Thursday, December 18, 2014

Helping a Friend Come Out of the Autism Closet


For months I have wished to support a friend I have known for over two years
who may need to “come out of the autism closet,”
and who is also one of the kindest, bravest, strongest, most selfless human being,
more than any neurotypical person I have known;
someone whose selflessness I could only compare to some of my friends and allies at the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network or the Autism Women’s Network.
This may be a shock for her, and if she is upset with me for that, I understand.
Autistic people naturally feel low self-esteem and self-loathing, not because there is something wrong with autism,
but because of years of discrimination and inequality. 
If she is upset for me for breaking the news, I understand.
It is a lot to ask of anyone, and something you should be able to expect someone you trust not to hoist upon you.
Now when I say help her come out of the autism closet, let me explain what I mean:

I do not mean that I plan to gain recognition for letting her know she is diseased or needs to be fixed. 
I do not mean that I wish to have her read books by professionals who call her emotions or character flat or immature or treat her like some person who can’t “get it together.”
I do not mean to treat her as if she or her chances of getting where she was in life can be measured by some autistic who I consider to be a basket case.
I do not mean that I need to treat her like someone whose unique idiosyncrasies I need to constantly remind her of or patronize her for.
I do not mean treat her like she is a punching bag for me as a person who is against things like vaccines, Monsanto, lead poisoning, non-organic milk, abortion, or homosexuality.
I do not mean that she is someone I have to consistently point out or blame for her past struggles with going to Burger King, keeping up in school, following teacher’s instructions, or tolerating fluorescent lights.
I do not mean that I am going to strut around wearing autism awareness on my sleeve, making her feel like some complete freak show or charity case. 

I mean to treat her like someone who has the same right as any other person to have their individual needs to grow to her greatest potential met without debating over whether it is due to being diseased or treating her like I’m doing her a favor, no ifs, and, or buts, and no excuses, hidden agendas, whatsoever.
I mean to treat her as a member of a group of people who frequently don’t need to use small talk about weather or the price of gas to avoid topics I am too uncomfortable to honestly talk about,
who don’t need someone with a grocery cart to make more room between themselves and the sliding doors to get through when there’s ten times as much room in the gap on the other side,
as someone who doesn’t need to hear or see something at the next table and automatically assume it involves them,
who does not let themselves be judged by the presence or the state of her things,
who have the courage and tenacity to follow their dreams into fruition whatever the cost,
and probably included the cofounder of the Constitution, the United States, and one of the best Universities in the world and the smartest man who ever lived.
I mean to treat her as someone whose shortcomings are not more severe rather than more tolerated.
If anyone wants to help a friend come out of the autism closet, I suggest you follow my lead.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

The Autistic's Prayer

This is a prayer I recite every morning after my meditation for the furthering of advancing equality and access for autistic people in our society.  This prayer is for the advancement of cross-disability activism, inclusive education, inclusive societies, neurodiversity, the halting of the excesses of groups like Autism Speaks, and for the safety of all current and future autistic people in the hands of their caregivers and others.

May we never allow the short sight of people’s potential to override the long future we are all bound to share together.
May we never allow our thoughts on the quality of one’s future stop their future from coming to fruition.
May we not let groups paying large money to medical, management, or corporate expenses move us to not pay it forward.
May we not allow the medicine we have been given me used to call others diseased.
May we utilize our hearts with wisdom and striving,
recognizing all people under oppression and ableism as potential allies.
May we take note of the discrepancies on our schools and let the government know that we know.
May we allow all brains the full opportunity to make their greatest contribution to society, notwithstanding our current medical knowledge in any given age,
peacefully when we can, while protecting ourselves and our loved ones from harm and danger.
I say this prayer to plant its wisdom firmly within me so that it may spread around me and throughout our earth,
Every day of every month of every year until equality is realized.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

A Call to an "Autism" Sorority

This is a response to sorority Alpha Xi Delta over their support of Autism Speaks.  Currently, during the murders of London McCabe by his mother, his father asks that all donations in respect to him go to the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network or the Dan Marino Foundation.  I put this up in response wondering if AZD truly cares about “the children” as they say they do.

Higher Priorities

How many Alpha Xi Delta chapter heads does it take to screw in a light bulb?
None.

Because in their world, lightbulbs were never invented
because no one existed to invent them.
And yes, bring on the “fuck you’s,” and rolling your eyes
because in four years, your letters will go in a box,
but our lives will live on forever.
And you may become mothers of children, even autistic children,
and then where will that have gotten you?
We are the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network,
with support and activities,
a place where we all meet new friends for life,
doing real philanthropy,
giving each other support to help reach our dreams and goals.
Our colors: the colors of the rainbow;
our symbol: the symbol of infinity;
our mascot: any animal really-we autistics can sometimes relate to them;
our flower: flowers for the autistics dead by filicide on National Day of Mourning
with chapters through Kansas City, York, Michigan, Australia, New Zealand, and Oregon;              
with headquarters in our nation’s capital,
our motto, “Nothing about us without us;”
founded in 2006
by autistic collegiates;
our minimum GPA: none-you don’t even have to be in school;
our costs: none, though donations are welcome;
our letters: whatever letters are necessary to raise our voice.
Parties, glamor affairs, alcohol: these are not for me, thank you.
I don’t care too much about how I dress, and I don’t feel the need for acceptance in this mass consumer culture.
I don’t feel the need for others to know what I’ve done.
I wear no mark of dignity on my sleeve.
I am proud in myself, giving while others are sleeping, rocking in my own skin.
Nature, poetry, movement, and the arts: these all inspire me.
Needing only to go where women are as they appear in mirrors and want what they speak for.
I consider myself akin to all who care what is good and pure in this world,
taking a paddle to discrimination.
Not a Greek organization: we are a Turkish organization.
And caring and support are its pledge,
becoming members for life.
These are my brothers and sisters.


