Accusations of Abuse, Guardianship, and Community Response

Recently, the story of Sharisa Joy Kochmeister has been the focus of much attention in the advocacy community.  And I’ve stayed silent on it, because, frankly, I don’t know the facts of the situation.  But I can’t keep doing that.

My understanding of the background of this – which is open to any and all corrections people may have – is:

  • Sharisa is a 30-something adult
  • From a Denver Post opinion piece (not an investigative article), “The ordeal began in March when her father was accused of abuse when he was seen in a Denver hospital using his finger to clear his daughter’s throat after she had vomited. She kicked him. He pushed her and it was caught on video.”
  • The father was accused of Manchausen by Proxy. This basically means that Mr. Kochmeister was suspected of making Sharisa ill.
  • While the father has not been charged with a crime, the county where Sharisa lives has kept Sharisa’s parents (and indeed most other people) from visiting her.
  • Sharisa is unable to communicate without her father or sister being physically present and possibly facilitating (through actions such as holding a communication device).

Most of the comments, petitions, and advocacy pieces I’ve seen publicly start from the assumption that the abuse allegations are false, for several reasons:

  • People personally know the parents and think they are good people.
  • That accusations of Munchausen by Proxy are often wrong (For instance, in Where is Sharisa Joy Kochmeister, there is a section on false allegations of Munchausen by Proxy with the leading sentence in bold saying, ”Beware the accusation of Munchausen by proxy”).
  • That criminal charges have not been filed against the father.

I’m uneasy with this logic, and I want to explain why. So let me go through each of these three points.

Her Parents are Good People

Perhaps.  I don’t know them, and I’ve known some people I thought were wonderful that turned out to have some really awful, evil parts of themselves.  For instance, one of my best friends in college was recently found guilty of molesting his daughters.  I never would have predicted that, but the evidence was extremely strong and convincing, and I’m glad his daughters are no longer in his care (he is currently serving a long prison sentence).

So I can’t comment on whether or not the parents are good people. I will say that I’m concerned and saddened that any disabled person can communicate only through a very small number of people (or, in the worst case, one).  I am concerned that Sharisa is unable to communicate through anyone but her father, for reasons I’ve written about in general terms elsewhere – how do you report abuse if your abuser is always there when you communicate?

I’m not dismissing her ability to communicate.  But I know that influence, particularly in abuse, and particularly when it’s done by someone who has the potential to do great harm in retaliation, is a powerful thing. And I also know that the vast majority of abuse victims, when asked why they didn’t report that abuse, say the same two things: either they felt they wouldn’t be believed (because the abuser is respected or seen as a wonderful person) or that the abuser can make things worse for them.  We’ve seen both with Cosby’s accusers, who felt they wouldn’t be believed and that Cosby could retaliate and essentially keep them from their dreams in modeling or show business. If this is hard for women who are, in some cases, thousands of miles away from their abuser, imagine what it’s like if that separation isn’t possible.  It’s also not just abuse – imagine other decisions, such as becoming sexually active, deciding whether or not to seek an abortion, or discussing treatment options for STDs – would you want to have those conversations with a parent in the room?  Unless you have a particularly unusual relationship with your parents, probably not.  We are all influenced by people we are around, and that influences what we do and don’t say. It’s one of the reasons it has taken me so long to write this – but it has become too important not to.

When my wife was hospitalized a couple years ago, I remember how I was asked to leave the room for a few minutes, being told they needed room to transfer my wife into the bed. I asked her they did while I was gone, and she said that, yes, they did transfer her to the bed, but that they also asked her if her relationship with me was good and if she wanted me to be there – she was kind of surprised by the questions (I don’t think there was any suspicion of abuse by me, I believe this was asked to nearly all patients). I’m not offended by that in the least – for some abuse victims, the only time they have the chance to be protected from their abuser may be when they are hospitalized, and I thought it was one of the excellent things the hospital does – if it gives just one abuse victim the courage to speak, it is an awesome way of doing business. It is absolutely something a hospital should do. Likewise, it’s important for abuse victims to have means of communicating that don’t involve their abuser’s presence or (real or imagined) control.

Accusations of Abuse are Often False

This simply isn’t true, but even if it is, it does not mean that real abuse doesn’t exist. Too often we hear about children (I’m not implying Sharisa is a child, but most of the time we hear about state-investigated abuse, it is regarding children) that were inadequately protected by the state after abuse allegations were made.

