Whose Planet Is It Anyway?

Friday, December 15, 2006

Investigating Refrigerator Mother

I attended a presentation yesterday that had to do with social services in my community. A person from the child protective agency was handing out a document about investigations of abuse and neglect. It contained a checklist for how to spot physical and behavioral signs of possible abuse. In the middle of the list of behavioral indicators, which included such things as showing fear of parents and suggesting that other children should be punished harshly, there was this:

"May appear autistic."

After blinking incredulously at that a couple of times and confirming that it did indeed say what it looked like it said, I went up and explained to this person that "autistic" didn't belong in a list of child abuse symptoms because autism is not in any way caused by abuse.

She replied that it had to do with the appearance of abused children, who sometimes do not talk and can be mistaken for autistic children.

So I told her if that was the intended point, then the list ought to say, "May not talk," or something similar, and that it was not at all appropriate to use a neurological condition as a shorthand description of something else.

After a moment of reflection, she said that she understood what I was saying and that she would change the document on her computer when she got back to her office.

There's an awful lot of ignorance out there, but hopefully my little corner of the world is now a bit safer for families with autistic children.



  • Gah. "May appear autistic?" Definitely an irresponsible way of phrasing things, especially considering the myriad of individual definitions of "autistic" people tend to hold unquestioningly until they have reason to think otherwise.

    And there's also the fact that autistic children who are being abused, or who have been abused, may actually appear LESS "autistic" because they've been made to fear for their lives.

    By Blogger Zilari, at 11:42 AM  

  • Given the bad press "autistic" has gotten, "autistic" might mean, "screaming, hitting, biting, slamming head on floor for no obvious reason, running away, not answering questions and generally being a monster" more than just being quiet or shy and staring off into space, which might have been what the person had in mind by "autistic."

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:05 PM  

  • Would she use "May appear Hispanic" on a list of warning signs? This is just as nonsensical. She's inviting people to draw on their various past prejudices instead of properly evaluating the child in front of them.

    By Blogger Penny L. Richards, at 12:48 PM  

  • Lets expand that corner a bit - Cheers

    By Blogger Maddy, at 1:45 PM  

  • How awful! That's a terrible injustice against autistic families. No one appears more autistic, than actual autistics, so if people read that and see autistic children, they are going to accuse their parents as child abusers! How could the potentially disasterous consequences of writing that just not have occured to the person writing it?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5:42 AM  

  • There was a study in Pub-Med, that showed math majors had more autistic traits than autistics. Maybe they should say, "May appear to be a Math major..."

    By Blogger Usethebrains Godgiveyou, at 9:09 AM  

  • I do in real life know some kids who are probably not well cared for (their parents are "known to the child wefare dept") and at least one of then has always been delayed in his speech development, BUT NONE OF THESE KIDS LOOKS IN ANY WAY AUTISTIC! They are all obviously neurotypical, they all smile, hang out with peers, do body language and try like mad to make friends and have fun with peers, even the one who barely knows who to produce a spoken sentence. A neurotypical kid can be very much behind in their sppech development without looking the slightest bit autistic in body language or behaviour. I doubt that there is any justification in mentioning the word "autism" in a list of signs of child neglect or abuse.

    By Blogger Lili Marlene, at 4:36 AM  

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