Making the Privileged Feel Better

What kind of things do physically disabled or blind persons need?  It’s simple: access to society.  The specifics are different – the wheelchair user might want to be able to go to school or work without having to literally drag themself up a step.  And the blind person might desire websites that are usable with screen readers.

Of course, these aren’t the only things desired – there’s a lot of inaccessibility in society as a whole that needs to be cleared up.

So, what do social justice minded, but non-physically disabled, non-trans, and non-blind people come up with? We need to worry about our language. We need to avoid saying, “Let’s run out to the store,” because that erases the existence of someone who rolls out to the store. We need to avoid saying, “Did you see that movie?” because that’s abelist and erases the existence of people who experience movies without using sight.

And that sounds good.  It sounds good to say, “Did you experience that movie?” or “Let’s go to the store” rather than the abelist, yet common, alternatives.

Yet, I’m going to cry out and say, “ENOUGH!”  Not because I think these are bad things to think about, but because, too often, what is behind these suggested changes is a bit more sinister than it appears. Sure, it could be a sincere desire to think about others. But where it fails is in actually listening to others.

For instance, my (albeit limited) circle of friends includes a couple of blind people who “watch TV” (their words, not mine), and neither would notice (or care) if the TV picture was present or not.  My wheelchair using friends “run to the store” occasionally, in their words. It’s important to listen to their words.

Sure, there may be people who are blind or physically disabled who dislike words like “see” and “run.”  But most blind or physically use these words exactly like the rest of us: as something other than literally seeing or literally running.  Few non-physically disabled people literally run to the store: we hop in our cars and drive, or, if we don’t drive, walk or use transit.  But little actual running is involved. As for “seeing” TV or  a movie, a better word would likely be “experience” to reflect literally what is going on, but seeing, in context, basically means the same thing.

Now, I recognize I’m privileged, and could be an ablest pig now – and hope that people (particularly people who aren’t privileged in the same way) speak up and let me have it, if they believe it’s appropriate.  I can demonstrate my true character by listening to what is said.  But, at the same time, I do believe I’ve listened to disabled people and that this type of language is not viewed as insulting, as it seems to be used by the vast majority of people for whom it is supposed to be insulting.

It’s also – ironically – appropriated words like look, see, run, walk, etc, which have a general meaning, and made them into words that can be used only when referring to the privileged classes! In essence, privileged people have decided when these words are appropriate or not, rather than allowing the non-privileged people to tell us what they find offensive and how we should respond to that.  That’s both arrogant and dismissive, and the utter opposite of respect.

But it feels good.  It feels good to look at yourself and say, “I’m more progressive and social justice minded, because I know there are wheel chair users in the world, so I avoid using phrases like, ‘take the dog for a walk’ or ‘running to the store.'”  It’s the same old thing that always makes privileged people feel good: being better than someone else (in this case, it’s mostly the other privileged people who aren’t so liberally minded, but it is done by “walking” over the top of the very people for whom this language is supposedly changed for).

I’ve written about this in a different context – the use of the prefix “cis-” to refer to non-trans people.  While I can find some trans people who do feel people should use the cis- prefix to identify themselves, and it’s a lot harder to find wheelchair users or blind people who object to the language such as “run” or “watch”, I find a striking similarity. I don’t like the term cis- because I feel it erases the existence of binary-identified trans people, particularly post-op transsexuals, and their self-identity. But I get shit for that stand. Ironically, I’d say 99% of the people who have a problem with my word choice are binary-identified and passing as – and thus taking the role of – someone with binary, “cis-gender” privilege.

Now, I recognize the social implications and difficulties faced by minorities trying to express upset towards something the majority does.  So I recognize that even if I was being offensive to trans, blind, or physically disabled people (among others), it’s very likely they would say nothing to me about it. Thus it would be wrong to assume that I’m not wronging them. But it would be equally wrong to not listen to the people who are speaking and advocating from a minority group and to find out what their concerns are, rather than simply assuming that I know what their concerns are, and thus can tell people how to treat “those people” with respect.

It’s actually got a lot in common with the “autistic” vs. “person with autism” debate, which comes down to whether or not autistic people get to define their terms and decide what is or isn’t offensive to us (most of us have decided “autistic” is not offensive).  Yet, well-meaning, socially minded people will actually argue with us and tell us we’re wrong – that we should be offended by “autistic” and should be glad to be referred to with the much-more-respectful “person with autism” label. In other words, they know best about our lives and experience.