There are cases where Munchausen by Proxy is real – we should not dismiss this as merely claims that the evil state makes against parents of disabled kids. There is evidence that it may be over-diagnosed in cases where the caregiver is not the cause of the illness, and there is a real illness, albeit likely a hard to treat one.

But, there are also real instances where people are harmed by fictitious disorders imposed on them.  According to the Cleveland Clinic, approximately 1,000 cases of reported child abuse per year are related to this.

It is irresponsible for advocates to say that abuse did not occur when they do not have the full evidence. Abuse can happen to anyone, and abusers come from all social strata, all races, all sexes, etc.  It is not uncommon that abusers are well regarded and seen as “the least likely person” to abuse another. So all allegations of abuse must be taken seriously.  In fact, this is something the FC (Facilitated Communication) community has been stressing – while there was controversy regarding apparently false reports of abuse by facilitated communication users, there were also real cases of abuse that were investigated and found to be true, backed up with evidence in addition to the victim’s own words. Allegations of abuse must be investigated, and anyone that says otherwise is not an advocate for vulnerable people.

SOME PEOPLE USING FACILITATED COMMUNICATION HAVE MADE ALLEGATIONS OF SEXUAL ABUSE. SOME HAVE BEEN SUBSTANTIATED.

Some individuals have made allegations of abuse, but there is no evidence that the numbers of allegations by individuals using facilitation is proportionally different than the numbers of allegations made by speaking people. In a survey made at the SUNY Health Sciences Center, it was found for a given time period that of 6 case in which individuals alleged they had been sexually abused, for 4 of them there was physical evidence they had been abused (Botash, 1993). Cases can lead to court convictions (Randall, 1993) and/or confessions by the accused. As with allegations made by the nondisabled population, some allegations may be unfounded and others simply impossible to prove.

The above is from Douglas Bilken, a leading FC proponent, writing “Facts about FC“.  Full citations are available in the link.

Regardless of your views on FC, allegations of false abuse don’t mean that real abuse doesn’t happen. For Munchausen by Proxy, in particular, what is important is whether or not incidents of more severe sickness are associated with the presence of the accused. So there is one question that is relevant here, but which the answer is not known: Have any of Sharisa’s medical conditions improved with the absence of her family? That alone doesn’t prove that abuse occurred, but it can help substantiate that the family is not the cause of any of the symptoms if all the symptoms continue despite the absence of family.

Likewise, I would think it inappropriate to say that Sharisa’s parents did abuse her – most of us (and everyone I’ve seen speaking publicly, with the exception of Sharisa’s family and Sharisa in the presence of her father) don’t have enough knowledge of the situation.  And we should see false allegations of this kind or terrible. Instead, I believe we should say what is logically required: We don’t know.

Criminal Charges have not been Filed Against Sharisa’s Father

This is true – there are no publicly known charges against Sharisa’s father, and is important for everyone to remember. That said, even charges don’t prove someone’s guilt – that’s why we have a trial system. But the American justice system is designed to only convict people when the judgement is that they are “guilty beyond reasonable doubt”.  Thus prosecution may not occur in all cases where a crime has been committed, particularly if a prosecutor believes it is unlikely a jury would agree “beyond a reasonable doubt” that a crime has occurred.

That said, there is a court process that determined Sharisa’s current placement and prevented Sharisa’s family from visiting freely.  We don’t have the information of what was presented at those hearings, so it is irresponsible for us to confuse lack of criminal charges with lack of a crime. Again, we simply don’t know. It could have been a huge miscarriage of justice against Sharisa and her family, but it also might have been justified in light of the evidence. We don’t know.

What Needs to be Done

So, we don’t know if abuse occurred or not. If it did, she should not be forced to live with her abuser. But her opinion still must be respected. People who are competent are allowed to make bad choices.

If it didn’t occur, where should she live? Where she wants to, clearly.

Unfortunately, the county believes she isn’t competent, thus someone else gets to make decisions like where she lives. On top of that, she is only making statements about where she wants to live in the physical presence of someone that may or may not have abused her. This makes it very hard for the county or anyone else that wants what is best for her, and doesn’t know if abuse occurred or not, to know what she truly wants.

