human perception, autism concerns real people in a broken bureaucratic system. How someone gets diagnosed has an impact on what kind of services they can receive. If one is considered ‘mildly’ autistic, there is a chance that they will miss out on some services that would be beneficial to them. If one is ‘severely’ autistic, they could mistakenly get placed in a class with intellectually disabled students, resulting in a pace of intellectual growth that is so slow that the misplaced child could regress.

Until the line is firmly established and universally agreed upon – and that’ll never happen – it’s a fake concept that intellectually lazy people use to do nothing but pass judgment on autistic people and, unconsciously, to silence them.

I get the accusation that I’m ‘not autistic enough’ all the time. Though I often joke about it when I get that accusation, I secretly get a little irate at the accuser for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I can feel the person using their neurotypical privilege to pass judgment onto me like they were the authority on me. That is to say, it’s a way of keeping neurotypical privilege and control over alternative minds in check. Secondly, because autism is heavily stigmatized, it takes a lot of energy for me to inform new people about my being autistic so it’s painful to hear someone deny it or explicitly claim that they don’t believe it. If I really weren’t autistic in some sense, I wouldn’t be expending so much energy in telling people about it in casual settings while potentially committing social suicide.

To wit, the line is political. Despite autism’s roots in science and medicine, the line is not based on science, medicine, or any other kind of rigorous definition but rather a glitch in human perception. That glitch, in turn, fuels yet another neurotic attempt at controlling others.

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Martin Luther King Day Post: A Reflection on the (Ongoing) Civil Rights Movement

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Today’s Martin Luther King Day here in the States. I get the day off work (yay!) but more importantly, it’s a time to reflect on how far we’ve gotten in our civil rights stride.

Martin Luther King Jr.’s civil rights efforts were mainly aimed at desegregation and equal opportunity for African-Americans but the scope of civil rights extends beyond that. Civil rights is a relevant issue to anyone who fights inequality or is an advocate for any minority group, whether it’s African-Americans, women, Native Americans, the LGBTQ community, the disabled, and, yes, autistics.

There’s no way that I can write about Martin Luther King Jr. without sounding trite. Most of you already know who he is and why he was important (if not, you can always just look him up!) and I probably know as much about him as you. For that reason, I’m just going to focus on the state of civil rights, which is what today is really about.

Keep in mind that what I’m about to say is not directed at any public figure in particular but more directed towards the way more ordinary people understand civil rights as I’ve witnessed among my circle of people. It’s the thoughts of ordinary people on this issue that matter and say more about where our understanding is.

One of my biggest complaints about the way that some people handle civil rights issues is that they often portray it as a ‘David vs. Goliath’ issue. For example, some may think that you’re not pro-black if you’re not anti-white or the only way to combat misogyny is with misandry. Granted, you do have a lot to be upset about if you are in a minority group but by directing nothing but hatred toward your oppressors, you are actually increasing the tension between you and them and not actually working towards any kind of resolution. In such a person’s mind, they are being noble, because hating general groups of people is such a noble pursuit. Systems of oppression are often so embedded into our consciousness that most of the time, your oppressors are not aware that they are oppressing you. In this case, accusing them of ‘oppressing’ you when you feel cornered will only confuse and upset them.

Take it from me. I’m a straight, white-looking, cissexual, Christian, upper-middle-class, college-educated male – who’s also 6’2”, 1.88m, which helps in the privilege department – so outside the paradigm of mental disability (and weightism, but that’s another story), I’ve never experienced oppression and therefore I wouldn’t have fully understood oppression to be a real issue. I was unaware that women were being oppressed and I was trained to believe that what I was witnessing was just the way things are. And I understood being autistic the same way. I was originally a bystander in my own oppression. When you’re autistic and in the hands of authority, you’re conditioned to believe and assume that those in power really do know what’s best for you, even if you have weighty doubts about that.