Well, they don’t.  No matter how good it makes them feel to think they do.

Why I’m Proud of my Community (including our allies!)

This week has been good and bad.

A major autism organization started this off by posting a really horrible essay (the comments are actually good on this one, though – another thing that makes me proud of my community) about their policy summit. Besides for other horrible stuff in the essay (we’ll get to that), the actual summit will apparently consist of a bunch of people chosen by Autism Speaks to tell government “what autism says.” One group is absent though: autistic people. Our voice isn’t important to the group that claims to tell people what autism says.

Immediately, several autistic-run organizations sprang into action. I was thrilled to see an organization I’m part of, Association for Autistic Community, quickly decide, YES, this is something we need to speak out about. We joined with ASAN, an autistic-run group that is extremely effective in advocating for the well-being of autistic people, in issuing a joint statement about what Autism Speaks has done.  But we weren’t the only ones to make a statement: Autism Women’s Network made a statement of their own.

Then, we saw a powerful advocate organize a protest of the Summit. From all accounts, it was a successful protest.

See that? In the span of about 48 hours, we’ve (autistic people, that is) issued formal statements and organized a successful protest against an event. But, uh, sure, we’re not qualified to sit at the table for discussions about what to do about the problem of our existence put on by an organization claiming to understand something intrinsic to our being.

I’m proud that our community did this.

But that’s not all we did. Many, many autistic bloggers wrote about the event. Here’s just a few:

Of course some of us did a bit more digging. Lydia discovered that Judge Rotenberg Center was one of the featured exhibitors at the Washington DC Autism Speaks Autism Walk (edit: I thought it was an upcoming walk, but it was a past walk). Lest you don’t know about JRC, you can watch the below horrific video used in a trial against them:

Again, this video is very disturbing, only click if you can handle that. In the video, a kid is shocked for refusing to remove his coat.

Ironically, Autism Speaks previously issued a statement against the use of shock by JRC. Now, they featured them as a resource to parents at their most well-known event, their autism walk. Disturbing indeed. For what it’s worth, the trial ended in a settlement. I’m proud our community stands up to this and continues to fight – and publicized the support given by Autism Speaks to the only school in the USA to use electric shock to discipline students (and, yes, other students get students that had problems in other programs, a common refrain used by people to justify awful behavior).

This morning, another surprise event – John Elder Robison, one of the only (if not the only) autistic voices on an Autism Speaks advisory panel, resigned. He wasn’t the only one. A mom, invited by Autism Speaks, who personally knew Suzanne Wright (one of the founders), spoke out about the hate as well in one of the most powerful pieces written this week.

But this wasn’t all – our other allies have been here too. Parents are fed up with being told that their kid is a horrible, diseased, terrible, a drain on society, and destroying their families. And they’ve shown themselves to be the allies we (and their children need) – and very much in disagreement that they aren’t “living” but merely existing (as, apparently, a family with an autistic family member exists, and doesn’t live, according to Autism Speaks). They’ve all written brilliant texts that show their main worry about Autism Speaks isn’t political gain, but rather the well-being of their child. Autism Speaks hurts their children.

 

(edit: I also came across this after I made the initial post) And then there’s people like Spaz Girl who aren’t parents of autistic or autistics but might be classified as “just an ally” (there is no such thing as “just an ally” – you all are very important). She wrote This is the Week that Autism Speaks Meets its Downfall.

(edit: added to the original post) Special education professionals also are speaking up! Tim wrote, “The Best Argument Against Autism Speaks: A Special Educator’s Perspective.”

(edit: also after I made the initial post) Even the Autism Society of America (historically hostile to autistic people, but this organization has seen tremendous change in the last few years) has made a statement.

I am proud of my community. I’m proud of these allies. I’m proud that there are people in my community who get it. Who understand that slick advertising isn’t enough, that there actually has to be some substance behind saying you care about autistic people.

I’m so damn proud. We don’t need Autism Speaks to speak for us. Thank God.