I wish she could communicate without a family member in the room. If she could, and the family’s statements are correct about this not being a case of abuse, this issue would likely be resolved.  If she could communicate without a family member in the room, and was as courageous as I believe her to be,  she could affirm or deny abuse allegations. I have long believed that the primary goal for an autistic person’s communication should be that they are able to communicate in a variety of situations, with a variety of other people around, and using a variety of techniques. I stand by that.

But of course it’s not always possible. What is best is not always what happens. Clearly this is one of those cases, and someone’s ability to live where they want to is on the line. If you can’t communicate (which is what the county clearly believes), you can’t direct your life.

She was placed in a nursing home for a while. Nursing homes aren’t the right choice for anyone. I could write more on that, but other advocates have written plenty if you want to know why.

The county must expend the resources necessary to provide an environment as conducive as possible to communication. This means she needs the electronic devices she uses to communicate to be available and maintained. She needs to be assessed by experts who have a presumption of competence. She needs to be listened to when she communicates with ways other than language.

Last week, Disability Law Colorado (the P&A agency for Colorado) issued a statement that said that this is happening, and that the situation is more complex than media and many advocates have said it is. Of course they could be wrong, lying, or have a grudge against Sharisa or her parents.  But they also may be right.

That doesn’t mean we should just trust them and remain silent. We should demand that Sharisa can fully participate in the community and that the State ensures that everything possible is done to allow her to communicate.  The abuse allegations should continue to be investigated: in particular, has any part of Sharisa’s medical conditions shown improvement since her removal from her family? Was the video evidence so strong that it, by itself, justifies removal of Sharisa from her family?

There are lots of questions. And this is not a case of child abuse. When a crime is committed against an adult, and is not a sex crime, the public does generally have the right to know the details, so that we can make informed opinions.

Regardless, our advocacy must be first and foremost about Sharisa and her desires. Not the state’s. Not her parent’s. One side says that her communication desiring to be back at home is either not hers or is influenced by her father. The other side says she wants to be home. What Sharisa wants is what is important – not what her father wants, and certainly not what the county wants. And our advocacy should be focused on making sure she has as much of an opportunity to voice her views without a shadow of influence as possible. I fear that may not be possible, but I really don’t see any other way to get the resolution that Sharisa needs while her communication is being dismissed, as it is now. Lack of apparent influence is important (and I use the term in the general sense – the same thing would likely happen if a person speaking with their vocal cords only talked with someone that was considered a potential abuser in the room – it might even strengthen the case that abuse is occurring). I hope it’s possible and we need to advocate that she be given every opportunity to communicate this way. Starting with 24×7 availability of devices she’s used in the past to communicate and support people that are not making presumptions about her parents. Most of all, they must not presume that she is not competent.

Certainly if you have other evidence that the rest of the community does not have, absolutely use that in your decision making. But the rest of us need to be responsible and to use the evidence we have, realizing we don’t know several really critical pieces of this story. I am not saying her parents have done any wrong. Nor am I saying they haven’t. Because I don’t know, beyond saying we need Sharisa’s voice a lot more than mine in this discussion.

Mass Murderers Might be Autistic – and Why the term “High Functioning” is Discriminatory

As most people probably know, a few days ago a man murdered 6 people and injured several more.  The murderer may have been autistic.

Before I go any further, I want to note that I recognize the horror of what happened in California and am very sad for what happened to the victims and their families. I do believe the entire autism community is united in this aspect and feels the same way.

One of the first reactions of any community, including the autistic community, when something like this happens is to want to distance themselves from the evil person. Some of this is in the form of, “We are not like that!” That’s valid, and true. Autistic people are less likely than average to commit violent crime (and more likely to be the victims – so we’re not the ones that someone needs to be protected from, we’re the ones that need to be protected from someone else).

But, there’s also a darker response: “He’s not autistic.” I can’t accept this knee-jerk response, as much as I do wish that the murderer is not autistic. Sure, we don’t know for sure that he was autistic, and that’s fine to point out in some limited contexts (but not as a way of saying, “So autistic people are okay”). Whether or not this murderer was autistic, the violence he displayed was something that isn’t part of autism, nor is it part of any number of other things (such as being a man, being a college student, being a gun owner, being a white sort-of-well-off kid). But it certainly isn’t part of his autism. That doesn’t mean he isn’t autistic, though.