Although I’ve become an advocate through my experience with autism, it’s important to realize that no system of oppression works in its own vacuum; they are all connected and rely upon each other to thrive. One cannot be a true civil rights advocate if they advocate for one group without awareness of other groups. For example, you’re not a good feminist if you only advocate for white, straight, neurotypical, etc. women (and if you only advocate for attractive women, you’re basically a faux-minist at this point). You’re not a good advocate for African-Americans if you exclude queer, fat, female, etc. African-Americans from your work.

The surface issues obviously differ for each minority but almost all the core issues remain the same for each minority: subjugation to double standards, an expectation to conform to the stereotypes of one’s group in order to be considered a legitimate member, limited opportunity, ostracism, stripping of power and personal autonomy, etc.

I’m for civil rights but not just for African-Americans, which is what most people would think of when they think of Martin Luther King, but for everybody. The work of Martin Luther King is not done and won’t be done for a long time but this cause, even over 50 years later, is still worth fighting for.

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On Political Correctness

Ever since I started writing about autism, I’ve become more aware of and more sensitive to other systems of oppression. After writing extensively about the role of language in propagating ableism, I’ve especially become more sensitive to such use in other systems of oppression. In racism/white supremacy, there’s the tendency of White Americans to call the indigenous people of America ‘Indians,’ rather than the term ‘Native Americans,’ because that fits the narrative of the White Americans and disregards the history of the indigenous tribes. In sexism, there’s the recent popularization of the word ‘bitch’ to, in a twisted turn of events, positively describe a female – by describing her negatively, that is.

I try to bring these issues into any discussion I have with people and they often accuse me of trying to make the conversation ‘too politically correct’ in this regard, which makes political correctness sound like a hobgoblin. People have been criticized for having no respect for others in conversation, which makes sense, but when have we started criticizing people for trying to foster on environment of respect for others? Since when was it uncool to be mindful of others and their experience?

Perhaps I should say something about the origin of the term ‘politically correct.’ The term was originally used to describe members of the Communist Party who adhere to the overly dogmatic principles of Communism. The idea was that to the Party’s followers, there was only one correct stance and whoever took that stance was ‘politically correct.’ The use of the term in describing Communists was meant to be insulting, of course; this is where the pejorative nature of the term comes from.

Now it has been reappropriated by the right wing as a means of smearing their ideological enemies (by subtly but incorrectly comparing them to Communists…) while avoiding the responsibility of engaging in meaningful debate. For example, in the hollow and reactionary ‘War on Christmas,’ right-wing pundits had described the effort to use the phrase ‘Happy Holidays’ in place of ‘Merry Christmas’ as too politically correct. Other than construing the effort as a personal attack on their beliefs, the argument doesn’t go beyond that.

Essentially, ‘politically correct’ is a clever right-wing term designed to dismiss rather than engage and its use speaks to our desire to appear tough and edgy (that’s the genius behind it). It frees one from the responsibility of actually being conscious of the implications of the words one uses and ultimately works to justify one’s ignorance and one’s incorrect and/or offensive use of words. Attacking an argument simply because it allegedly makes steps toward ‘political correctness,’ however that may be defined, is a logical fallacy in that it does not meaningfully address the actual argument and depends upon something other than reason to be considered a legitimate point.

In addition, it only serves the person using the term, portraying themselves as someone who engages in controversy or outdated ideas (usually in the name of ‘the truth’) while trying to appear noble or wise. Do not be fooled by the jerk in maverick’s clothing. In reality, it’s tricky to convincingly appear noble and wise while saying controversial things, repeating outdated ideas, or upholding archaic traditions. These are people who reasonably wish to exercise their right to free speech yet don’t want to take any responsibility for the consequences of what they say.

Exhibit A

Exhibit A

To the people who say that I’m too sensitive in these matters, I say that it’s better to be overly sensitive than to be desensitized.