The Cost of People

Autism Speaks has said we cost society over $2.3 million over our lifetime.  From their recent event about us and without us:

Financially, we estimate it costs 2.3 million dollars to care for one person with autism for their lifetime, and it will be well over $137 billion dollars for all our children.

Actually, Suzanne Wright, one of the founders of Autism Speaks, misquoted her own orgnization’s research, that said:

This research found that intellectual disability plays a major role in the cost of autism to individuals, families, and society as a whole. The costs of autism per year are nearly twice as high on average for children and adults with intellectual disability than for children and adults without intellectual disability, $2.3 million in the U.S. and £1.5 million in the U.K. ($2.4 million) for those individuals who are impacted by intellectual disability compared with more than $1.4 million in the U.S. and £917,000 ($1.46 million) in the U.K. for those who do not have intellectual disability.

They further claim that 45% of individuals with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorders) have intellectual disabilities.  There’s a lot of reasons why this 45% number is inaccurate, but it doesn’t matter to this discussion.  Let’s just assume that Suzanne did new research that found our cost of autism was $2.3 million over our lifetime.

Usdollar100-mediumTheir research hasn’t yet been officially published as far as I can tell, and, thus, not peer reviewed.  So I don’t know the factors that went into deciding what a “cost” is.

For instance, my family has a mortgage payment. Is that a cost? Is it a cost if it is paid for out of Social Security? Is it a cost if it is paid out of employment? What if I rented? If I was in a group home, is that a cost? Is it really a cost to society if someone is being paid with this money, who then uses that money to pay for things like their house?

So let’s look at neurotypicals, while we figure out cost. I would say that US residents cost more than Chinese residents. And I can prove it.

China sets their national poverty line at 2300 RMB per person.  That’s $377 per year, according to Google. I imagine it’s pretty darn tough to live on $377 per year or less per person (somehow 150,000,000 Chinese are making this) but the World Bank says that this is the minimum necessary to live to their standards on, so I’ll take their word for it.

In contrast, the USA’s poverty level, set by the USA government is $23,050 for a family of four, or $5,762 per person (note that different family sizes have different poverty levels).

Now, one could take these apples-and-oranges numbers and say, “Wow, poor Americans cost society 15x more than poor Chinese!” (if you looked at rich Americans and rich Chinese, the numbers would be much more dramatic).

Or you could say this is a bogus comparison. Costs, standards of living, and measurement of poverty differ between the two nations. You can’t compare things that way. But you also can’t say that the American who owns a beat up car (a luxury most Chinese don’t own) is necessarily wasteful – maybe he is, maybe he isn’t (and certainly not all Americans own cars), but regardless he probably doesn’t see his way of getting to work as waste.

Now, I’m not saying China is doing well – obviously when you have 150 million people living on less than $377 a year, there’s a major problem there, and something the rest of the world should care about (although, generally, we don’t).

So, does that American cost world society more than that Chinese? Is this even a valid question to ask?

200px-Carbon_dioxide.svg

Lewis Structure of carbon dioxide, from Wikimedia (Public Domain)

We can try looking at another measure, CO2 emissions. These emissions cost the entire world, not just the country they are created in. Everyone int he world pays for these emissions. So let’s look at China and the USA, the #1 and #2 CO2 emitting countries in the world.

China emits 6.2 tonnes of CO2 per person, according to Wiki in 2009.

The USA emits 17.2 tonnes per person.

So, here, the USA hurts the world about 3 times more than China does, on a per-person basis (of course China has more than 3 times the people so as a country they create more CO2, but they create less CO2 per person).

For what it’s worth, Qatar leads the world in per-capita CO2 emissions at 44.0 tonnes per person, about 2.5x what the US and 7x what China does.

So, is the American not costing the world, while the Qatar citizen is costing the world immensely?

Regardless, how much CO2 cost does the average autistic have?  How does that compare to the successful business executive?  Who really costs more?

What people really mean when they say someone costs society is that someone gets the money that provides for their living through a method that isn’t considered noble or acceptable. It’s noble to be a rich guy who made millions out of selling bogus securities on bad mortgages. Or the guy that knows that a good deal of the people receiving student loans don’t have a chance in hell of actually being able to pay them back, but knows that he can rely on insurance and the government to bail him out. He’s not costing society, even though that student will not be able to purchase a house or start a family because of the crushing loan.