We have good and bad people in our community.  Just like there are good and bad men, good and bad college students, good and bad gun owners, good and bad sort-of-well-off people. And I do believe we can and should judge individuals as individuals. And, yes, I recognize that there is typically a power – privilege if you like – differential between men and women, whites and people of color, sort-of-well-off people and poor people. But there’s a huge difference between being a member of a group that has social privilege and being a bad person. I’m not saying that privilege doesn’t exist or people shouldn’t be aware of it, but I am saying that it’s not a moral failing to be a member of such a group!

But, back to the autism, we can (and, in fact, should expect we have) bad people in our community. There’s a lot of myths that autistic people have perpetuated about how we’re beyond deceiving people, honest, trustworthy, kind, and any number of other positive things. But we’re not. I’m not saying we’re dishonest, untrustworthy, unkind, liars, either. We’re neither of these things, neither angels nor devils. We’re like everyone else: we have good things in each of us and also some ugly things in each of us. We’re not beyond jealousy, greed, or malice. We have good people and bad people in our community, and we need to recognize that. It’s a mistake to think a group I am part of is better than another group. It’s a mistake that the murderer in California made, one that fed into his evil acts – he felt he was better than the men and women he murdered. Obviously the rest of us have a different opinion. Autistic (or Aspie) supremacist stuff is bullshit.

But, when the “angel theory of autism” isn’t being used to try to discount the murder’s potential autism, another ugly belief pops up: that the murderer was too functional to be autistic. The logic is, essentially, “He was too high functioning to be anything like most autistics. He could talk normally, he could go to college, he drove a car.” Whether or not this leads to someone saying he wasn’t autistic, the point is the same: if you drive, go to school, and talk, then you’re not like real (phrased as most) autistics.

Two things lead to this: first, people have limited experience with autistic people. They may only know one or two, often children. And the person they know probably doesn’t go to college, drive, and may have obvious communication differences. Of course the person they know might only be 6 (how many 6 year olds go to college or drive?), but none-the-less when someone thinks of autism, they think of what they know. If the person they know is an adult that cannot do these these things, too often it is assumed that others are like this.

The other problem is that people think the world works as follows:

Two arrows, one pointing left, one pointing right. The left arrow says "Low functioning" and has, under it, "More Autistic."  The right arrow says "High Functioning" and under it says "Normal"In other words, there’s a line on which we can place autistic people.  There are middle-functioning people in the middle, still clearly autistic, but in the middle of autistic. There’s a few geniuses like Temple Grandin off to the right, approaching “normal” and definitely “high functioning”, and there is a bunch of people on the left who are more affected and thus “low functioning.”

But that’s all bullshit.

You might be able to draw a line like the above for one very narrowly defined skill. But it has to be really narrow. For instance, we all know there are good and bad car drivers. Some people are just plain better at it than others. But is it even that simple? For instance, someone might be great at driving on-road, but horrible driving a jeep on an off-road trail. Are they a low functioning driver?  Probably not. Or they might be fine driving during the day, but not at night. Or they might be great in a city, but easily fall asleep on a rural highway. Or they might be fine driving a little compact car, but totally lost if they are asked to back up a truck with a 35 foot long camper attached. They might be better at driving fast, but is someone that frequently exceed the speed limit a high functioning or a low functioning driver? Where would you be on the line (assuming you drive)? It probably depends on the situation and environment – I suspect I’d be pretty far to the left, near low functioning, if you put me in the cab of a tractor trailer, since I probably wouldn’t even know how to release the parking brake. But maybe I’m pretty far to the right when it comes to backing up a trailer (I can usually get into a tight spot on the first attempt easily). I’m probably somewhere in the middle for most tasks. So, am I a mid-functioning driver? Would you say the same thing if I said I am a professional tractor-trailer driver who can’t release the brakes (but is, on average, mid-functioning considering other skills)? Probably not – context matters. We probably need several lines, for different skills, like “Winter Driving”, “Trailer Backing”, “Tractor-Trailer Brake Operation”, “Night Driving”, “Rural Awareness Maintenance”, and “Speed Limit Obedience.”

Life is a whole lot more complex than driving a car. If we can’t just give one score on a continuum to a driver, imagine how much more complex life as a whole is!

