Driver’s Licenses, Autism, Privilege, and Outing

There’s still a lot of discussion, from people I respect, about driver’s licenses, particularly in the State of Virginia, USA.  I’ve already written a bit about this, but I want to talk about why I’m uneasy about most of the opposition.

Most of the discussion around the VA license has to deal with, essentially, branding a person with a permanent label of autistic, which will impact employment, police officer interaction, and other daily life in negative ways.  When pointed out that the law would require 16 year olds to apply for an ID or license, not their parents (unless they are incompetent legally, which most people aren’t, even severely disabled people, at age 16) or others), and it requires the kid’s signature, a lot of the risk seems to be gone.  It’s a voluntary thing – if you feel the risk is severe, don’t apply for a designation of autistic on your license!  Simple!  If you can serve your needs better with “autism information cards,” that’s awesome.  You should do that instead.  But I’m not pleased when people oppose choice because some people may be hurt by making their own choice.

But the inaccuracies aren’t my only concern with the opposition.  I’m equally concerned that people seem to be speaking about – basically – concerns of those who have privilege, ignoring those who don’t.

Many autistic people, like many LGBT people, would never be “pegged” as part of a stereotyped group, if they chose to live their lives acting as a neurotypical (or a straight person).  Of course acting is hard, but some people find it necessary, because of the prejudice against them.  It’s for this reason we have lots of closeted autistics (and LGBT) people.

But not everyone wants to live in the closet. Nor does everyone have the choice of living in the closet. For some people, being their authentic selves, publicly, is either life-saving or simply unavoidable. For these people, a designation on their license is not going to cause prejudice (and may mitigate it by making the person’s public declaration of self and/or unavoidable expression something that can be validated and not attributed to other things).

There’s a lot about employment, and concerns that my employer will see my license. I’ve never shown a driver’s license to any employer. I’ve used passports, birth certificates, social security cards, and the like, but there are plenty of ways to get jobs without an employer seeing a license – and I’ve never been asked to show identification prior to getting a job. That goes for any job I’ve had, from dish washer, to delivery driver, to IT director (I’ve had about 15 jobs in my life).  So, likely, even this is a non-issue, but if people are concerned about it, simply don’t put it on your license!

That said, again, there are plenty of people who will already be seen as autistic by an employer, with or without it being on their license. Preventing them from using this license to show they are autistic won’t do anything to avoid people seeing them as autistic.

But, there’s an even bigger issue: what right do I have to say, “It’s bad for me to put ‘autism’ on my license, so you shouldn’t be able to do it?”  People should live honest, authentic lives. That includes our autism status being known. Now, like LGBT people, we need to consider disclosure carefully. But as advocates we also need to work not only to make sure people who want privacy can continue to enjoy privacy, but we need to make sure that people who want to live authentic, public, autistic lives can do so.

Should a child be allowed to wear a shirt that says he is autistic? Of course. Just as he should be able to wear a shirt that says he is gay. Should he be able to tell people on Facebook or the local newspaper? Of course. And, equally, of course parents also have the responsibility to make some choices for their kids (such as deciding, “No, this isn’t a good forum to speak your diagnosis” for a very young kid, or, equally, this is a good forum). Parents do this every day with autism diagnosis – they decide who to tell and who not to tell.  They also can and should discuss autism disclosure with their children, both the pros and cons of disclosure.

Those are my concerns with the opposition. You may think it’s a bad idea to publicly disclose autistic status. That’s fine. You may even have the choice for you or your children. That’s also fine. But we shouldn’t assume that our own personal risk analysis is the same as someone else’s risk analysis.

We also shouldn’t assume that others have a choice. No, I’m not talking about being forced to put the word “autistic” on your license. I’m talking about being assumed to be autistic, drunk, drugged, crazy, or whatever other label, no matter what a piece of plastic does or doesn’t say.

I do think there are valid reasons why someone might not want the word autistic (or similar) on their government ID. And I support education efforts that don’t take away choice, but empower people to understand and make their own decisions. Would I put it on my license? Probably not. I have the privilege of passing and would probably seek to keep that privilege as often as I can. But I’m not going to assume everyone else has this privilege.