Autistic Pride Day Song

I would never want to be someone I’m not,
and leave my own self just to rot.
I am autistic and proud.
I’ll say it out loud.
We are human first.
We’ve been through the worst.
I can live just as good a life if the chance is given.
Better, if I am that driven.
I don’t need to ne neurotypical if I am to heal
or pomp from celebrities and sex appeal.
Our services are where we should be investing,
not in genetic testing.
A person’s abilities are not a choice.
We together are our greatest voice.

Too Young, Too Young

London McCabe and Jude Mirra: young boys I never knew, much too young, much too young.
Could I meet the young men of which they never grew, much too young, much to young.

They had no voice,
or if they did, it didn’t stop them from meeting this fate, much too young, much to young.

Painkillers in drinks and a fall from a bridge,
the thought that the mothers tried to prevent a bad future seems of great debate, much too young, much too young.

While services are behind,
a rescuer has shown up too late, much too young, much too young.

London had many willing surrogates,
but his mother’s drive was much too great, much too young, much to young.

Hate the mother, hate the child;
there’s always hate, much too young much too young.

An Autism Organization Like a Date

You sit by the movie theater
waiting for your date.
He was going to meet you at lunch a movie.
He said he’d meet you at 3:30.
You are as anxious as ever.

3:30 arrives.
You expect to see him.  It’s ok.  He’s only a minute late.

3:35.
Don’t worry, you tell yourself, He’s probably just running behind.

3:45.
You’re anxious but you decide to wait for him a little longer.

4:00.
You’re telling yourself he’ll be there.  Just wait a little longer.

4:30.
You realize it’s too late to get dinner and a movie, but you can still see the movie if he gets here in five minutes.

4:31.
You call your date just to let him know you thought you were meeting today at 3:30, wondering if something came up and you hope to see him soon.

4:50.
He hasn’t called or texted you.
You are a little annoyed because you paid for the ticket,
drove all the way out here,
and spent hours on your hair and make-up,
and still he hasn’t shown up or called.
He’ll be there.  We can still go out.  It will be just the same, you assure yourself.

5:15.
Still waiting on the bench, you decide to take a walk around the strip mall.
You walk by a bar: there he is,
kissing the girl who gave you hell since first grade.
You decide it’s ok.  He says he loves me.
I don’t want to rock the boat by hurting him,
He said he’d show up, but he never has.

Autism Speaks is the rude date.
Those who depend on them are the girl.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Sins of the Mothers: Three Ways the Media Grossly Portrays Jillian McCabe's Murder of Her Autistic Son


It’s no news to me that autistic children have been murdered by their parents, as have non-autistic children, and when they are, they are frequently given lighter sentencing (because their child was autistic), and shown great sympathy by the media, who praise their actions as “mercy killings.”  Karen McCarron, an Illinois mother of a non-verbal autistic daughter, killed her daughter in 2006 and was sentenced in 2008 with thirty-six years in prison, thirty months of supervised release after her prison term and a $25,000 fine.  The media praised Karen, however, saying she was brave to kill her daughter because she “might not have had a good life.”  This argument is used by mothers who get abortions, yet the politicians (particularly Conservative Republicans) and the media, especially in the last few days with the elections being held, demonize these women as murderers and child-killers.  But when a child that is unequivocally a living thing is murdered, assuming they are autistic, the media and law makers give them sub-standard sentences and sympathy.  Recently, two autistic boys, not even ten years old, were murdered by the people they should have been able to trust the most: London McCabe, seven-years old, by his mother Jillian, and Jude Mirra, eight, by his medical entrepreneur California mother Gigi Jordan.  For this, Jordan was given twenty-five years for manslaughter, while Jillian is held on $1 million bail until her court date on November 12.  Jillian has also been justified by her supporter under the notion that he was mentally ill.
                It saddens me to see these boys lost.  They were younger than any people I have ever known or met to have died young, including twenty-year old college students who I danced with at a school formal.  While the media

1.       While the media praises “courage” of these non-verbal autistic mothers, they show no respect for mothers of non-verbal autistics who gave their children all they could to have the best possible life:  Seriously, there are non-verbal autistic whose mothers (and fathers) respected that they had great talents and gifts to give, in spite of the fact that they would never meet conventional markers of success, including Brooke, the daughter of autism mother and blogger Diary of a Mom, Emma Hope, and Amy Sequenzia.  I know many of these mothers myself and they are willing to sacrifice everything they have worked for so their child can live with the best possible life.  Ignoring these mothers while praising Jillian and Jordan is an insult, as if saying it is more courageous to murder your autistic child than showing them love and support to lead whatever the best possible life is for them.

2.       McCabe and Jordan did not make the most human choices for their son, and there were plenty of others out there: Even if they could not have handled the stress of raising a non-verbal autistic child, there are others who could who would have been happy to raise these boys.  Autism organizations worldwide spoke out on the murder of London, stating how before his death, many other parents were willing to adopt him.  The media honors these two mothers for instantly jumping to the most violent and life-threatening solution.

3.       The phrase “mental illness” does not justify murder: When mentally ill people such as Elliot Rodgers and Adam Lanza from the Santa Barbara and Sandy Hook shooting murder non-autistic and older people, we do not tolerate that.  Jillian McCabe and Gigi Jordan should be no different.