I’ll use myself as an example. I have no problem driving a car most of the time (I can’t say I’m perfect, but I’m not a “low functioning” driver either). I attended college, even obtaining a degree. And I do talk.

Of course what this misses is that of these things, the only one I’ve done without significant difficulty is driving. For whatever reason, I’m comfortable operating pretty much any vehicle I’ve had a chance to operate, from bicycles to aircraft. I’m not sure why, considering how uncoordinated I am with most other things, but I can manage motor vehicles just fine. But the other stuff is definitely difficult.

Sure, I attended college. And it only took about 16 years for me to get my degree. I received a 4.0 average my first year. My second year saw me on academic probation. What happened? It wasn’t the material – I could and did understand the material. Trying to keep everything together for over a year was too much for me, and I was loosing the ability to handle all the daily activities of life. Sure, I could force myself through it – and did – for a while. But eventually that catches up. I don’t know many non-autistic college students that had grades decline as steeply (I do know several autistic students that have). I ended up dropping out, only returning a decade later when somehow I was willing to try to force myself through the process again. This is hardly “high functioning.”

I could talk about speech, but I won’t now, other than to say I had similar difficulties and still do – it’s why I still own and occasionally use speech generating devices.

But there were the other areas of my life too. I didn’t eat for a week when I started school, because I didn’t know where the cafeteria was. I was getting a 4.0 GPA at the time, but couldn’t find where the food was kept.  After a week, I was barely functional from hunger. Yet I couldn’t do the obvious thing: ask someone. Eventually, I ended up stalking another freshman for a few hours, figuring he’d eventually eat (fortunately, he did eat in the cafeteria). Food was a problem throughout my adult life, until I got married (my wonderful wife cooks for me – something that is a tremendous blessing after you’ve lived years of your life dangerously underweight because you lack the ability to manage this task yourself).

But I was high functioning. I went to college. I drove a car.

That’s the thing with autism (and, in fact, humanity). Having skill in area X doesn’t mean I have skill in area Y, even when it looks like X and Y should be reasonably related.

Sure, we like to be able to categorize people. We think there must be some difference between that kid we say is low functioning and the high-functioning examples of people like Temple Grandin. And certainly there is a difference – the obvious one is 50 years of age. But, beyond that, autism isn’t about being good or bad at any one thing. It’s about having a set of abilities that doesn’t follow the normal neurotypical model, and this goes both ways. I don’t have the research handy, but I know some researchers have found that autistics with low measured IQs, typically part of the group that is considered low functioning, share, with their higher measured IQ autistic peers, an ability to do certain types of intellectual processing that far surpasses that of neurotypicals. Of course neurotypicals far surpass both groups – the “high” and “low” functioning groups on other tasks. It’s not about better or worse, higher or lower, but rather different.

When people think of the California murderer, and think, “But he’s too high functioning to be autistic,” they are closing the doors to life-saving daily living services that some people need. They are deciding that autistic people can’t learn skills A, B, or C. They are ignoring decades of research. They’re also ignoring the tremendous variance between individuals, even when those individuals are all called autistic. We’re different, with vastly different skills. One autistic person might not just be able to drive a car, but could be a successful race car driver, while another would be a tremendous risk to traffic if they got behind the wheel. That doesn’t mean one is more autistic than the other. It means that one is a shit driver, while the other may be great. But still autistic. Yet others may have tremendous talents, but because they can’t do some random unrelated task, it’s assumed they wouldn’t be able to do whatever they are talented at doing. They’re “low functioning” after all. Well, that’s bullshit. Don’t dismiss us as non-autistic because we can do something, don’t assume we have other skills because we can do X, and don’t assume that we can’t do something because we can’t do X.

If you think you can put autistic people on a functioning line, from high to low functioning, you just don’t know autism.

More on the Link between Autism and Violence

I’ve blogged on this in the past, so I won’t go into too many details now. There is a link.

I’ve also recently put up a survey about intimacy that included some questions about abuse. The numbers show how often we face this type of mistreatment (yes, I’m aware of the limitations in my methodology; that said, the results match remarkably well with “real” research) – 80% of autistic respondents indicated that they have been abused.  FOUR OUT OF FIVE.

We die in bad confrontations with police (particularly if we don’t or can’t speak), where we did nothing wrong other than being unable to communicate with police.

