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.