4.       And for one fourth fact: How will Jillian and Jordan’s life after their children’s death compare to the life their children will now never know:  Jordan’s (and possibly Jillian’s) sentencing, though not near what I would have liked it to be, will include over two decades of prison, with possible jail rape, abuse, and physical and emotional torture.  Not to mention the fact that they are both now parents who have lost their own children.  I know many of these parents.  I have stayed up crying countless nights for their own well-being, as well as my own.  They and their children have gone to my schools, my temples, my workplaces, everywhere.  Many never recover and have later contemplated or tried suicide.  That Jordan and Jillian thought the pain of losing their child would be less than the pain of their children as they never make it to traditional markers of success shows me how little they care about them.  And the fact that they were willing to face the cruelties of prison life over living in a world with their sons shows me they deserve them even more.  These events have prompted such a passion for all autistic people in me that the day after I heard about the first one, I wrote on Facebook with a link shared to the murder, “Let me just say to everyone now that if you ever abuse, neglect, discriminate, intimidate, harass, or malign an autistic of any background, in any capacity, for any reason or for any cause, I wish for no connection of any type to you, whether they be professional, romantic, platonic, or even electronic. Let me also say to anyone who has endorsed, promoted, or manipulated the idea of "autism awareness" in any way: that the mere phrase "autism awareness" is not a term for which I will instantly consider you harmful, but if you are to be connected to that phrase in any way possible, I consider the burden of proof to be on you that you and your efforts have gone beyond the bare minimum to respect the concerns, issues, respect, dignity, equality, feelings, and integrity of every single, solitary person who is in any way, shape, or form a member of the autistic community.”

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Happy Autistics Speaking Day: We've Been Published!


For me, I felt like I didn’t get to do enough celebrating yesterday at Halloween. I could have gone trick-or-treating, could have carved a pumpkin, or toured my schools old Yeater hall and learn the legends of how the third floor of what used to be the sorority house is haunted.  But instead I got caught up in homework, environmental work, and trying to start and autistics student and peer organization at UCM.  Don’t get me wrong.  I enjoy these things, but because of them I didn’t get to celebrate much Halloween.  Luckily, November 1 of every year is Autistics Speaking Day.  Autistics Speaking Day is a holiday started by autistic activist Corina Becker and promoted by her friend Kathryn Bjornstead in response to an event called Communication Shutdown, where people are asked to go a day without social media, which to its creators is supposed to show non-autistic people the sense of isolation they think we experience in our daily lives.  While Communication Shutdown may have been started with the best intentions, it shows a real lack of understanding of how many real autistics feel.  In response to this projection by non-autistic people, Autistics Speaking Day was created on November 1 through a website started by Corina called autisticsspeakingday.blogspot.com.  Each year it collects writings from autistic people all around the world to tell their stories in their own words and grew to over several thousands of contributors since it has started.  Note: it is not connected to Autism Speaks or any other major organization that is devoid of autistic representation or uses analogies of autistics to car wrecks to raise money for genetic research into autism without helping families bear the financial costs of paying for autism services out of their pockets.  Some contributors do support AS, but they do not represent all autistics contributing.  I wish I’d mentioned this sooner, but if you are autistic, or an ally (which they'll ask you in the form), you can find the submission form next year on their website at autisticsspeakingday.blogspot.com.  Be sure to submit before November 1 of next year.
This year I wrote a post for The Autist Dharma Ten Examples that Show Violence Against Autistics is Alive and Well in American Culture, for which I also submitted a link, my name, and the title to the Autistics Speaking Day website submission form for 2014.  Note: this post contains graphic depictions of horrible acts committed by society to autistic people, for which I mentioned on the submission form, as I was asked if my post needed any content/trigger warnings.  If you are triggered by acts of violence, including rape, torture, and electroshock therapy, do not keep reading any further.  f you are interested in reading it, and you know you can handle it, you can find it on Autistics Speaking Day’s website at http://autisticsspeakingday.blogspot.com/2014/10/ten-examples-that-show-violence-against.html with the rest of this year’s Autistic Speaking Day Posts.  Or you can find it on my blog at http://autistdharma.blogspot.ca/2014/10/ten-examples-that-show-violence-against.html with the rest of my posts (and there’s a link on ASDay’s website with a link to my blog anyway, so…).  So if you want, sit back and enjoy the Halloween season.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Ten Examples that Show Violence Against Autistics is Alive and Well in American Culture




                It is said that if we don’t learn history, it tends to repeat itself.  Wars such as the Crusade went on hundreds of years ago, but today similar patterns of religious, political, and social violence exist today.  For the disabled community, there is a history of horrendous violence.  Forced sterilizations were done on women thought “too unfit” to have children.  People were looked up in institutions and shut off from the outside world.  While many parents and professionals dealing with autism fear that there is not enough support for autistic people to find the resources they need to live, they seem to show very little care or interest about the safety these children need to live.  Today, many people claim there is greater awareness about autism, there are deplorable patterns of violence committed, condoned, and perpetuated by parents, schools, law enforcement, businesses, and the media that the general public seems to neither know nor care about.  It seems today that if you talk to the average American on violence against autistic people, they seem to be either unaware (or else have a distorted view) of at least (though certainly not limited to) ten examples that show it still is very secure in its place in American culture today.

Kelli Stapleton

Isabelle Stapleton is a severely autistic teenage girl whose mother, Kelli Stapleton, tried to kill her by lighting charcoal near the van she slept in.  Issy miraculously survived and was taken away by her father, but her mother was later interviewed on the Dr. Phil Show to talk about her “compassionate killing” for her daughter, owing to the fact that there were “not enough services” for Issy, and he and several of Kelli’s supporters claimed (or at least implied) that she should have a lighter sentence.  Dr. Phil’s treatment of Kelli may have been largely for ratings, but the fact that he was willing to pull this huge publicity stunt by taking to such a heavy, controversial subject shows that he has very little respect for autistic life.