Too often, we are murdered by caregivers, parents, and family (you know, the people who are supposed to have our best interests in mind) – but it doesn’t stop there. When it happens, juries and judges say they can understand why we were murdered and give a light (if any) sentence to the murderer. You see, it’s so horrible to raise us, that of course people would murder us. Or something like that. Other times, we’re told that murder of autistic people is a “mercy killing” because nobody would want to be like us. Of course we’re not asked. It would be wrong to try to link being a parent or family member to being a killer.

And there are plenty of us who kill ourselves. My first serious attempt was in 3rd grade. If every day of your life was filled with the abuse from schoolmates (I could say, “neurotypical school mates” but I don’t believe neurotypicals are a slave to neurology when it comes to violence, despite the fact that it was typically neurotypical students doing the abuse).

Like other minorities, when we’re killed, it’s often preceded by torture. Remember Steven Simpson, who was murdered by being doused in oil and set on fire during his own 18th birthday party. They changed the title of this article, but you can still see it in the URL: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2166327/Autistic-teenager-Steven-Simpson-dies-burn-injuries-tanning-oil-prank-went-wrong.html – “Dies from burn injuries during a tanning oil prank that went wrong.” Uh, no. Having anti-gay obscenities written on your body and then being doused in oil and then having your genitals set on fire is not a prank. Being doused in oil and set on fire is a torture. This is the very definition of a hate crime. What’s the punishment for lighting someone on fire, leaving the scene without calling emergency services, not trying to put the fire out? What is the punishment for hearing someone scream in total agony? In the first-world country where this happened, the penalty is nothing for most of the accomplices and 3 1/2 years for the worst of the accomplices. Yet, it is reported as a “prank” and this light sentence is handed out. Yes, there’s a link to autism and violence: you will walk free after just a bit more then 3 years in jail if you light us on fire in England (the USA is no better when it comes to sentences handed down). Lest you think that the UK is just light on sentencing, check out this robber, sentenced to 13 life sentences. Now, this robber is obviously a bad man who needs to go to jail, who did incredible harm to his victims. But it should be noted that he didn’t kill anyone.

Yet autistic people are the ones who are need to be prevented from owning guns, who are a risk to society, who are supposedly (without any evidence whatsoever backing this up) likely to kill you. Uh, no.

Misogynistic Murder

As most people know, a misogynistic racist in California murdered six people and wounded many more.

When I saw the news, there were two thoughts that went through my head. The first was sadness for what the victims and their families must be feeling. Families and friends of some victims will never be able to share another day with their loved one. That’s horribly sad. Others will have a far different life than they should have had, due to the lifelong physical and mental injuries. This is incredibly sad.

The second thought that went through my head was, “the guy is going to be (rightly or wrongly) portrayed as autistic in the media.”

Let me make one thing clear here: Autistic people are not dangerous, are not a threat, and will not hurt you. Seriously. However, autistic people are far more likely than a non-autistic person to be a victim. Sadly, this will be lost on many, and will continue to leave autistic people in the closet, afraid that people will think they are a threat if they disclose their diagnosis (or, worse, will lead to segregation and further community resistance to autistic people living in their neighborhoods).

Now, this said, I can say I’ve seen things expressed from other autistic guys that are a bit too similar to the views expressed by this murderer for my liking. And this murder shows, yet again, why hate towards women and others (he was also quite hateful of non-whites) must not be tolerated in our community. I know plenty of us are decent people. But we can and should call out people who feel entitled to their anti-woman views. Whether you are autistic or not, here’s a few things you should know if you, in any way, understand or justify murder because you aren’t having sex:

First, there is an idea that by a certain age, we should have had sex. No, that’s not how it works. Some people have consensual sex young, while others have it for the first time when they are old, and yet others never have it. That’s okay – and it is possible to live a full life with or without sex.  If you have a hard time believing that, you probably should seek out what is needed to be able to enjoy the here-and-now. For some people, the right therapist can help (the wrong one will be useless – so if the first or second therapist you try doesn’t work, keep looking). For others, other methods might work – but it is important to know that someone obsessed with the emptiness they have without another person (either longing for emotional intimacy or longing for sex) will probably not find intimacy or sex. It’s a bit of a paradox, but it’s hard to find when you’re looking.