Often people think there is a cost if someone isn’t working. There are 5.1 million stay-at-home mothers in the USA.  That’s 1.7x the number of autistics, according to Autism Speaks! Are they a drain on society? After all, they aren’t working. Yet I never see articles talking about the cost of stay at-home-moms (for good reason).

189px-Lindsey_Graham,_Official_Portrait_2006

Senator Lindsey Graham

Or we can look at people who receive income and services from the government.  In 2011, the average Congressional salary was $174,000 per year.  So, assuming Lindsey Graham made average salary, his 20+ years of congressional service cost us $3,480,000 – not other benefits, which are substantial.  Regardless, it costs us more to have Lindsey Graham in office for just a small portion of Lindsey’s life (20 years is just 27% of a 75 year old estimated lifespan) than it costs for a lifetime of support for an autistic with an intellectual disability, according to Autism Speaks. Assuming a 75 year lifespan, the autistic that “costs” 2.3 million USD will cost, on average, $31,000 per year.  That’s substantially less than the $174,000 we pay the average congressman – 5.6x more than the autistic with intellectual disabilities.

What’s interesting to me is that people allow this type of rhetoric at all. It’s absurd to try to figure out if a Congressman or an autistic person “costs” more. Particularly when cost is a value-laden term – does it cost more if I receive social security and take the bus or if I work and drive a gas guzzling car? If I’m Chinese or American? Do I cost less to society if I create a financial system full of bad loans or if I receive food stamps?

It’s bullshit. The existence of people doesn’t cost society anymore than the need to eat does. You can’t have a society without food. Or people.

 

 

A Little Knowledge is a Good Thing?

We’ve heard it a lot.  We need more awareness.  Whether it’s racism, ablism, homophobia, or something else, it’s about awareness.  Once people understand, they’ll become decent humans.

That’s somewhat true – ignorance does cause a lot of problems.  But there’s a problem with just thinking awareness will solve it.  People who aren’t good at something often think they are – see Dunning-Kruger Effect.  Of course what Dunning and Kruger studied was areas where people already thought they had some understanding – things like humor.  Very few people are completely incompetent at humor (that’s no joke).

Ask an 12 year old who is reasonably good at math if they are good at math, although maybe not quite a genius at it.  Now ask a math professor with years of post-graduate research.  I’ll be the math professor rates himself lower.  He knows a lot better how much math he doesn’t know.  He also probably knows some really, really, really great experts in math.  The 12 year old probably doesn’t.  He probably wouldn’t even define math the same way.

But what if you ask someone about astrophysics?  Or auto mechanics?  I’m not sure, but I know in other commonly-perceived to be difficult tasks – such as chess or computer programming, people generally underestimate their skills compared to their peers – they think others are better than they are, even when they aren’t.  The key is that people focus on their own skills – if they feel reasonably competent at something, they are of course above average, while if they don’t feel competent, then they are below average.  And of course you don’t feel average about things you know nothing about – even if most people also know nothing about them.

How does this apply to disability or other minorities?  I think it explains a ton of mistreatment.  Someone who knows nothing about a minority or disability, and knows it, will probably be decent.  Why?  They’ll listen.  And since everyone with a disability or who is a member of a minority (or both) is unique, that’s important.  Lack of knowledge in this case is actually a good thing.

What happens when someone has had an hour or two of disability awareness, LGBT sensitivity training, or racial relations education?  They now know a lot more than they used to – not enough to actually be useful, but more than they did.  They know more than a lot of people do, and almost certainly more than they think most people know.  They’re feeling pretty good about themselves.

That’s dangerous.

That’s dangerous because it’s exactly then that people make assumptions.  “Oh, I know about blind people.  They want me to tell them where their food is on their plate” (they may, but they also might already know – before you spend 5 minutes explaining, you might ask!).  Meanwhile they will not think of telling the blind person, “Your bathroom curtains are open, so you’ll probably want to close them before you shower.” That wasn’t covered (again, you should ask and not assume!).  But if they asked the blind person, “Do you want any help, and if so, what can I do?” the blind person would probably let them know what they should (or shouldn’t do).