The Evil of Driver’s Licenses

I’m seeing a lot of concern among autistics over a proposed Virginia bill that would allow individuals to add an indication that they are autistic onto their driver’s license and ID card (among other things, like designating an emergency contact – not printed on your license – so that if police find your dead body, they know you want your wife to know). I recognize not everyone has a license, but I’m going to use that term throughout below, so if you have an ID card, just know I know you exist too and the below applies to you too.

There’s some concerns that I’ve seen.  Some are legit.  Most, however, are fear of not what the law does, but what the law could do should something else happen. A lot of these fears are similar to fears about Obama Care (“Death Panels! Rationing!”) – not things that the law actually does, but things people fear could happen. It’s important to be skeptical of claims that the government will harm, just as it’s important to be skeptical of claims the government will help! We need to be careful what conclusions we jump to, and ensure they are based in fact.

So, what does the bill do? That’s simple. In addition to allowing the person (not their parent, not their spouse, not their doctor) to designate an emergency contact voluntarily in the computer records law enforcement can access (this is similar to laws in most other states, and, again, you don’t have to list anyone), you can voluntarily indicate you are autistic and provide proof. You don’t have to volunteer. You can, but you don’t have to.

Here’s the section:

When requested by the applicant, and upon presentation of a signed statement by a licensed physician confirming the applicant’s condition, the Department shall indicate on the applicant’s driver’s license that the applicant (i) is an insulin-dependent diabetic, or (ii) is hearing or speech impaired, or (iii) has an intellectual disability, as defined in § 37.2-100, or autism spectrum disorder, as defined in § 38.2-3418.17.

The new section is iii.  The part about being an insulin-dependent diabetic (probably added in response to police questioning the presence of syringes) or hearing/speech impaired (to explain why the person didn’t respond to police), they are allowing someone to designate themselves as autistic with a doctor’s note (required in a different section) saying they are. Again, you don’t have to say this. If you don’t want it on your license, should you live in VA, and should this law pass, simply don’t ask for it! It won’t show up if you don’t request it to.

Here’s what I’ve seen people say about this law (paraphrased):

  • No autistic adults were consulted about this
  • It’s going to limit employment opportunities for autistics
  • It’s establishing a registry of autistic people, presumably for evil purposes (think Nazi Germany)
  • Police won’t know what to do with a license that says “autistic” and may either discriminate or simply do whatever this was intended to prevent police from doing since they don’t understand autism
  • Take the control of who you disclose to out of your own control
Not a real Virginia license, so don't try stealing her identity!

Not a real Virginia license, so don’t try stealing her identity!

Let me address these.

First, I agree about the first item – if no autistic adults were consulted, this is a bad thing. We should be consulted! There’s plenty of easy-to-find autistic adult groups. Now, I don’t know if autistic adults were consulted or not, but we should have been if we weren’t.

For employment, I don’t think this law will have significant effect. First, most employers don’t require a driver’s license for interviews or applications. I’ve probably applied for 100+ jobs in my life and interviewed at 20 or 30, including delivery jobs. I’ve never been asked for a driver’s license to do so. I have been asked for a driver’s license number, but not the license. I believe this is to show I have a license, although I question why they ask for the number – it’s not useful without additional permission from me to access the drivers’ license history database. But, regardless, the number won’t disclose I’m autistic should I indicate such on the license. I think this is a relatively small issue – sure, if you use the ID after employment to validate your identity (note you can use other forms of ID), then they may know, so, yes, you should consider that when you ask for your license to indicate you are autistic. But the risk is relatively low (yes, it needs to be evaluated, and, again, if you don’t want the risk, don’t put it on your license!).

I’ll also add that, for some people, disclosure of being autistic may help them get a job. I’ll get to this in a minute, but being seen as autistic, by an employer that believes in diversity, is a lot better than being seen as, say, high on drugs. Not everyone has the privilege of passing as a “typical” person, and the wrong label may hurt even more than the right one.

And, finally, for someone who needs employment or other accommodations, having a state-issued document that says, “YES, this person is autistic!” could be very useful – it makes it a lot harder legally for someone to say, “Well, I didn’t have documentation that they were disabled” if it was shown to them. I can see this helping in all sorts of things, from employment accommodations to being questioned about a service animal (which is illegal – the questioning that is – in most cases, but which happens nonetheless and different people may want to have different responses, such as showing documentation rather than arguing or leaving).

