Whose Planet Is It Anyway?

Sunday, September 10, 2006

On Imagination and Propaganda

One of the ugliest slurs commonly used against autistic people is the claim that we lack the capacity for imagination. The scripted and repetitive play of many young autistic children is often cited as if it were proof of this claim, although in fact autistic children develop more spontaneous play as they grow older, and there are many autistic artists and creative writers.

Why do the pro-cure groups and their flock of tame psychologists continue to perpetuate such an obviously false claim? To answer that question, we have to look at it from the standpoint of propaganda, rather than science. Imagination goes to the root of society's concepts of humanity; it's often described as the central characteristic separating us from the animals. By claiming that autistics lack imagination, the curebies are effectively dehumanizing autistics in the public mind, making it more socially acceptable to treat the autistic population as something less than human.

That's why curebies vehemently deny the existence of the autistic culture, insisting, as one notorious hate site puts it, that autism is "a debilitating disease, not a culture." It's much easier to mobilize public opinion in support of eradicating a disease, as opposed to destroying a minority culture.

And while we're talking about lack of imagination, have you noticed that curebie propaganda all sounds the same? Sometimes I wonder if the curebies have had an original thought since the changeling stories began in the Middle Ages.

Here's a pop quiz for you. Where did the following quote come from?

(These) people, despite the intellectual powers with which they are apparently endowed, have not a culture – certainly not a culture of their own... (Such a person) essentially lacks those qualities which are characteristic of those creative races that are the founders of civilization.

Got a Number 2 pencil ready? Did the quote come from (A) an autism awareness press release from Cure Autism Now, (B) a description of autistic savants by Autism Speaks, or (C) a new website created by the Autism Society of America?

Well, actually, the correct answer is (D) none of the above. It's Adolf Hitler, ranting against Jews in Mein Kampf.

If you couldn't tell the difference, I'm not surprised. Looks like the curebies copied that page out of the Nazi playbook verbatim.

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26 Comments:

  • I always compared the "cure autism" doctors to Dr. Mengele. They will do anything to make the "perfect human race".
    I am just wondering when they are going to show us the proof that all of these years of Biomedical chemical "warfare" on autistics has worked.....

    By Blogger Mom26children, at 9:40 PM  

  • I have always wondered where the whole "autistics have no imagination" myth came from -- it seems pretty weird to me to think that somehow, just by looking at what a child is or isn't doing with their toys, an outside observer can determine what is going on in that child's head.

    I think this myth is related to that whole "appropriate play" myth -- the one which states that kids HAVE to go through some predetermined developmental sequence of doing X, Y, and Z with a doll or truck before they can be deemed full members of humanity. Which is, of course, silly and no more scientific than astrology.

    By Blogger Zilari, at 10:22 PM  

  • Amazing. I would have guessed "D) Lenny Schafer"... who has said the CDC or maybe it's the IOM and the FDA, practices Mengelism.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:19 AM  

  • It only takes a brief glance at a list of famous people thought to have autistic traits to see that most of them have a profoundly original sense of imagination.

    How could anyone claim that H.P. Lovecraft, Mark Twain, Emily Dickinson, Andy Warhol, Hans Christian Anderson or Lewis Carroll were lacking in imagination? And for those who are suspect of diagnosising historical figures Steven Spielberg is a living example.

    I think autistics are much MORE imaginative than the average person.

    Discussing this with my husband...I like his take on the subject. He said autistics don't think like lemmings, don't feel the need to conform to the social norms so much, and are therefore able to excercise their imaginations more freely.

    Makes sense to me.

    By Blogger Mum is Thinking, at 6:47 AM  

  • This is just outrageous. Thanks for the links. The artwork on the autistic culture site is gorgeous.

    One of my son's biggests strengths is his imagination. He's a talented artist, and some of his work has been shown locally.

    How bloody insulting!

    By Blogger Attila The Mom, at 7:14 AM  

  • My daughter is creating an adventure comic about a pterodactyl that fights bad-guy dragons and witches. No imagination?

