Whose Planet Is It Anyway?

Sunday, December 03, 2006

No Dogs or Autistics Allowed

We may not actually see signs like that at parks or schools, as mentioned in a comment made on Estée's post Unremarkable Autism, which addresses the harm done by stereotyping and the need to recognize our common humanity. (For those who are not familiar with the historical reference, many public places in the American South during the Jim Crow era had signs that read "No Dogs or Negroes Allowed.")

But we don't live in a world where such signs would be unthinkable, either. All too often, autistic people are spoken of in the most vile and dehumanizing language. In her recent post Something Fierce, Mothersvox describes how her daughter was "feralized" and treated "like a pet" at a New York school.

I received an e-mail some time ago from a woman whose autistic boyfriend was told to leave a restaurant, apparently because he didn't look "normal." The proprietor pointed to a sign on the wall that said "We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone." Signs like that were commonly used to enforce Jim Crow segregation.

Nowadays, we have civil rights laws that can be used to prevent disability discrimination, but the reality is that many people are too afraid to stand up for their rights. This woman's boyfriend didn't sue the restaurant, although he probably could have won a discrimination lawsuit. There are many like him who feel that it is far too dangerous in today's world to have their autism become a matter of public record in a court file, immediately visible in an Internet search conducted by a prospective employer or landlord.

In my previous post, I wrote about a news article that mentioned a university student whose professor told her to disclose her autism to her teammates on a group project. The professor was quoted as saying that compared to the "very embarrassing" condition of being autistic, "what else can anyone feel embarrassed about having to divulge?"

Elsewhere in that article, a disability services official at the same university (which is a high-tech haven for geeks) mentioned the fact that many autistics do not disclose and that the actual number of autism spectrum students is much higher than the official statistics.

And that leaves me wondering... how many of the other students working on the group project might have been autistics in hiding? How many of them politely nodded and smiled, forcing themselves to make eye contact and sit still in their chairs, afraid to say a word, as the professor coerced their classmate into a confession reminiscent of a medieval witch hunt? How many of them went back to their dorm room afterward and had a good cry—or took out a razor and cut themselves until the pain was enough to blot out the fear and shame?

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  • So I have a decade [and a smidge] to prepare them. Do we have a plan? All I can think of is to try and educate [or should that be enlighten] the masses, to ease the way in the future. I have lots of great plans like that - it is better to travel hopefully than to arrive. Her endeth todays.......
    Best wishes

    By Blogger Maddy, at 10:07 PM  

  • I'm not embarrassed by my autism, if other people are then the fault is in them.

    At my Church yesterday (it being advent and all) the sermon was about Zachariah being struck dumb by the Angel Gabriel.

    What experiences have made you speechless, asked the preacher

    "My Autism" shouts out I, "but then what else would you expect"

    By Blogger Larry Arnold PhD FRSA, at 5:10 AM  

  • Ive always thought that those that are seen as geeks and high achieving aspies really didnt have much in common with me. I have (for a very good reason)for a long time wanted to understand why this population are discriminated against but I must admit I really didnt understand what they had to deal with. I never thought of it the way you have described it here.
    Reading this, its hard to imagine what this must be like.It sounds really terrible.
    While I havent found a way to define how Im smart in a practical way, I know that sometimes the way Im smart presents itself in ways that really does scare people.I do know very well how people react in negative ways to what they just dont understand.
    While my circumstances were different Ive been spared what these students are dealing with.
    Thanks ABFH for helping understand this better.

    By Blogger Ed, at 11:21 PM  

  • Oh boy, this brings back some memories!

    Our Little Guy's original diagnosis at 3 was "profound mental retardation". He was echolalic but struggling to communicate in other ways.

    We agreed to let the school district put him in their "inclusion satellite program" for kindergarten with the understanding that he'd be attending his home school in the regular classroom (3 houses away) with an aide to assist for first grade.

    When we found out that their "inclusion program" was simply a glorified babysitting service (they expected absolutely NOTHING out of him, and the teachers who ran the room were essentially illiterate when writing the reports they sent home), and their idea of "interaction" was letting the NT kids sit on his back and ride him down the slide face first into the dirt like an animal, we filed suit to get him OUT of the program.

    We ended up winning in mediation, and then ironically had to move due to hubby's job.

    In our new district, we decided that since half the experts were by now convinced that little guy had autism, we weren't going to let them label him as "profoundly retarded". We were going to go with autism this time. eek.

    I went to a meeting with the school principal and the director of special ed to discuss son's needs. Since they knew I was aware of son's rights under IDEA and that I'd be willing to sue their butts off, they were bending over backwards on the accomodations.

    But about 10 minutes in, the director said, "What do you want us to do when he becomes violent?"

    I said, "huh?"

    "Well, autistic children have a tendancy to become violent when they're frustrated, so how do you want us to handle it?"

    Oy vey. My kid had never had a tantrum in his entire life.

    From the first label where no one expected a lick of progress from him, we went to a label where everyone expected him to be violent.

    This was almost 11 years ago. Doesn't look like much has changed. :-(

    By Blogger Attila the Mom, at 2:23 AM  

  • Educating others can be extremely painful, let alone dangerous. Being FTM (transman) and somewhere on the spectrum, I'm aware of a lot - but ignorant in other areas as well. I can spot a transperson - but still wonder why someone has their shirt on inside out.

    I'm somewhat of an activist, having a gay son, but I got called out for being racist for telling an Irish joke on St. Patrick's Day.

    Nobody can know everything, and even those of us who try to be as openminded as possible, fail at times to "get it" when we need to.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:52 AM  

  • In both of my grad school classes, I mentioned about my experiences with autism during discussions, both online and in class, and both my instructors and classmates would even ask me more about my experiences and view on things.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6:06 AM  

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