Get Over Yourself: Associating With Autistic People Does Not Make You A Saint

Whenever I, an autistic person who just barely passes for neurotypical, mention that I mentor and support autistic adults for a living, the most common reaction that I get is something along the lines of ‘that’s amazing’ or ‘that’s very kind of you’ or ‘you’re a saint!’ I secretly seethe when I hear these remarks. This leads me to feeling hesitant to talk about my job with new people, despite it being a source of pride for me. Yes, the people with whom I work need some help in their daily living and yes, basic decency and empathy are required to do this job well but I think that calling me something along the lines of a ‘saint’ for doing it is a stretch.

In fact, I find the notion that I’m a ‘saint’ for deliberately associating with and working with autistic people (and, by extension, disabled people in general) to be personally quite hurtful. It’s a weird two-faced problem that exposes people’s hypocrisy literally as fast as you can say ‘I like trains.’ The fact that I’m supposedly a charitable person just because I associate with autistic people sends the message that we are clearly an unwanted people. At the same time, however, they still recognize the loneliness that we occasionally feel (because of their general ableist assholery) and as a result, there’s a begrudging acknowledgement of our humanity. Basically, when I mention my work and when they talk about ‘how great I must feel about myself,’ they’re effectively saying ‘well, better you than me!’ Whether or not they know of my being autistic is irrelevant, although it may be a huge mindfuck to them if they knew.

But seriously, the message that autistic people are unlovable and that support workers are highly charitable people for being around them had been responsible for lowering my expectations in friendships and relationships. The message had been that my friends and lovers would have to ‘tolerate’ my being autistic and see past it rather than see it as part of a whole that cannot be separated. The message had been that I couldn’t reasonably expect anyone to fully love me because apparently, a prerequisite for associating with me, never mind liking me at all, is pure saint-like goodness and in my almost-23 years of living, I’ve learned the hard way that there are very few people with such character.

This pervasive assumption concerning us had left me feeling jaded and bitter. I viewed my friends and family members as people who merely tolerated me and kept me around because they were actually selfishly seeking recognition for being A Good Person, despite how wrong I turned out to be most of the time. In fact, it’s possible that it was my accusatory yet baseless suspicions that manifested themselves implicitly, rather than my Big Bad Autism, that drove people away from me, thus creating a self-fulfilling prophecy.

On a side note, I should mention that as I write this, the root of my anger and cynicism is becoming clear to me.

Sometimes I wonder if my mentees secretly or unconsciously loathe me because I’m paid to spend time with them; they probably suspect that I wouldn’t hang out with them otherwise (which, for the record, isn’t true in all cases). Lord knows that that’s how I felt when I had people supporting me in middle school and high school.

Big Autism: Autism and Corporate Media

One of the umpteen million reasons that I do this blog is to combat the negative stereotypes of autism. I usually get asked where this negative perception of autism comes from and one man I once debated with said that he thinks that people have no opinion on it because they know so little about it. This is a partially fair point and one that I’ll tackle here. The problem is twofold: the negative perception may arise from visceral reactions (since we’re ‘different’ and all) that we can overcome with the right kind of information and capacity for reflection but the big media prevents people from overcoming those initial reactions or chance for reflection by filling the voids of their ignorance with faulty and harmful ideas.

As I wait between shifts at my job, I am in a cafe with the radio on in the background. Just trite pop music since metal is not acceptable to most people (I think I once asked my mom when I was in a bad mood why they never play metal in coffee shops but I digress). Ads come on. I hear the word ’autism’ mentioned on the station so I naturally tune in, hoping that this wouldn’t be something that I’d have to write about. “Does your child have autism?” “Does your child have frequent outbursts?” “Is your child struggling to pay attention in school?” “Apply for a position at the Judge Rotenberg Center!” (All paraphrasing, I don’t remember the exact words) My reaction was this: “That place is still around in the year 2013?”