    Maybe part of the myth is that many autistics fall into the fields of math/science/engineering. Many people assume science is just 'out there' waiting to be found, and not understanding the creativity involved in formulating a hypothesis. Of course, you also need the rational capacity to check that beautiful hypothesis against reality. Scientist speak of an elegant soution-aesthetics as well as facts are necessary.

    By Blogger Ruth, at 8:57 AM  

  • I always thought that was a wierd statement. As soon as Patrick started verbalizing better we found out he has an imense imagination AND he just told his first joke!

    By Blogger mumkeepingsane, at 11:24 AM  

  • I agree that we aspies can be more imaginative that most people but this is where NTs can say that we have an impaired imagination because it's overly wild. In some situations I can be paralyzed by fear because my imaginations goes wild.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:15 PM  

  • Most of these stereotypes (e.g. autistics have no imagination, no empathy, no feelings, no ToM) are based on haphazard interpretation of experiments and on outward appearances. Unless someone is able to get into the mind of an autistic person, they shouldn't make these outlandish claims, which are trully pseudoscientific.

    By Blogger Joseph, at 3:30 PM  

  • In my clinical practice, I have never encountered anyone who even addressed this particular issue as being something of concern. All of my experience has been with people with autism who have much greater issues than "imagination". Issues such as the inability or unwillingness to feed themselves, toileting, dressing, bathing, and responding to attempts to comunicate, among others. Working with the individuals with autism who are able to express themselves in a number of diverse media, I have found some of the richest and most unique imaginations I have ever encountered. I spent the sunday before Labor Day discussing horror and fantasy movies with the 12 year old (Asperger's syndrome) son of a very close friend. It was an absolute pleasure to talk to this young man about his perceptions of these movies, and to hear what he thought of the visual and metaphorical concepts portrayed in them.

    I really don't get the relevance of this topic, and I am not convinced that this line of thought (no imagination) is a significant clinical/functional issue. Maybe I just deal with a different set of caregivers.

    Behavior analyst

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:30 PM  

  • Hi James,

    "I really don't get the relevance of this topic, and I am not convinced that this line of thought (no imagination) is a significant clinical/functional issue."

    I think the confusion comes from the experience that people get of many in clinical practice (and educational, I might add...) who - not fully understanding the sort of 'imagination' being referred to by Wing in her writings on autism - tend to say that "oh, so-and-so can't be autistic because s/he's got a good imagination"... basically the use of 'presenting imaginative abilities' as a means to deny a requested diagnosis or to revoke one previously made.

    The 'imagination' being referred to by Wing is more the sort of imagination that is needed to solve problems; many autistic people have serious difficulties solving problems, to the point where it interferes significantly with day-to-day functioning (and this occurs to some extent with autistics across the whole range of abilities and needs). One of the issues for the client in my thesis case study is that of problem solving. In his case, it seems to come from a default 'field-independence' setting (both in terms of visual and social perception) and a difficulty in switching attention from one target to another with adequate speed.

    David N. Andrews BA-status, PgCertSpEd (pending)
    Applied Educational Psychologist
    Kotka, Finland
    (for other ppl's benefit, not James' ... he knows this ;) )
    'gonna-be MEd in December, YAY!'

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:38 AM  

  • ...The 'imagination' being referred to by Wing is more the sort of imagination that is needed to solve problems; many autistic people have serious difficulties solving problems, to the point where it interferes significantly with day-to-day functioning (and this occurs to some extent with autistics across the whole range of abilities and needs)...

    That explanation makes a lot more sense to me, and I plainly see a lot of my clients (at all levels of functioning) struggling with what appears to be the simplest decision making events.

    It has been my belief that the concepts of "imagination" and "problem solving" are two distinct behavioral topographies, although they may appear somewhat similar as the processes emerge and develop. Functionally, they are also quite distinct, with some minimal overlap in the range of purposeful activities that both may be components of.

    As I read through the comments above again, what I pick up on is the confusing intermixing of cognitive psychological terminology and nonobjective behavioral observations regarding "qualitative human attributes". No wonder I was confused.