I’ve seen this with LGBT issues – if someone knows the words (What’s a demisexual?  What’s a cismale?  What does “curious” mean when someone talks about their orientation?), then they see themselves as fairly knowledgable.  But of course there’s a lot more to understanding the LGBT community than knowing definitions – people literally spend their lives trying to understand the LGBT community from both the inside and the outside of that community.  Even more significantly, if I know a man is gay, what do I know about his attractions?  It turns out, not much.  Sure, I can probably guess he’s likely more attracted to men than women in an abstract sense, but I have no way of knowing from just knowing he’s gay if he’s attracted to any specific man.  Or if he says he’s straight, that doesn’t mean he hasn’t had consensual homosexual sex.  But too often the thrill of being educated about LGBT issues hides the complexity of real lives.  Someone that knows nothing will probably be more receptive to some of the complexity.

With autistic people, what I fear most are people who have been exposed in very limited situations to autistic people (for instance, worked part time for a short time in a group home or institution).  They don’t know what they don’t know – they’ve seen only a few autistic people in only a few environments.  They’ve heard about them from others that share their primary experience of being in those environments with autistic people.  So it starts a bit skewed.  Add to that, the person now knows a lot more than they did before, assuming they knew almost nothing about autism.  They now have awareness.

Awareness isn’t the same as competence or understanding, however.  They know only a little bit.  Unfortunately, people often think they know more than that.  This goes both ways in the autism community – people generalize about adults on the basis of a child they know.  Or adults with autism, who haven’t had children, generalize about parenting when they have little experience other than having been raised by parents.  A little knowledge is a dangerous thing indeed.

If I want to tell someone about my autism, for any reason, I hope and pray that they don’t know anything about autism.  If they do, I have to figure out what they know and somehow unteach that part of it from them, or at least provide evidence it doesn’t apply to me.  That’s difficult (how can I know what they’ve been taught?).  It can be downright deadly in a medical environment – if the doctor associates autism with crazy, you may receive treatment for “crazy” while your primary complaint is ignored.  A little knowledge is dangerous indeed.

Yet, if I’m in a medical situation and the person has never heard of autism, then I’m in the position to teach them what matters for me.  That’s actually a better place to be in.  I can explain that it makes it hard for me to express that I’m in pain or localize a symptom or make appointments.  Rather than having to teach that it doesn’t mean I’m violent, don’t want to socialize, can’t participate in my own treatment, or whatever else.  It’s a lot more efficient to be the first person to tell someone.  It’s nice when I don’t have to break through the wall of “I already know about this.”

Maybe awareness is good.  But not in small doses.

 

Emotional Age and Maturity

This week’s horrible article by Temple Grandin’s mother contained a lot of unfounded and unsupported assumptions.  I’ve written about the assumptions around connecting late sexual experience with child porn, but there’s another damaging assumption in the article that is worth talking about on it’s own – the concept of emotional age or emotional delay.

People who haven’t studied autistic emotions (either formally or informally) often come to the conclusion, “Autistic people’s emotional development is years behind the development of peers.”  Actually, they usually phrase it as “Children with autism develop emotionally at a slower rate than their peers,” but I’m not going to get into the autistic vs person with autism debate now (others have already explained it).

Essentially, the idea is that a 20 year old autistic might have the emotional development of a 10 year old (or a different age – most advocates of this theory are quick to point out there are differences among autistics) and mature much later than their peers emotionally.

There’s a problem, though: autism is not “persistent childhood syndrome.”  Autism isn’t about developing slower.  It’s about developing differently.  Not different in speed, but at a more base level – different in order of development, different in outcome of development, and different in distribution of strengths and weaknesses.

Before we can talk about those things, we need to talk about other parts of autism.  Autism also involves how we communicate with the world.  An autistic person might, for instance, have significant trouble explaining what they are feeling or what an emotion is like.  That doesn’t mean they have underdeveloped emotions, but simply that they can’t express it.  Emotional language is difficult for a lot of autistic people (myself included), although usually not in the ways people think.  That said, differences in nature, strengths, and weaknesses of communication make people think we have emotional differences that we don’t have.  For instance, how do you show love?  There’s a ton of ways to show someone you love them – anything from saying, “I love you,” to action, whether it’s a hug or whether it’s doing something inconvenient for yourself that you know the other person will enjoy.  It’s not all the same!  But if someone tends to use a form of love expression that differs from what another person might expect, it gets interpreted as “this person doesn’t love me.”  This is true for NTs (neurotypicals) as well as autistics (a lot of relationship counseling of NTs seems to revolve around how to show love for each other), so it only makes sense that autistics might express in ways that baffle or confuse a lot of NTs.  But there’s a difference between baffling expression and lack of the emotion.