I will not spend too much time talking about JRC because people have written about it in the autism blogosphere extensively. Basically, JRC is a facility for people who need support in their daily living that provides a behavior modification program. It is the only institution in the United States that heavily uses aversives to condition their students. Since such techniques include things like the use of shock therapy and withholding of food, the things that they do technically count as abuse. The existence of this school and the funding that it gets feeds the idea that we must recondition autistic people to behave in a ‘more acceptable’ manner.

In my work as a mentor/support specialist, I’ve seen humongous differences between autistic people who have gone through therapies that focus on reconditioning and those who haven’t. The former are really boring in that they seem to try so hard to please me as their mentor and seem to experience only one emotion whereas the latter are always interesting, never set out to please me, and experience the whole gamut of emotions (to which they are usually more susceptible).

An organization responsible for the negative portrayal of autism is a non-profit called Autism Speaks, which has also been extensively covered by autism bloggers, leaving me with nothing original to say about it. Suffice it today that Autism Speaks, henceforth ASs, does not serve our cause. In fact, ASs effectively harms our cause. Their press releases regularly contain fear-mongering and stigmatizing rhetoric. They pretend to come from a place of concern yet very little of their money goes into actually providing services. The services that they provide help the families of autistic people instead of the people who actually need it the most: autistics themselves. (One little but important fact about them is that they don’t have a single autistic person serving on their main executive board, which is like having only men serve on the board of a women’s rights organization).

Recently, JRC and ASs have formed a partnership, creating the unholiest of unholy alliances.

These two institutions are two of the main players in the Autism Cure Movement. They appeal to two things: our neurotic desire for control and the uncertainty that comes with raising a child that doesn’t have the same brain wiring as yours. They make it seem necessary that your child must act like everyone else if they are to blend into society. They have singlehandedly made it socially acceptable to hate autistic people by cheaply appealing to our most visceral and base desires – the same ones that make us averse to those that are ‘different’ – rather than our higher reasoning faculties. Autistic people are very different and they paint this difference as something that needs to be eradicated rather than celebrated.

As I’ve said, people have already written about this stuff. I just note that this is where the view of ‘autism-as-disease’ or ‘autism-as-epidemic’ comes from. Here are some links so you can start your own research:

Anti-Semantism: Do I Have Autism Or Am I Autistic?

Welcome to Anti-Semantism, a section of Angry Autie that tackles language use, especially as it pertains to autism and discussing it. Words are very profound and powerful things. People know this in the abstract but yet continue using words imprecisely. It may seem like what I’m doing here is just nit-picking to most people but I find the way that people use words to be extremely revealing, more revealing than they may want. It is possible to call people out on bullshit based on their word-choice. I believe that a lot of problems arise from a misunderstanding in communication, which people with autism supposedly lack. In Anti-Semantism, there’ll be diatribes against certain terms, an analysis of how certain terms are used, and more. Any topic that is about language use in autism discourse will fall under the “Anti-Semantism” label.

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Lately, I’ve stumbled upon the concept of ’English-Prime’ (henceforth, ’E-Prime’) and I’ve obsessed over it ever since. E-Prime proposes to eliminate the verb ’to be’ from our lexicon. E-Prime aims to eliminate dogma from our way of thinking about and discussing anything and puts us in a linguistic box that forces us to think and discuss more critically. The verb ’to be’ serves as a (lazy) tool of equivalency and an enhancer/definer of categories and because of the fast-paced and uncertain nature of speech, these equivalencies and categories often go unchecked and one may tacitly accept them, especially if the speaker has mastered the art of speech and sophistry. As a result, false ideas may circulate. Someone emphatically says “Rush Limbaugh is a genius” and, next thing you know, more and more people think that. As you sit on the idea of E-Prime, even if you don’t intend to use it, you become more aware of the power and the slippery and deceptive nature of ’to be.’