As for establishing a registry, again, each person needs to consider that. If you answer the questions about mental conditions on the application for a driver’s license and indicate you are autistic, then, yes, the state knows. That’s independent of whether or not you also request the driver’s license say you are autistic. If you don’t answer that question with information that you are autistic (and I don’t – I don’t believe it has any impact on my ability to drive, which is why they ask; they want to know what impacts my ability to drive, which, for me, is things like my eyesight). Very likely, if you are on medicaid, the State also has your information. So does your school district if you were on an IEP. So does Social Security if you get SSI/SSDI. So does Medicare if you get that. So, while we should be concerned about data collection by government, and the uses of this collection, we should also be realistic that for many autistics, this information is already in their hands, and disclosing on the driver’s license doesn’t do any additional harm – you’re not telling the state something they don’t already know. That said, again, it should be up to the individual. Again, it is.

I’ll get to the police issue in a minute. But I want to address the last bullet point first – that this limits control of information. We do show licenses or ID cards frequently in this society, and, obviously, anyone who sees a license that says you are autistic may see that and now know you are autistic. This is a valid concern and needs to be weighed against any possible benefits from having them know. If you feel the benefits don’t outweigh the problems, don’t have them add it on your license!

Okay, on police, which I suspect is the main reason someone is proposing this. I agree that police need better training – they have no idea how to deal with autism, mental illness, or any number of other things (heck, they don’t generally know how to de-escalate situations). And we do need that training. This bill doesn’t prohibit training. Rather than opposing a bill that says nothing about training, it’s probably better to focus on a bill that would create better training. That’s more likely to actually accomplish the training! Stopping this bill won’t suddenly cause police to be trained.

But here’s the reason why I would support this bill: some people don’t have the privilege of being considered “normal” if autism isn’t disclosed. Too often, these people are assumed to be rude, aggressive, drunk, high on drugs, dangerous, or combative when they are not any of these things. While an officer, employer, or other person might not know what “autism” means regarding these things, at least some – who don’t understand the term autism – will still respond by giving the person the benefit of the doubt, precisely because they know they don’t know (at the risk of sounding Rumsfeldian – see the video below – although I’ll add that Rumsfeld was logically correct, and, sadly, most people were not logically sophisticated enough to get his point).

Even better, this is validated. Maybe it’s not validated well (people can and do forge doctor’s notes, and we can also debate whether or not doctors should be gatekeepers on an autistic label). Maybe doctors shouldn’t do the validation. But doctors are trusted, as is the state DMV, at least by most police. Maybe this is unwise, but it’s the current state of the world. So, when this is on a driver’s license, it’s going to be assumed correct. If I hand the person an autism card, tell the person I’m autistic, or don’t communicate my label at all, the other person may either not believe me (“You are trying to use this as a get-out-of-jail-free card”) or may attribute my motive to something else (“You’re drunk” or “You’re an ass”).

Here’s the example. Let’s say I’m sitting on a bench on a city pedestrian mall, and the local PD comes up to me to find out if I’m (1) in need of assistance and (2) drunk. If I’m in need of assistance, they’ll likely get it for me, but the real point is probably #2 – they want to know if I’m drunk, and, if so, remove me from view of tourists “for my own good.” This has happened to me several times. Now, if I can talk, I can simply say, “I’m fine” and maybe be believed. But something led them to believe I was drunk – they don’t question everyone sitting on that mall! So maybe they believe me, maybe they don’t, particularly if I have a speech issue. I could hand them an autism card (which might not be a bad idea). And maybe they’ll believe it, which would be awesome. Or I could hand them my driver’s license that indicates I’m autistic. Maybe they won’t know what to do with it, maybe they’ll still haul me off to the drunk tank (I’m trying to think of a worse place for an autistic to end up), but maybe, just maybe, they’ll say, “OH! This person might not be drunk.”

Now, is there downsides to having your license say you are autistic? Of course. That’s why it’s important that it be an individual choice. But you don’t create choice by taking away a choice (preventing me from putting my label on my license won’t respect my self-determination!).

I don’t oppose it. I would tell people to think about it carefully. And if unsure, you can decide NOT to request it be added to  your license (shouldn’t take any actual work by you – they only put it on there if you ask for it). You should also be able to get it removed, much like you could decide you want to remove the organ donor status on your license, should you change your mind.