Sounding the Alarm

Sounding the Alarm Battling the Autism Epidemic is a documentary film released just this year by Autism Speaks co-founders Bob and Suzanne Wright.  In the film Bob complains throughout the film that autistic people “do not die” of autism despite the fact that both he and Suzanne are the grandparents of an autistic son.  The rest of the film is primarily complaints by parents about the costs of programs such as Applied Behavior Analysis and of how their children will not communicate, along with footage of Dan Sphlinx from Anthrax complaining about how he has to go on duty to pay for his son’s services with clips of him hugging his wife goodbye, and interviews from Autism Speaks walks with subjects complaining about how there are very little public funds for autism, despite the fact that many autistics find ABA dehumanizing, that they try to communicate through non-verbal behavior, and that AutismSpeaks spends the largest portion of its money on genetic research for autismand executive salaries and accounting expenses.

The Autism Genome Project

The Autism Genome Project is a scientific partnership founded by Autism Speaks that seeks to raise money into research of the various genes that cause autism.  Over 60% of AS’s budget goes into this project, several times more than services for autism or even corporate salaries.  Alarmed, several autistic advocacy groups, such as the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network and the Autism Women’s Network, claim this research could help parents terminate autistic pregnancies as has happened to fetuses with Down syndrome.  Moreover the AGP states that it needs brains from autistic human beings for doing their genetic research.  The statements recalls to me the early 1800’s when Native American scalps were considered highly valuable.  Despite the problems with AS’s impact, Autism Speaks is sponsored by a number of well-known businesses and do-gooders such as Home Depot, Joe’s Crab Shack, Macy’s and one of the oldest and largest women’s college fraternities Alpha Xi Delta.

Avonte’s Law

Avonte’s Law was started in 2013 in New York City after autistic grade-schooler Avonte Oquendo went wandering from his classroom and was found dead near a river.  Despite the negligence of this school environment, Autism Speaks, along with the New York City government thought automatically that solution was to resort to police security of special needs classrooms and passed this law that requiring security alarms outside the doorsof NYC special education classrooms to alert police forces, which have a long-well documented history of abuse against autistics.

The Judge Rotenberg Center

A residential, special education facility in Massachusetts, the JRC has a long history of using electroshock therapy on the skin of and withholding food from autistic and other disabled students who refuse to do what its teachers tell them.  Students have been shocked for flapping hands, spinning, and refusing to take off their coats.  Children have died in this institution, and an FDA Panel hearing was organized to address the issue of torture at this school, which is currently funded by tax-payer money.  Autistic activist Lydia Brown wrote in an open letter to the FDA Panel, “You cannot treat animals this way.  You cannot even treat prisoners like this.”  Meanwhile, the JRC was shown in Autism Speaks’ 2013 walk to be partially funded by this organization.

Applied Behavior Analysis

ABA, known for breaking down everyday tasks into smaller steps, has been known for trying to suppress autistic behavior by getting them to not flap their hands, spin, or do any rocking whatsoever.  A contributor to the autism blog Unstrange Mind wrote in a post about three weeks ago that he walked past a clinic where her saw a young girl who had just gotten out of ABA therapy with her parents.  Her mother said, “Look at me, Janie.”  The girl refused to look at her, and Janie’s father said, “Look at your mother, Janie.”  Janie still did not budge.  Eventually, her father held her by her arms and legs across her mother’s knee while Jane trashed and screamed, and eventually looked at her mother.  The author of this post wrote afterwards, “What did Janie learn that day? …that adults can have whatever they want from her, even if it hurts and even if they have to hurt her to get it. Janie learned that her body does not belong to her and that she has to give others access to it at any time, for any reason, even if she wasn’t doing anything that could hurt herself or others. Janie learned that there is no point in resisting and that it is her job to let others do what they want with her body, no matter how uncomfortable it makes her.”

Police Abuse

It is well-documented that police abuse has taken place towards autistics in a number of cases.  Nicole Flatow wrote in the independent editorial Think Progress in late June of 2013 that, “After a taxi driver spotted an autistic 11-year-old walking naked on the highway early Saturday morning, Oregon State police used a taser to apprehend her. Although police said the move was necessary to stop her from danger, a witness at the scene, Adam Bednar, disputed this account, saying she wasn’t walking toward the road.”  In 2011, an eight-year old autistic boy in Denver was reported as having a meltdown by Colorado state police.  His teachers told him to calm down, and when he continued to meltdown, state police came in and handcuffed the boy, ordering that he be taken to a nearby mental hospital for a psychological evaluation, the whole time being handcuffed as he was driven to the hospital.
                I don’t get it.  I went to a special needs school and I saw meltdowns happen regularly.  At no point in six years of attending did I see any instance of police authority, let alone handcuffs.

The Washington Post on two autistic young adults locked up in their basement

Last summer, two twenty-two year old twin non-verbal autistic young men in Rockville, Maryland were found in their basement with no furniture standing in their own feces.  Police investigated the basement on unrelated drug charges, upon which they found these two young men.  Police apprehended the parents, John and Janice Land, and they both appeared before a judge on trial.  This incident was later covered in the Washington Post on August 6, 2014.  The article spoke for only about two sentences about the appalling treatment of the two boys and instead spent nearly eight full paragraphs discussing police stories of working with autistic children who’ve wandered off in different states, testimonies of parents uninvolved in the situation talking about the lack of services for their autistic children when they reach adulthood, and testimonies of people who know the Land couple who expressed an “understanding” for why the Land’s acted the way they did.  The thinly-concealed tone of the article stops short-barely-of condoning the abhorrent treatment of the Land couple.

