Whose Planet Is It Anyway?

Thursday, June 08, 2006

All Fired Up

In olden times, when a person did something that grossly offended his community, his fellow villagers might force him to leave. Often this was accomplished by burning the offender's hut, so that he would have no choice but to slink away clutching his few salvaged possessions, while his former neighbors jeered and threw garbage at him on the road out of town. This is the historical origin of the phrase "getting fired."

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.

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  • That's why I changed doctors after my ADHD dx. The one I was seeing treated me like a moron and refused to prescribe me anything. I accept the idea that he was being cautious, but I have no history of substance abuse and he could have been respectful about it.

    So I go to someone who treats me like a human being, and I'm much happier.

    By Blogger Jannalou, at 2:51 PM  

  • Great rally cry there Abfh!

    I really hope people take you up and use their power to boycott the baddies.

    By Blogger Sharon, at 4:02 PM  

  • Another great post there. Naturally i agree with every word of it:) There are a lot of those therapists about- Maxine Aston and Digby Tantum (both in the UK) immediately spring to mind.

    By Blogger Alyric, at 6:46 PM  

  • Ben's only REAL psychiatrist suffered from pretty severe ADHD himself. He understood Ben's problems and never judged either of us. He encouraged the hell out of Ben.

    If anyone lives near Augusta, Georgia, I'll give you his name. A few of us knew each other in other realms, and all loved him.

    I can think of another at an IEP I went to with a friend, who was the school psychiatrist. She said she had heard my friends son talk in "at least two different voices". I told my friend it was because he mimicked voices he heard and that's how he learned. Ben would get the accent, cadence, and everything down so you could tell who it was. But this Bitch was trying to put a label of schizophrenia on an 8 year old who had enough problems the way it was. I could have slapped her...she gave me the "I have my Doctorate" line, and I thought BFD and would not back down. My friend was really mad at me at first because this gal had intertwined her own neuroticism into my friends head. Her son was already being kicked out of school for stupid enough reasons...I was so glad to hear that psych left. Thanks for heating me up again, and may I say I agree wholeheartedly!

    By Blogger r.b., at 9:40 PM  

  • This is very good, but individual autistics and parents doing this in itself isn't enough. As it stands it will only be a small minority. I am wondering if there is anyway we can find out names of leading experts with anti-autistic views and target them somehow, possibly by demonstrating outside their workplaces.

    By Blogger Redaspie, at 8:54 AM  

  • Redaspie is right that a concerted effort would be ideal; e.g. a registry of professionals who are pro-neurodiversity in different parts of the world would be a start.

    By Blogger Joseph, at 12:12 PM  

  • Yes, but I was thinking of visible protest actions - i.e the kind of thing that the media might take notice of.

    By Blogger Redaspie, at 1:12 PM  

  • Protests would be great. When will these psychologists stop wasting our time and money and start advising everyone to see a DAN doctor?

    By Blogger Fore Sam, at 4:31 PM  

  • Um, not thinking fof those kinds of protests.

    On a totally unrelated topic, does anyone know how to cut and paste bits of text on a blog post? I've tried cut and paste on the Explorer nav bar but it doesn't seem to work. Any ideas?

    By Blogger Redaspie, at 6:12 AM  

  • Redaspie, to cut, copy and paste on blogs, I just use ctrl-x, ctrl-c and ctrl-v. That should work everywhere.

    Thanks to everyone who commented. (Be careful on that golf course, Fore Sam, you don't want to stay out past sunrise. We'd all miss having you to kick around if you got turned into stone.)

    By Blogger abfh, at 3:51 PM  

  • Thank u. New post now on about Latin American politics. Anyone interested in that particular subjected have a look.

    By Blogger Redaspie, at 6:12 AM  

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