This is not the big evil in the world of autism right now. Now, if you want to talk police training, I’m all for that, and I think we should get moving on that.

A Response to All the Quackery & BS in One Blog Entry

This post started because I realized I’d go to jail for cleansing colons. I saw one too many articles today about cleansing colons. My first thought was to go cleanse some people’s colons for publicizing this quack crap, but I’d probably end up in jail.

So I’m going to write instead. And it’s probably going to piss some people off. But, you know what? I’m sick of people messing with their kids’ bodies on the basis of instinct and what sounds good. Facts are not evil, people! When you have some facts, you should use them.

Sadly, the people doing the actual colon cleansing on innocent children get away with it, without jail.

So here’s my response, just in case anyone is curious about any of this.

First, your kid doesn’t need his colon cleansed.

Seriously. He doesn’t. No, he doesn’t. Yes, he has shit in his colon. You do too. But keep the shit in the colon and don’t replace your brains with shit. It’s supposed to be there! But you can read about the science of this here. Don’t have shit for brains. Keep it where it belongs.

Your kid doesn’t need a GF/CF Diet

Okay, if your kid really has celiac disease, certainly keep him on a GF diet (no need to do CF, however). For those not in the know, GF is “gluten free.” Gluten is found in pretty much all wheat and grains. Here’s a news flash: grains and wheats are good for you (unless you truly do have an allergy, and most of us don’t, autistic or not). It’s one of the key things that makes bread, well, bread.

CF is “casein free”. Casein is in milk and milk products. If your kid has a milk allergy (not noticed through behavior, but rather by things like a life threatening anaphylaxis reaction, hives, swelling in the lips and throat, etc), certainly don’t give the kid milk! But, again, milk is generally good for almost all autistic people.

Your kid almost certainly isn’t both gluten and casein allergic! If you have that rare kid, certainly, feed them whatever is left that doesn’t contain these things. But get a second opinion when deciding to alter your kid’s diet and restrict him to only a handful of things. The medical profession actually can diagnose this type of thing, so let them!

Now, lots of people say that removing G or C from a diet made their kids behave/communicate/toilet better (actually, it’s almost always both G and C). Science says bullshit in general.

You Don’t Need to be Perfect

Related to diets and such, one common quackery theme is that even one particle of contamination (where contamination is something natural in food, like gluten) will cause your kid to regress. The theory is basically that this seed of evil will germinate inside your kid and destroy him, without another cleansing/chelation/etc treatment.

So, if the treatment doesn’t help, guess what the problem is…if you guess YOU, you guessed right! You probably missed some infinitesimal seed of gluten. You didn’t do it good enough. The diet is fine. It’s you that’s a failure.

Again, that’s bullshit. One microgram of wheat will not hurt your kid.

But putting your kid on an extremely restrictive diet (how many food items can you name without milk or wheat or grain) is not good. It’s a lot harder to make a balanced diet when you cut out whole food groups – especially if your kid is a picky eater. Heck, plenty of autistics practically live on pizza. I’ve tried GF/CF pizza. Never again.

Shots don’t Give Mercury Poisoning

I’m not going to bother to support my argument, not because I can’t, but because thousands of other people have done so online, who have a lot better medical knowledge than you or I do.

Vaccinations are safe.  Period.  You are rejecting science if you don’t believe this.

Vaccinations also keep your kid well.  Despite the garbage to the contrary, it is good for your kid to be well.

Mercury Poisoning is Nothing Like Autism

Despite a published list a few years ago by some quacks that compares “symptoms of mercury poisoning” to “symptoms of autism,” the symptoms are not even close to the same. Mercury poisoning affects the skin and, particularly, the eyes in addition to the brain. If your doctor can’t tell the difference, you need a different doctor.

You Don’t Need to Ingest Metal

No, gold dust, gold pellets, and gold salts are not helpful. If you want gold, stick to jewelry that you like the look of. After all, it’s not even that great of an investment. But I’ll guarantee it’s a better investment as a coin or jewelry than ending up down the toilet.

Nor do You Need to Chelate Metal!