Autistic Females

It’s well-known (or at least most people think) that autism is four times more prevalent in males than in females.  Yet current psychological studies show that autism diagnostic standards mostly measure autism in males instead of females.  This fact was so obvious that even Wikipedia was able to cite it.  With so many horror stories of autistics who wander unwittingly to pedophiles and rapists in the media, one has to wonder why most psychologists consider the diagnoses aren’t considered as important for females as males.  Without the diagnosis, autistic girls and young women could miss the services that allow them to learn non-verbal social skills and judge people’s characters more correctly, making them one of the most endangered female populations in society.

Everyday Life

I know too well, from six years in my Kansas public elementary school, that bullying against autistic students exists and is still alive today.  I know of autistics that have been threatened, harassed, and victimized in schools.  In sixth grade 2002, a classmate said to me in the lunch-line, “I wish someone would fly a plane into your house.”  After teachers heard that this kid had bullied me for several months, I know of nothing to this day that was done about this violent remark, to which I told my parents.  Only a few weeks later, a couple of this kids friends, and maybe he himself, were reported as calling a sixth-grade girl “fat and dumb.”  For this I saw them send right away to the principle by a lunch room attendant.  We are like fish it seems, to immersed in water to know we are wet. Most parents wouldn’t know that this young kid might have been talked into autistic bullying by cultural mechanisms they don’t even see exist, e.g., perhaps he had seen the way students in special education are portrayed on television, and his elders did not even watching it, or notice them on TV.  Such talk only perpetuates stigma and thus the violence that has been allowed to go on in everyday life.

                Suddenly it doesn’t look like there is much more awareness about autism today.  The presence of autistics who die of (and are injured from) police abuse, electroshock, murder from caregivers is still as much here as it ever was.  If you do think there is more awareness, I want to ask, “will it save these children?”  More importantly, “will it bring them back?”  However much autism seems to be a word or phrase in the household, autistic violence, torture, and neglect are not.  And is it possible, perhaps, that maybe we should be focusing on other things than causes and cures for autism?  Society seems to push for the resources autistics need some more but essentially neither know nor care about the protection.  If I could contact these lost children and ask them about the work of autism’s most trusted champions, would they thank them for this?

 

Friday, October 17, 2014

The World Without an Autistic Woman's Contributions


This semester I have been taking an Anthropology of Food class as part of my degree in Cultural Studies.  For this class, we have been asked to keep weekly food journals that describe experiences related to food, and how they are relevant to what we are learning in class.  This week I have learned many important things about food to me, both as an autistic activist and a Buddhist.  After doing my last two food journals, which talk about the things I learned, I learned the importance of one autistic woman, and how the world would be if autistic people weren’t here.  These two pieces below are my food journal entries, which show what these lessons are, and what together, what I learned from writing them.

The Value of Humanely Treated Animals

                When we were talking in class the other day, something a student said rang a bell.  We were discussing how cobras in Thailand, fed in many restaurants, were agitated more they were slaughtered, in order to get their blood increasing, in order to add a certain value to the meat for its consumers.  That makes me think back to a story in the meat processing industry that sort of relates to this story.  I learned years ago that a woman named Temple Grandin, an autistic activist and professor on animal studies, once helped change the humaneness of animal treatment in slaughterhouses.  I don’t know what she did (I think it was allowing the cows to be less cooped up in small spaces), but she said that the animals were stressed from the aspect to the slaughterhouses she helped change.  I realized when we were discussing cobras how cows may produce more blood when they are agitated.  Back when I was a kid, I used to hear a lot of scared talk over Mad Cow Disease, which can happen due to ingesting blood from sick cows.  Cows perhaps can become sick due to just as humans can.  Being cooped up in small spaces is also more likely to cause disease, just as stress here in the dorms at UCM we are often prone to the flu.  Auschwitz and other Nazi German concentration camps were infamous for disease, which weakened people’s ability to work until soon they would be sent to the gas chambers.  Being cooped up in small spaces when it is not necessary clearly seems like it is an awful way to live, and perhaps for that reason it is good that we now have free-range meats available.

To Eat Steak or Not to Eat Steak

                For many years, I have sometimes doubted my decision to eat meat.  I am a convert to Buddhism and many Buddhists are vegetarians, believing that vegetarianism best follows the Buddhist teachings of respect for all life.  The problem is my many ‘taste issues,’ that would make doing so a real challenge.  I could eat free-range meat, but even meat being free-range is not always what it seems, and still contributes to the deaths of animals.  For that reason, many Buddhists and followers of other faiths choose not to eat meat.
                However, I think, if one wanted to stop contributing to the destruction of life, there are other things one could look at.  Currently, machines that help plow fields use large amounts of energy that contribute to the destructions of animal’s homes.  Slash-and-burn, a technique used in many countries to raise farm land, also helps contribute the destruction of habitats.  Raising farm land also causes trees to be cut down, thus further endangering animal’s habitats, in addition to taking life.  Rice farms in Ghana, a great exporter of rice, have workers living in inhumane, life-threating conditions, much like China’s Apple factories, where many workers commit suicide.  Rice farmer’s children in Ghana, not having enough to live on, wander off into the cities to make a living, where crime is rampant and they often don’t have places to live.  In Southeast Asia, where great rice producers are located, indigenous people are often forced off their land to raise fields for rice for outsiders who threaten the native flora and fauna.  These in turn, such as in Burma, cause armed conflict with indigenous militias and government armies, whose families also depend on them for support.  That being said, it seems that a “vegetarian” life-style could lead to the endangerment of children and armed conflict in the Third World, and destruction of wildlife and deforestation in the Third World and elsewhere.  As I understand it, the Buddhist precept “Do not hurt the life of any living beings” does not apply in cases where it is necessary, such as where your life or the life of your loved ones is threatened.  Rather than seeing all this death and destruction, I think slaughtering cows would be more human.  Obviously we need grains in our diet, and we must treat animals more humanely.  Farmers in the Third World could be treated more humanely too, but a diet based more on grains could possibly lead to all this devastation at home in the Third World that has yet to be taken care of.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The Friend of Autism Pledge


I pledge:

-to never victimize, abuse, discriminate, or defame a person for having autism.

