All Fired Up
It's probably a good thing that arson is no longer used as a means of enforcing social mores, but I sometimes think that we have gone too far in the opposite direction by meekly allowing offensive and harmful conduct to continue. The autistic community, in particular, has failed to mount any effective opposition to the spreading of ignorant stereotypes by self-proclaimed autism experts. A news story last week reported that the idea that autistic people are capable of love was "new to experts." Some people responded to that by writing on blogs and forums that they wondered how the experts could be so clueless. I was wondering something different, though:
Why the hell are these ignorant "experts" still in business?
Their claim to fame, such as it is, comes from having significant clinical experience with autistic people. Unless their practice consists exclusively of working with residents of institutions, which is relatively uncommon nowadays, it is a fact that their clients (or the parents of their clients) are voluntarily seeking out their services. To put it more bluntly, their clients are subsidizing their bigotry and, in so doing, are giving aid and comfort to the enemy.
I know that some of us find medication and/or counseling to be helpful for various reasons, and this post is not intended as an anti-psychiatry rant. Some autism specialists are decent people who treat their clients as human beings and respect their clients' differences. But there are many who do not, and I contend that autistics (and parents of autistics) who visit psychiatrists have a moral responsibility to ensure that they are not harming the autistic community by keeping ignorant and bigoted therapists in business.
When choosing a psychologist or psychiatrist, do your homework. Check the records of the licensing authority to ensure that the psychiatrist has not been professionally disciplined for incompetence, neglect, or mistreatment of clients. Search the Internet for publications and interviews by the psychiatrist, and read them thoroughly to find out what sort of attitude is shown. Do not make an appointment with a counselor or psychiatrist unless you are confident that he or she respects autistic clients as human beings who deserve social acceptance and equal rights.
Likewise, if your (or your child's) psychiatrist has shown a prejudiced or disrespectful attitude toward autistic people, find a better therapist without delay. Many autistics have an unfortunate tendency to be overly passive in such situations. We don't take immediate action because we fear change and confrontation. We rationalize our inertia by saying that perhaps there are no better therapists nearby, or that it would be a big nuisance to find one, or that the psychiatrist really isn't that bad, or that (and I actually saw this posted on an aspie forum not long ago) we don't want to hurt the therapist's feelings by leaving. Parents also worry about how an autistic child would deal with a change of therapists.
While it's not always easy, we have got to stop making excuses for ignorant professionals who treat us (and our children) as sideshow freaks. We are human beings, and we are entitled to the same respectful treatment as anyone else. This has to be a non-negotiable demand. If an autism specialist doesn't understand that autistic people have feelings and makes ignorant public statements on the subject, he or she is a menace to the autistic community and needs to be ostracized.
Refusing to patronize bigoted vendors was a very effective means of bringing about change during the civil rights era. Back then, there were many stores that wouldn't let blacks try on clothes, or that made them enter through the back door, or that wouldn't hire them. Civil rights activists organized boycotts of such stores, and it wasn't long before the store owners changed their ways.
The autistic community needs to get organized in exactly the same way—to make sure that there are major economic consequences for any autism specialist who spreads ignorant stereotypes about autistics, or who tells parents that the existence of their child is a devastating tragedy, or who supports Autism Speaks or any other pro-eugenics group. To put it another way, the psychiatrists work for their clients; they don't own their clients. They are vendors of services, just like store owners are vendors of goods. All of the economic power is in the hands of the clients. No autistic person (or parent of an autistic child) should ever put up with being treated in a condescending or pitying way by any therapist.
Just fire their prejudiced ass.