When the quacks aren’t trying to get people to take metal, they chelate them. Again, mercury isn’t autism, but plenty of quacks convince people it is. In the process, they suggest things like chelation – a process that is designed to remove metals from the body. One particularly scary treatment is EDTA chelation. Like most autism-related quackery things, it’s also a sold as quackery to cancer patients – so the American Cancer Society says some things about it, including:

Available scientific evidence does not support claims that chelation therapy is a safe treatment for any type of cancer. Chelation therapy may produce toxic effects, including kidney damage, irregular heart beat, and swelling of the veins. It may also cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and temporary lowering of blood pressure. Since the therapy removes minerals from the body, there is a risk of developing low calcium levels (hypocalcemia) and bone damage. Chelation therapy may also impair the immune system and decrease the body’s ability to produce insulin. People may also feel pain at the site of the EDTA injection. Chelation therapy may be dangerous in people with kidney disease, liver disease, or bleeding disorders. Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should not use this method.

Chelation therapy is often given along with large doses of vitamins and other minerals, which may actually contribute to the processes that produce dangerous free radicals in the body. Loss of zinc can also lead to mutations in cells. For this reason, chelation therapy may actually increase the risk of cancer.

In other words, this is not something to do to your kid, except in one circumstance: if you have solid proof your child has heavy metal poisoning. Note, again, that would never be confused with autism by anyone in the slightest bit competent. It has enough side-effects, I’d make sure to get a second opinion from another mainstream doctor, and then I would make sure that the facility where it is done can respond to the life-threatening emergencies (such as heart failure) that may occur.

But, again, it doesn’t do shit for autism.

Enema – More Shit Problems

Again, related to colon cleansing, this generally shouldn’t be a routine procedure for people! It can help with constipation and it can help with getting rid of shit for a colonoscopy. Other than that, it doesn’t particularly help autistic people.

Even worse is when standard enema are replaced with – essentially – bleach. Do you really think exposing sensitive organs (the colon) to bleach is a good idea? It’s not. Even when it’s called something like Miracle Mineral Supplement (nor is MMS good ingested orally – go figure, drinking bleach is bad for you). Did I mention MMS supposedly treats cancer?

Protip: anything that treats both cancer and autism does neither; this goes double for anything that adds HIV to the mix of things it supposedly treats.

Ah, the Fascination with Shit

There’s a huge fascination with shit among quackery. There’s a lot of parents that have trouble toilet training their autistic children, so I can understand the focus on shit. But, at the same time, not being able to communicate to a person to teach toilet training does not mean that the person has a health condition in their gut. Nor does periodic bouts of diarrhea or constipation indicate general health issues – we all deal with this. But if it is frequent, definitely talk to a mainstream doctor about the condition. But you’re not dealing with autism, you’re dealing with something else.

There’s also difficulty autistics have processing sensory information and sometimes making motor movements, both of which are required for successful toilet training. Someone that is helping will know this and consider this, and not just radical diet changes without evidence of problems (other than stool).

Finally, stress messes up people’s guts. And plenty of autistic people have stressful lives, due to sensory issues, social expectations, and, sadly, some of the things people do to try to cure them. I don’t know much about toilet training, but I know that stressing out the kid doesn’t help. Go figure – stress doesn’t help with any kind of learning. Or health.

Oh, There’s More

Yes, there are other quackeries. I’m not going to get into some of the other ones now, as these were the ones that annoyed me today. Maybe you’ll see a second post later.

So What Can You Do?

In general, what you do for other kids. Feed them good food (not restricted diets only because the kid is autistic). Focus on things other than shit all the time (seriously!). Stay away from things that claim to cure cancer. Don’t think that there is some sort of secret knowledge that science and Big Pharma is hiding from you – there’s plenty of problems in our health care system and with corporate pharmaceuticals, but spreading autism isn’t one of them – and plenty of Big Pharma developed drugs are good and helpful, even life saving.

Realize there is no cure for autism. So instead of curing and overcoming, focus on ways you can raise your kid to be at the fullest of his autistic potential. Listen to him when he complains (with words or otherwise) of environmental stimulus (like sounds, tastes, etc). Try not to add to a stressful life!

Find your kid’s strengths and gifts. What does he do best? Did you know that research has shown that there are some brain functions that autistic people do really well, not just ones they do badly? Discover what is unique and wonderful about your child. Autism or not, he’s your child!