-to see the entire person when looking at an autistic person, rather than merely their disability.

-to be cautious of the picture today’s media paints of autistic individuals, knowing that they are often exaggerated or only half-true.

-to do thorough research on autism organizations before investing, donating, or working for them, such as learning how much of their money raised actually goes to autism services, how much autistic people are represented among them, and how they represent people with autism and help others do the same.

-to be aware of what autistic people may experience from other people due to their disability.

-to respect both the challenges and strengths that autistic people have on account of their disability and learn to see themselves from their own eyes.

-to honestly strive to never help an autistic person in a way that takes away their dignity.

-to help any person with I know or suspect might be autistic when I see them struggling with a situation with my own discretion.

-to recognize that if a person with autism is involved in an interpersonal or social crisis or accused of something that seems unlikely to remember that they often might have trouble presenting their side of the story and to help them if I can to bring it to the people in charge of dealing with these situations.

-that when I read anything or view anything mentioning autistic people, to pay attention to the tone that the author or maker on autistic people.

-to speak the honest, entire truth to the best of my knowledge whenever I talk about autism.

-to not turn a blind eye when I see an autistic person in a crisis involving other people due to misunderstanding on account of their disability and bring the issue to the attention of someone who would be an appropriate and likely candidate to help them.

-to not deliberately misrepresent an autistic person’s voice on their disability for my own or someone else’s reasons, whether they be selfish reasons or otherwise.

-to reevaluate any mistaken first impression I may have of an autistic person due to behavior of theirs as a result of their disability.

-to find a way stand up for myself when and if I am pressured by other people into doing something reprehensible to an autistic person on account of their disability.

-to be aware of the feelings of autistic people when responding to or talking about their disability and anything related to that.

-to value the opinions of autistic people on matters about themselves.

-to judge the ideas, actions, and other effects of autistic people by their inherent qualities, not the person’s disability.

-to show empathy and support for autistic people I encounter who are going through pain on account of things related to their disability.

-to talk about autistic individuals as with respect to their diversity, avoiding terms such as “suffers from autism,” or using broad generalizations or mentioning an autistic person’s disability when not relevant to the discussion.  I pledge to recognize that people with autism, like everyone else, seek food, water, physical support, free self-exploration, and love.
Please put your name in the comment section if you agree with these principles.


Thursday, August 28, 2014

Why Non-Verbal Autistics are also Intelligent


                When many people hear “lower-functioning” autistic or “severely autistic” they think of someone who is not right in the head, like someone who is mentally insane with no control over their selves.  They think that they are simply out of touch with reality.  They believe they are not intelligent beings.  They see them and see someone flapping their arms or spinning in circles.  They recognize that they are people who cannot speak or take care of themselves, or if they speak through facilitated speech, they don’t consider that a valid form of communication.  However, it is not necessarily that way.  Many deaf people cannot speak and use sign language, expressing their thoughts, feelings and information in a different way just as people using facilitated speech do.  Many non-autistic people with other disabilities cannot take care of themselves, such as the Nobel Prize-winning author and astrophysicist Stephen Hawking.  Yet many non-autistic people assume “severely” autistic people to be out of touch with reality because they have repetitive behaviors such as hand-flapping or rocking that our society just doesn’t tolerate.  They think “they don’t think like we do.”  Yet simply because they don’t speak like you do doesn’t mean they don’t feel like you do.  When someone hurts them, they feel pain.  When someone loves them they feel joy.  Just because they do not like to be hugged does not mean they do not wish to be loved by their mother, or brother, or father, or anyone else.  It may be that their senses work differently as so many autistic people’s do to.  Autistic people, according to autism expert Lisa Jo Rudy, do stimming behaviors, such as flapping arms, because it helps relieve stress and anxiety, just as biting one’s nails tends to do.  The only difference is that biting one’s nails is much more acceptable.  Some stimming can be addressed by helping relieve autistics anxiety, such as through medication.  Several intelligent accomplished people with lower-functioning autism include Amanda Baggs, SueRubin, Birger Sellin, and Amy Sequenzia, who all communicate through facilitated speech.  Yet when many neurotypicals hear this said, they think of some lower-functioning autistics who have no type-speech ability, whether real or presumed.  Therefore they tend to think of them as unintelligent, but that is not automatically the case.  These autistics have never had the chance to communicate what they know or can do in their minds because they do not have the communications skills to do so.  According to psychiatrist Dr. Laurent Mottron, that IQ tests deem many non-verbal autistics unintelligent due to lack of speech.  He says, “A blind person has a disability and needs accommodation, but you wouldn’t give a blind person a test based on vision.”  Other’s may point out that for some lower-functioning autistics, they can’t understand what other people are saying, or can’t respond.  But I know as an autistic that I and many other autistic people tend to think about things more visually and don’t respond so much to the word.  One of the hallmarks of autism is lack of recognition of abstract concepts.  For a lot of us, I know, when we see something like “keys,” we don’t think so much about “keys,” but that particular set of keys, so often times we have trouble understanding this visually.  When I think of the keys to my dorm, I think “my keys.”  When I think of the keys to get inside my house, I think “the keys to my house.”  When I think of the keys to my mom’s car, I think “Mom’s car keys.”  I do this to help me identify concrete things because that is how I think, yet it doesn’t mean I or any other autistics are less intelligent than you or any other intelligent people you may know.  To learn more about how severely autistics learn, you might check out Ellen Notbahm’s Ten Things Every Child with Autism Wishes You Knew.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Still Not Justified: A Response to Washington Post’s Article on Locked-Up Autistic Children