Second, there is this idea that sex is this magical, life-transforming thing. I blame TV and media for this. Sure, sex, particularly in an emotionally intimate relationship (hint: if you’re thinking “hot girl” you probably are not yet focusing on an emotionally intimate relationship) can be special, wonderful, and extremely joyful. But so can tons of other things in life. Sex – despite what guys might say to each other – is not the end-all of experiences. It’s good, but there’s lots of good things in life if you look for them. Ironically, finding some of those things makes you more sexually attractive to someone else. Someone who loves life will be attractive to people, regardless of their body type.

Third, I see a lot of people searching out supermodel-type women – and then wondering why they can’t seem to end up in bed with them. I’ll give you a hint: even the people who have the most beautiful bodies (according to social biases, anyhow) are almost certainly looking for someone who wants more than blond hair, perfect boobs, and shapely legs (or whatever else it is you’re looking for). Maybe there’s someone that isn’t looking for someone who cares about those things – but I’ll warn you: it’s hard to be judged by your own standards sometimes. I’ll also say this: if the only person you would be willing to sleep with is someone that could professionally model in a biased society (like our own), you are treating people like shit, which isn’t a good thing. Just as being a sincere racist doesn’t make racism less repugnant, being a sincere shallow asshole doesn’t make that less repugnant – and expecting women to fall all over you is probably not going to happen. Ironically, almost everyone I see on the internet whining about being a virgin at age 20-something is looking for supermodels. Uh, no wonder you’ve never found someone (that said, if you are in your 20s and are a virgin, there is nothing wrong or even unusual about that).

Some people think, “Good guys finish last.” For men, too often this belief is used to justify acting like a testosterone-crazed abusive asshole. That’s not cool, that’s not manly, and it’s not sexy. Plenty of abusive men find victims to have sex with. But that doesn’t make it a valid path to a relationship, and certainly not a formula for success in seducing people. Good guys do find relationships. Maybe they won’t attract a shallow woman looking for a testosterone-crazed monster, but I’m willing to guess that most women are not looking to be treated bad. If you think what I’m saying isn’t true, I’m going to suggest to you that you are probably in an echo chamber looking only at shallow examples of relationships, and not real life. And, related to this, if a woman turns down your advances, it’s not because she thinks you are a good guy. She might not be interested in you for any number of reasons (some are good reasons, others may be shallow and not-so-noble), but it’s not because you weren’t enough of an asshole. This false-victimhood, incidentally, is not sexy or attractive to other women when they see it in you. So deal with rejection gracefully – not in a judgmental way. Just as society lets a men decide who to approach, we (as men) should understand that not every woman will find me to be a someone they want to date (indeed, most won’t – and that’s even true if I’m the star quarterback and neurotypical).

There’s also this idea that other people have it easy. For instance, “Women can have anyone.” The idea is that if a woman is horny and wants sex, all she has to do is go to the bar, loudly announce, “I WANT SEX!” and ten men will be willing to have sex on the spot. But a man that did the same thing would probably be kicked out of the bar, and certainly wouldn’t get any sex. Just as the person whining about not getting sex probably wants only to sleep with certain people (albeit too often a very shallow set of criteria is used to determine the ‘right’ people), few women want to sleep with every man. Maybe the woman is shallow and doesn’t want to sleep with a 350 pound guy. Or maybe she’s not shallow and can see a 350 pound guy as sexy, but wants to know someone first. Maybe she is concerned about safety. Maybe she really likes a guy, but not sexually, and is in the really uncomfortable position of trying to nicely turn down a request for a date with someone she likes – but doesn’t seem to be getting the point that she’s not interested in that type of relationship. I’ll add that plenty of women haven’t found their Prince Charming yet, but desperately want him. Just because things are different doesn’t mean they are easier.

So here’s my advice: are you a horny guy that wants sex? I’m going to be a bit blunt in the next sentence:

You probably have a hand (if not, you can probably find a way). Deal with it. I don’t know why society has decided that somehow solo-sex isn’t wonderful, but that’s B.S. You can have a mind-blowing orgasm by yourself. And that’s okay, and should not have shame attached. If you feel dirty or like you’re missing something because you masturbate, that’s a problem. Most humans do this, including most people who say they are having sex with others. You shouldn’t feel shame for something that the very people projecting that shame upon you do themselves.