    I am not blaming the people who made these comments at all, but rather the professionals who they have dealt with (directly or indirectly) who have tossed a mishmash of $10 words at them to try and explain these human characteristics.

    To quote Elvis Costello - "Imagination is a powerful Deceiver".

    Behavior analyst

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:14 AM  

  • James, this time I wasn't picking on professionals in clinical practice. ;) This post has to do with the "Rain Man" stereotype in the media and how it is exploited by the publicity campaigns of the pro-cure groups. News releases often describe autistic people as having no imagination unless they are cured in one way or another.

    Here's an example of what I was talking about. This news story begins, "Consider living in a world with no imagination..." and asserts that this is the reality of autism:

    msc.wku.edu/news/releases04/december/kelly.html

    (Just in case anyone was wondering, I never include the www in the addresses of prejudiced web pages because I don't want to raise their google rankings.)

    By Blogger abfh, at 8:28 AM  

  • No imagination? Whoever said that should have been present when my autistic son told me a fantastic tale involving dragons, castles, Barbie and Ken, and firemen. The firemen came to put out the fire started by the dragons. Barbie and Ken took turns with the narration and action. He is 5.

    By Blogger Soapbox mom, at 11:39 AM  

  • Great post, great comments. On the topic of "culture"I wonder how many of the people who deride cultures other than their own realize that cultures are often created and strengthened by the need for self-protection and self-definition. In other words, the "normal" world helps create them when it seeks to impose its own definitions and values on whole groups of people. I'm very comfortable with the aut/asp culture because it's the only place where I can find people who think the way I do. If I needed to be protected from violence, well meant or otherwise, or needed assistance just to live my life, being a part of the culture might mean the difference between surviving and not surviving. Cultures have many reasons for their existence. It's about time the "normal" world realized that they don't come of out nowhere, and accept some of the responsibility.

    By Blogger Catana, at 9:43 AM  

  • Yes Catana, the comments are excellent :) Thanks everybody! And I agree that society often creates minority cultures when it defines groups of people in ways that make them feel threatened.

    By Blogger abfh, at 12:35 PM  

  • James...

    "I am not blaming the people who made these comments at all, but rather the professionals who they have dealt with (directly or indirectly) who have tossed a mishmash of $10 words at them to try and explain these human characteristics."

    If I needed any proof that we were on the same side... I think that would be it... Thank you. That is one of my main beefs with 'professionals' (as opposed to real ones, like us!).

    David (MEd from Dec 2006 onwards YAY!)

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:22 PM  

  • ...If I needed any proof that we were on the same side... I think that would be it... Thank you. That is one of my main beefs with 'professionals' (as opposed to real ones, like us!)...

    Well I appreciate that very much. It tells me my line of thinking has been pretty accurate al along, even if I did notverbalize it in ways that made it obvious.

    James

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6:32 PM  

  • The first stage of genocide (according to Genocide Watch) is Classification. The second stage of genocide is Symbolization. The third stage of genocide is Dehumanization. "Lack of imagination" is an example of this stage. After that comes Organization--groups form specifically to exterminate the target. Polarization (the next stage) has already begun--witness the heavy propagandizing from "Autism Speaks". What is left are Identification (genetic "screening"), Extermination (genetic "counseling"), and Denial.

    Classic genocide is happening right now.

    By Blogger GadFlier, at 2:36 PM  

  • Gadflier: There is an article on the AFF website about the Autism Genocide, which discusses the stages of genocide in detail as they apply to the "war on autism."

    By Blogger abfh, at 8:20 AM  

  • James,

    "
    Well I appreciate that very much. It tells me my line of thinking has been pretty accurate al along, even if I did not verbalize it in ways that made it obvious."

    *nods head*

    I hope things go well.

    JBJr has decided to throw all his autism-hate on me. How does one get someone sectioned in the US?

    David N. Andrews MEd (Dec2006 YAY!)

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6:38 PM  

  • ...JBJr has decided to throw all his autism-hate on me. How does one get someone sectioned in the US?...

