Whose Planet Is It Anyway?

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Cinderella and Other Fairy Tales

When I was eight years old, I sometimes jumped rope with the other girls at recess, if I wasn't wandering around picking dandelions or looking for shiny pebbles. A favorite jumprope chant started with "Cinderella, dressed in yellow, went downtown to meet her fellow."

It had many different endings, but no matter what happened, Cinderella never could manage to live happily ever after in romantic bliss. She always had some sort of tragic mishap. (Among other things, she made a mistake and kissed a snake.)

I was reminded of that old jumprope chant recently when I looked at the RDI website (farrsite.org) of Dr. Steve Gutstein. At first glance, counseling parents on how to explain and model social relationships seems reasonable enough, and some parents have indeed found this approach helpful. However, this claim on the site, regarding the autistic spectrum, is absurdly reminiscent of Cinderella-dressed-in-yellow:

...less than 10% are expected to gain full-time employment and less than 5% are projected to live independently. Friendships and relationships outside of the immediate family are rare and marriage is almost unheard of. Debilitating anxiety, hopelessness and isolation become the norm.

Translation: Parents, if you don't immediately fork over the big bucks for RDI services, you'll never have any grandchildren and your autistic kid will be living in your basement playing video games and popping Prozac for the rest of his life.

Of course, Gutstein isn't the first psychologist to make outlandish claims like this to hype a particular therapy, and unfortunately he won't be the last. What irks me is that it's so obviously false. Even the most cursory look at blogs, lists, and forums in the autistic community will turn up plenty of married autistics, for instance, and gay autistics in long-term committed relationships. There are even lists and forums specifically for autistics and their partners to discuss relationship issues.

It's enough to make me think that the government ought to start an investigation of this false advertising. Oh, wait, this is the same government that wants to spend a billion dollars combating the existence of its autistic citizens. Never mind.

There's a more significant issue here, anyway. Whatever the actual numbers of married autistics and employed autistics may be (and I don't believe there are any accurate statistics because so many of us are "in the closet"), teaching autistic children how to interact in conventional non-autistic ways does not address the underlying problem.

What is that problem? Well... when I first encountered the American workplace in the 1980s, professional women often wore pantsuits and brightly colored "power" ties, carefully avoided "girl talk" while at the office, and practiced walking with a confident stride and speaking in a lower-pitched voice. These "social skills" were supposed to compensate for the handicap of having less natural authority than men. When they went home at the end of the day, however, many of these same women put on Wonderbras and skimpy dresses and plenty of additional makeup before heading out to the clubs. After all, they would never be able to attract a guy if they made the mistake of looking too masculine after hours...

Going back a little farther in history, the first African-American millionaire was a woman known as Madame C.J. Walker. She made her fortune selling hair-straightening products to women of color. Other black entrepreneurs sold creams to whiten the skin. There was always a demand for these products because, if a woman had a naturally dark complexion and strong African ethnic features, she was seen as inferior goods in the black community and had very little chance of finding a husband. That prejudice persists to this day.

Minority groups always have tried to cope with intolerance by teaching their children how to look and act more like the dominant social group. That only strengthens the prejudices, however. When the particular traits of the majority come to be accepted without question as essential human traits, bigotry becomes so deeply ingrained that it is not even recognized for what it is.

Maybe someday we'll know better... and the fairy tales will end with everyone living happily ever after.

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  • How many doctors does it take?


    By Blogger Phoebe, at 12:56 PM  

  • The most effective skin-lightening products contain mercury. Mercury inhibits the enzyme that makes melanin.


    By Blogger daedalus2u, at 2:08 PM  

  • Sorry, that link didn't work.

    here is the link

    By Blogger daedalus2u, at 2:10 PM  

  • I called him on it. Let's see what happens.

    "Dear Dr. Gutstein:

    I would be very grateful if you could indicate where you found the figures supporting the following claim: "People with ASD have only a 10% chance of obtaining employment, less than a 5% chance of developing meaningful relationships, and even less of a chance of marrying and starting their own family."

    These claims seem to be out of keeping with anecdotal reporting when people across the modern spectrum are considered. I would like to be able to investigate these claims further and, therefore, an indication of the source material would be very useful to me.


    By Blogger VAB, at 2:40 PM  

  • Oh, so sorry, but Gutstein doesn't take questions. Not unless you pay a few hundred USD at the door and even then you must wait your turn (which may never occur) to be called on.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:51 PM  

  • And there are operations that some Asian (women especially) have done to eliminate or lessen the epicanthic fold on their eye lids---to make their eyes less "slanted."

    By Blogger kristina, at 5:22 PM  

  • Interesting that you bring up Gutstein. I think his is just a scam, working to the parent's angst about 'normal' social relations. And it's not even a very good scam. From what I can see his premises look like second-rate psychology and third-rate anthropology.

    By Blogger Alyric, at 8:47 PM  

  • Why oh why do they always try to normalize rather than optimize development in autistic chidren. Bev has an interesing take on this in her blog Not Indistinguishable

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:42 AM  

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