This article from The Washington Post “Coping with Adult Children’s Autism, Parents May Face ‘the Least Bad Decision’” by Dan Morse was written almost two weeks ago, but upon reading it, I could not help but find it unnerving.  This sort of thing is happening today.  It’s happening everywhere with bystanders who neither know nor care that it is happening.  In this particular instance, where two young autistic twin males where confined to a room in their house by their parents, the police just happened to search the room on unrelated drug charges and found the twins.  The two young men were both non-verbal, and had trouble with several independent living skills, such as toilet training.
To be honest, I am accustomed to news media’s rhetoric on autism where parents and caregivers who abuse autistic children are given sympathy, yet for me, this article still prompts me to respond and speak up.  The article in question was a follow-up to a previous article from The Washington Post “Rockville, Md., Couple Charged with Abusing Twin 22-Year Old Autistic Sons,” which you can read at the link below to get the story:


                This article talks about a couple in Rockville, Maryland who were found to have locked their twenty-two year old autistic twin males in their basement with now furniture.  The room was full of urine as the young men had been using it as a bathroom.  Fortunately, the couple in question, John and Janice Land, where arrested on July 17 and charged with two counts of vulnerable adult abuse and two counts of false imprisonment, and was reported by The Washington Post on July 21, 2014.
This article did not cause me such frustration, but the proceeding article, written on August 6, 2014, caused me much more anxiety.  You can find it below here to at:


                In the interest of fairness, I can say that The Washington Post stayed just behind the line of outright condoning of the treatment the twins suffered.  It did, however, go to great lengths it seems to dissect certain pieces of the story, combined with local commentary of people in the Land’s community and autistic parents with facts on autistic adults to give a “read-between-the-lines” justification of the Land’s actions.  In the first few paragraphs of the article, Dan Morse quotes a father of an autistic son Mark Buckman, saying, “…it’s possible that, in [the Land’s]minds, they thought this was the least bad way to deal with this.”  Afterwards, rather than talking about what the twins experienced, Morse, spends nearly five whole paragraphs talking about Mark Buckman’s son 18-year old John, and the struggles he has in his daily life, such as the tendency to wander off, and wearing a tracking device to prevent such occurrence, followed by numbers and figures on the prevalence of autistic adults and how families struggle with the lack of services for them, including a quote by an Autism Speaks executive, Lisa Goering, stating that there are not enough services for all the autistic adults who need them.  Goering’s quote, however, seem rather out of place as the organization for which Goering is an executive of has, in the past year, spent only 3% of its budget of over $60million on services that can help autistic people live independently, with the bulk of their budget being spent on genetic research for autism, and its top executives, such as Goering.
                The rest of the article deals almost exclusively with the tendency of some autistic people to wander off, the lack of services for adults once they are out of high school, and sentiments from parents of autistic children.  One woman from Montgomery, Kathy Page, mother of two sons, 24- and 22-years old, is interviewed and quoted as speculating that the Land’s keeping their children in a dark room, one littered with feces, was their way of preventing overstimulation commonly faced by autistic people from happening to their sons, followed by saying that she can understand the frustrations experienced by the Lands.  Though Morse doesn’t condone the Land’s behavior directly, he seems to imply that the lack of services available in the future for the Land’s twins combined with their independent living struggles (for which Morse does not indicate wandering off), justifies confining their sons in their basement.  The article ends with a heart-wrenching quote from the 18-year old John’s father Mark Buckman saying, “All we want is for our son to be happy.”  To me, there is no possible explanation for much of the article’s content, other than to perhaps justify or excuse the Land’s behavior.  For the fact is every one of the parents Morse interviews in his article are one’s struggling with independence skills.  He does not interview parents such as the parents of 17-year old autistic young man, Montel Medley, who The Washington Post itself reported less than two months prior to the current article as graduating high school with a 4.0 GPA before going off to TowsonUniversity.  Nor does Morse mention Dilan Barhmache, a non-verbal teen who gave his high school graduation speech.  As for the people Land’s interviews about the Land’s actions, there is no one quoted in the article as saying that they were wrong to keep their sons locked up.  No one saying that autistic people deserve the same rights as everyone else.  Only implicit sympathy and rationalizing.  Perhaps The Washington Post is looking out in the interest of ratings, but in any case, the article focuses almost exclusively on autistic people who wander off combined with the valid laments of parents whose children lack services, and explanation for the Land’s behavior.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Disability Community Remembrance: A Tribute to Robin Williams

Robin Williams.
1951-2014
Comedian, actor. Star of Jumanji, Good Will Hunting, Mrs. Doubtfire, RV.
He starred at a time when other people with learning disabilities grappled restlessly to keep up in the public school systems throughout the U.S. and elsewhere. For many we will remember the shows for our troops overseas, and shall stand out as a good role model to all.  He stands out with Keanu Reeves, Orlando Bloom, Liv Tyler, and Henry Winkler as people who excelled in the entertainment industry with a learning disability. 


For all of us, disabled and not,  let us all remember what every single individual is capable of achieving when given the right tools and resources.  When we see others who are discriminated against or abused, let's take note and take action.  Many do not fit into our tiny boxs that can only accommodate so many people, but they are built to give us so much and to receive as well.  Let us remember that the more we give to communities and individuals, the more we are likely to gain in return. 

R.I.P.