    I assume by "sectioned" you mean committed to a psychiatric hospital? In my state a physician, licensed psychologist, or licensed clinical social worker (I think) can file a "10-13" on an individual and have them temporarily committed for 72 hours. My friends have been much nicer to me ever since I got my credentials.

    I have noticed the intensity of the dialogue on some of the other threads, and since I really don't have a reason or the knowledge to get into those debates, I have kept my distance. It's incredibly ugly at times, and suggests to me that the chasm between the many individuals who are intimately involved in the autism world prevents any real progress from being made. The battle seems to be between people with autism who want a voice, and parents of people with autism, whose children may not have a voice. The infighting clearly interferes with the possibility of a united front, and weakens the arguements of both sides.

    I am not taking sides here, it's not my place. But a little civility will certainly help open the channels of communication.

    James

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:18 AM  

  • James: "But a little civility will certainly help open the channels of communication."

    True, as we have both found out to our mutual benefit (or, at least, I really do hope so). JBJr, on the other hand, has decided to take out all his hostility on autistics (particularly, for some reason, on me), and his friend jonsmum isn't much better from what I hear (knows well how to be nice to the face and then nasty behind the back). To be honest, not very nice people - who love to try to get the worst out in people (presumably to make themselves look better than they really are; of course JBJr is incapable of civility, but I had thought that jonsmum was capable... and maybe I was mistaken, since I hear that - after my leaving JBJr's blog alone - she's back to being a nasty bitch again).

    I think that JBJr hates autistics so much because he's trying to sue a pharmaceuticals company in the courts and so many adult autistics who - with maybe even only a modicum of support - can do well enough to rise above the doom-and-gloom picture of autism that Generation Rescue paints of autism... well, we kinda make that picture a lie, don't we?


    DNA-MEd(Dec2006)
    PS- MEd has been confirmed :D YAY!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:48 AM  

  • James, (behaviour anylist);

    David Andrews complains about civility and how I was a "nasty bitch" behind his back.

    "of course JBJr is incapable of civility, but I had thought that jonsmum was capable... and maybe I was mistaken, since I hear that - after my leaving JBJr's blog alone - she's back to being a nasty bitch again)."

    Much to my regret, I was civil and reasonable with David.
    This was before I was aware that David Andrews initial comment to me, without any provocation, was;

    "You have some room to talk, really... one day you kid will kick shit out of you for being too stupid to realise he's not a worthless being!

    I would love to video that day!"

    David and I both know I was justifiably angry with and "nasty" in my following comments.
    He refuses to deny he said this, and is on here blogging about civility!
    He has continued to play the 'victim' ever since.
    I will say it again David;
    You can say anything you like about me, as one adult to another, but when you make a sick statement about an innocent disabled child, namely my son, my capacity for civility towards you goes out the window.
    Do you understand my reaction to your comment about my son?
    You keep saying, "leave me alone" but you will not leave this subject alone.
    If you continue to malign me, I will continue to defend myself.
    As nasty as I can be, nothing I have said on any blog comes close to your comment regarding my son.

    By Blogger Jonsmum, at 7:49 PM  

  • Off-topic. I actually reached this post from Google because I entered the search phrase "reasons for no imagination". My artist friend and I talked a long time this weekend about her odd way of processing the world around her and she said of herself, "I often wonder if I have an imagination..." and "why is it that I feel so smart, get 4.0s, and yet feel so dumb and out of touch with other people?" This post makes me wonder if autism might be a factor in her 'non-standard' behaviours and thought patterns. Where can I learn more to help my friend understand how her mind works if autism (or a variant) IS something she is dealing with?

    Thank you.

    By Blogger Jordan, at 1:47 PM  

  • Hi Jordan. It can indeed be difficult to determine whether or not an adult is autistic; the criteria are vague, and many autistic behaviors are less noticeable in adults. Even experienced clinical psychologists, when evaluating an adult, often need to rely on descriptions of the person's childhood development.

    Your friend may be interested in reading blogs and other websites by autistic adults and comparing her experiences to theirs. Many such blogs can be found at the Autism Hub, and I have a long list in my sidebar.

    By Blogger abfh, at 7:36 PM  

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