Now, I’m not saying that it’s wrong to want someone else in your life (although if you just want them for feelings you can give yourself, I’d say to save yourself – and the other person – a lot of hurt and difficulty, and deal with it yourself).

What you are not entitled to do is try to pity someone else into sleeping with you. If you feel that you are entitled to sex, I’ll give you a really big hint: you probably won’t get much sex.

Now, again, I don’t think this is a problem confined to autistics, anymore than racism is an autistic-only problem. It’s a society problem. But I do hope that we call out this type of behavior when we see it. And I hope that if some of the above applies to someone reading this, that they’ll reflect upon what kind of person they are being – and if that’s really the kind of person they want to be.

What I Think about Autistic Criminals

In the news today was a story about a man who allegedly used malware to take over his victim’s computers and take pictures of them (particularly undressing in front of the computer, not knowing they were being watched), which he then used to blackmail his victims into providing more pictures or video.

As one can almost expect in this type of case, the man’s family has apologized and added that the man, Jared James Abrahams, was autistic.

Now, I’m autistic. I’m also a man. And I, too, know how to use computers. But that’s where the similarity ends. And I have no sympathy for Jared, if he did what he is alleged to have done (and, according to police, admitted to).

Autism doesn’t prevent us from knowing right from wrong. In fact, many autistic people have a very strong sense of right and wrong.

And, contrary to popular opinion, we can manipulate, lie, cheat, violate, and intimidate people. As Jared did. And as do many other people, both autistic and non-autistic alike.

Now, assuming Jared did this (he does have a right to a trial and innocent people have confessed before – albeit I see that as highly unlikely to be happening in this case), the problem I have is the attempt to use this diagnosis as an excuse. Autism should not mitigate sentencing or prosecution in the type of case Jared is involved in. He knew this was wrong. And he did it anyhow. Laws were written for people like him.

I also have fairly little respect for someone using computers for this purpose. It’s not “being good at computers.” Being good at computers is going and fixing the Linux IP packet scheduler so I don’t have 2 seconds of queuing on my wireless interface. If you want to impress me, go do that. But that’s a whole different kind of “good at computers” than downloading some easy-to-use hacker program and tricking your victims into installing it so you can take nudie pictures of them (hint: there are plenty of nude pictures on the internet that you don’t need to hack anything to see). If people want you to stay out of somewhere, then stay out. And, for creepy guys who violate privacy, you probably need to stay out of women’s bedrooms. This wasn’t an intellectual crime – this was a crime not very far removed from that of a rapist. There’s plenty of things of intellectual interest in computing that don’t involve violating people’s privacy or bodies.

But I do think there are areas where autistic people do deserve special treatment: we don’t win in interrogations. It’s really important that an autistic person in particular have easy and early access to legal defense. It’s easy to manipulate someone who doesn’t follow all the normal social cues. That’s why we have lawyers – to protect our rights. Even if we are guilty or a creep.

Now, I have no idea if James had access to a lawyer or not, or if he was coerced in anyway to confessing. I’ve read the complaint and it is pretty convincing (albeit I’d challenge some of the technical points, but the complaint would still stand), and it seems as even without the confession there is plenty of evidence. But I do think this – and the reporting of being a victim – are two areas where autistic people lose. The system is not designed for us.

But, if the facts show he is guilty: sentence him as you would sentence anyone else. I would say that I suspect general population prison to be inappropriate for most autistic people. But I do think we can earn prison time – but in prison, it’s important to recognize that we are vulnerable, and that prison does have a responsibility to provide safety even for creeps and criminals.

I do wish that we wouldn’t hear “he’s autistic” as often as we do when people are brought to trial. Autism doesn’t make criminals. And in fact, we’re way more likely to be victims (and that part of the justice system treats us poorly too) than most people, while we’re less likely to be criminals statistically (but, obviously, there are exceptions).  Too much popular discourse surrounding crime involves demonizing the mentally ill (of whom, autistics are popularly considered to be a part, whether or not they are also mentally ill).

I also don’t like to hear the response of some of my autistic peers: “He’s not autistic.” I don’t know if he is or isn’t, or if any given criminal is or isn’t. But I do know we can be criminal, we can manipulate, and we can do bad, bad things.

So, am I surprised that autistic criminals exist? Of course not. And I hope we see justice served in this case, whatever outcome that requires.