 

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Rebutting the Lie: The New York Times Article Kids Who Beat Autism


With chelation, cannabis, sauna treatments, and bleach being widely believed by ordinary people to be legitimate treatments for people with autism, this article I read came of being particular disgust to me.  Recently, the New York Times did an editorial called Kids Who Beat Autism, describing as its name suggests, that certain kids who were, at least, autistic now no longer have autism, by Ruth Padawer, which you can read here for a balanced perspective on my rebuttal:


As I finished this article, I find myself fairly unimpressed with its findings and studies.  To be fair Padawer stops just short of condoning the idea of eliminating autism.  She admits that certain marketed treatments out there, such as vitamin shots, special diets, and nutritional supplements, are dangerous, yet the rhetoric of this article appears to be that autism is a prison for children, to say nothing of what it is for parents, making them unable to have real relationships, and be a perpetual hostage of their own world, but that they have found a way through safe treatment (e.g. Applied Behavior Analysis) that delivers them from this cage and makes them non-autistic, and thus now able to lead happy, meaningful lives.  Throughout the article, Padawer consistently draws from studies which demonstrate greater social progress for children who received more hours of A.B.A than less, such as full, or at least greater language ability.  What Padawer does not mention is autistics who are non-verbal and who also lead productive and socially successful lives, such as Amanda Baggs, Amy Sequinza, and Sue Rubin.  For the first eight paragraphs in Padawer’s rather long article, she mostly discusses a young child named B.  Her article begins with saying B. was a perfectly developmentally typical child until he was around two, when he retreated into his own world, stopped using eye contact, had tantrums, and frequently banged his head.  About nine paragraphs into her article, Padawer also talks about another child, Matthew, who at the time at least had autism, and states quite clearly that Matthew was not interested in other children, and who also had limited communication.  Seven and eight paragraphs into her article, she points out that through years of A.B.A, B., gained language skills, talked frequently, and abandoned his need to perseverate about his special interests in dinosaurs and fish, and eventually his doctor claimed that B. no longer had autism. 
Now to me, this seems like an incredibly oversimplified idea of what autism is.  I can carry on a conversation, make eye contact, read social and emotional cues, have discussions with peers that are interesting to both of us, yet my parents and family would raise an eyebrow if they heard a professional say I wasn't autistic.  I still exhibit fixated interests, have trouble sleeping (mostly during highly stressful periods), can be averse to certain food textures, even though that is gradually changing.  Two paragraphs after Padawer states B. was diagnosed as being no longer autistic, Padawer states that autism is based on certain diagnostic criteria, which children can grow out of and are thus no longer autistic, even if they do display some autistic traits.  But maybe a fair question is, “Who decides the diagnostic criteria for people with autism?”  The criterion has changed over decades.  The criteria by which I was diagnosed as a young child is now very different from what it is now that I am twenty-four.    In any case Padawer and certain psychologists may say I or other children outgrew what defines autism.  Yet from what I see many diagnostic traits, such as the lack of interest in other people are merely impressions of psychologists.  Autistics do have interests in other people, yet don't always know how to express it, many of whom don't have the language skills to do so in the ways that come naturally to verbal neurotypicals, or the lack of innate ability to read non-verbal social cues, so I am not impressed by the findings that children's "interests" in people increase with language skills, and the ability to read social cues through intense training.  The article made no mention of the frequent overstimulation autistic people experience when it mentioned head-banging and tantrums.  Autistic people learn certain things differently just as children with dyslexia and AD/HD do.  In Padawer article, she makes no mention of historical people believed to have autism, such as Leonardo da Vinci, Albert Einstein, Harry Truman, or Abraham Lincoln.  In the words of 2011 autistic Miss Montana winner, Alexus Wineman, “Autism doesn’t define me.” 
Padawer mentions nothing as to whether the brains of autistic children change after their treatment.  She simply mentions that no one knows about what differences there are in the autistic brain.  I would also point out that there is knowledge on the differences between autistic and non-autistic brains, Time magazine did an article in 2006 on autism, which showed many ways in which certain parts of the brains of autistic people are different than in non-autistic people.  You could probably find it if you googled "Time magazine autism 2006."  Padawer merely quotes, vaguely, that psychologist Geraldine Dawson’s believe that the autistic brain could change.  Padawer makes no mention of Dawson’s tenure as a board member of the group Autism Speaks, which then held to the belief that vaccines cause autism.  The fact that Dawson was paid over half a million dollars for her role as an executive should automatically remove her from a list of non-biased sources.  Padawer also makes no reference to the fact that A.B.A is not an appropriate treatment for autistic people.  My father, a PhD psychologist in Overland Park, Kansas, claims that A.B.A would have been a horrible treatment for me and that the right school was the right path for people like myself.  Padawer does not lie, to be perfectly honest, but her facts lack the insights and complete picture that can only be gained with other equally important stories of several individuals with autism.  For me it is necessary to refute this article because people are ensnared and led to dangerous decisions by ideas like Padawer’s.  These children's autism is clearly not cured, and promising this illusion simply creates shame for parents who fail to "cure" their children, rather than redirecting their energy to advocate for services for their kids and let them make it through life.  The so-called findings in this article seem to merely be a by-product on our culture's useless war on autism.  I would not say my life is worse than for people who haven't been cured.  I am a college student, an artist, a writer, a flautist, and a friend to autistics, neurotypicals, dyslexics, Downs people, and a part-time retailer.  For me, being able to tell people I am autistic allows them have sympathy for my unique behavioral traits and it entitles me to test-taking services at my university.  From the material I read I find this article shows the typical culturally idiosyncrasy of the idea that autistic children are science experiments, and ignorance of us as first-class citizens.