All of this made me think of the way that I discuss and think about autism. I think of it as something ’I am,’ rather than something ’I have,’ and so do most other autism bloggers (re: person-first language discussion). My consideration of E-Prime has revealed to me the hazy yet dogmatic nature of this position, especially considering that autism, other than a few key characteristics like proneness to sensory overload or meticulousness, evades precise definition. And my position becomes more absurd when you take into consideration the fact that ‘being’ and ‘essence’ also evade precise definition. The verb exacerbates ambiguity, rather than combating it. When I say ‘I am autistic,’ what do I aim to affirm and why does it need affirming?

Eliminating ’to be’ would eliminate identity to a certain extent. Identity constantly changes but static aspects of identity like ethnicity can still remain. For me to say “I am American” leaves out a lot of information about me. A more accurate statement would be “I grew up in New York City with an American father and an Egyptian mother who currently resides in the UK.” I managed to say a lot without using ’to be’ and I avoid pigeonholing myself as simply an American. More complex facts about me, those more difficult to express in E-Prime, would reveal themselves overtime and express themselves with more nuance. Thus, E-Prime reveals the multi-faceted and fluid nature of the state of affairs and eliminates clearly defined categories.

Now this makes me consider whether or not I need identity for the sake of inner peace, the reason why I’ve been writing this blog. I often feel that whenever I express my ’autism identity,’ I unintentionally define myself in opposition to neurotypical people, portraying the situation as black-and-white. I present myself too much as ’not one of you’ and I close off all future discussion. With E-Prime, definite categories would not exist and I would not think of terms of opposition to neurotypical people; I wouldn’t even view them as ‘neurotypical people’ or myself as ‘autistic.’

E-Prime encourages an open discussion on several matters because it forces one to deconstruct categories that they may or may not know well and recognize their essentially fluid and occasionally self-contradictory nature. Most people, at least from my experiences, cannot handle it when their ideas and mental categories become completely deconstructed because the sheer complexity becomes obvious and overwhelms the person. Read any Socratic dialogue and notice that Socrates takes the tightly held ideas and beliefs of his interlocutors and deconstructs them to the point where the interlocutor no longer recognizes it and plainly notices the issues and implications of their beliefs. A resolution never presents itself because a resolution does not exist.

I argue that autistic people can handle this deconstruction better than neurotypicals because autistics tend to think on a more atomic level, noticing the small details that neurotypical people would never notice before noticing the big picture. Because of their our ability to think outside categories (or unwillingness to think in categories), autistics are inherently superior to neurotypicals and why we are slowly taking over…*

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*How about that! The one time that I use the verb ‘to be’ in this essay and it asserts a dogma! See how dangerous that is?**

**Oops. Did it again. This is getting tiresome…***

***Oh, fuck you, E-Prime, you beautiful whore.

A Little Aphorism on Strange Habits and Dispositions

One of the autistic adults that I support at my job is really into his morning coffee. He loves really strong coffee; when he prepares it, he uses exactly 60 beans, no more and no less. If it doesn’t have 60 beans, his day is ruined. Another one that I support is also a coffee lover but he likes his coffee really sweet: he pours his coffee into a cup full of sugar and then gulps it down (just to make the image more clear, this concoction has the consistency of mud). Another one works from home but my main job is to gather rotting apples for him, because he will only do work when it smells like rotting apples in his apartment. Another one has to walk around a block three times before we enter a building.

Do you believe me when I say that the people that I mentor have these habits? You do? Well, I LIED. LOL.

The habits that I described are actually the habits of famous people. Beethoven was the practitioner of the 60-bean coffee habit, Kirkegaard loved his half-coffee-half-sugar concoction, Friedrich Schiller loved the rotting apples, and Nikola Tesla had a habit of walking around a block three times before entering a building on that block. Now that you know that these geniuses had these strange dispositions, they probably don’t seem so ridiculous. In this new light, they seem – dare I say it? – excusable.

I’m not comparing autistics to creative geniuses (quirky habits have nothing to do with real genius, despite seeming correlated) but I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t feel a little restricted by society’s aversion to eccentric but harmless habits…