That’s not the only difference – another difference is in how we perceive the environment and our base stress levels.  Being in some environments, or being in a situation where you’re under tremendous stress, changes how you interact with people.  For instance, see this presumably non-autistic politician calmly discussing pension reform:

Now maybe the politician in the video is emotionally immature.  But maybe he’s not.  Maybe he’s just stressed and frustrated and lost control of the moment.  This happens to us all (I’m not going to comment on the maturity of the woman behind him responding by laughing – she also is presumably non-autistic) in situations where we are sufficiently provoked or stressed.   Now, imagine that you’re in a lot of pain, under a lot of stress, maybe bullied at school constantly.  Might you not lose your temper and display emotional “immaturity” more often?  Is it really emotional immaturity?  Are you handling your emotions well (considering other things you might do, maybe you are – maybe this is what gave you an outlet for your emotions other than suicide).

But, if an autistic has a meltdown, or can’t handle the current situation, rarely is the focus on her situation.  No, she needs to “learn how to handle her emotions.”  She needs to mature.  Never mind that she might be in pain because of the light and sound around her, that she can’t explain something that’s bothering her due to communication differences, and that others are treating her poorly.  No, she’s at fault to many people.  She’s supposedly immature.

So, now that we know some things that don’t point to lack of emotional maturity, what do we know about autistic emotions?

First, we know that autistic people have trouble expressing emotions – as hinted to above – in ways that NTs find acceptable.  Certainly many people, NT and autistic, can improve how they express emotions.  But it’s not typically seen as lack of emotional development (except by armchair psychologists) in NTs when an NT has trouble with this.  It’s seen as someone who has trouble controlling their emotions, not as someone who is a decade younger inside.  There are studies on this (too often, when talking about something like this, you’ll hear “we need to study autistic people’s emotions.”  I hate to tell this to some people, but we do!).

One of our most common reactions to intense emotion is to basically “hold it in” or suppress our emotions to deal with stress, fear, or uncertainty.  I know people who have seen autistics seemingly “fly off the handle” with no real provocation (that they recognized – in other words, that they had empathy for) will disagree with me, but research says otherwise.  It says that we actually do this a lot, more than neurotypicals.  And that we use less of the neurotypical reappraisal, which can be seen as reanalyzing a situation – did the person try to hurt us, or is there another explanation?  Obviously both strategies have their place (and autistics do both), but autistic people tend to do the suppression more than neurotypicals do.  This isn’t something that leads people towards child porn or causes them to be like children when they are adults (these are both aspects of the horrible Daily Beast article).  Instead, this deals with how we respond to emotions, not what emotions and desires we have.

That gets to the second point – we have the same emotions, but may feel them more intensely.  That makes sense, since it’s well known that we feel other things (like sound or light, for instance) often in more intense ways.  This research has shown that autistic people do have empathy.  Not only do we have it, but we feel it deeper and stronger than neurotypicals in many cases.  Maybe that’s why so many autistic adults are involved in social causes that are largely ignored by the general population (I can name 10 autistic adults I know that are involved in immigration social causes, but I can’t even name one non-autistic adult I know that is – and I know more non-autistic adults than autistic adults).

High empathy doesn’t lead someone towards sex crimes or child porn, nor is high empathy associated with stunted or delayed development.  In fact, high empathy would give someone even more reason – assuming that they didn’t have enough in them already – to avoid child porn and other sex crime.  Couple that with the staggering statistics on sexual abuse of autistic children (in my experience, most of us have been abused as children, and research seems to back me up), and it’s easy to see that, combined with empathy, the vast majority of us would not be drawn to child porn.  We know what it’s like to be the abused child (I’ll also add, to bolster things I’ve already said, that we’ve already learned about children and sex through our abuse, and have no need to learn about sex that way as adults – we were the victims of that already – even if Temple’s mom disagrees).

We also have the other emotions and attractions.  Including sexual attraction.  One thing that is more common among autistic people is homosexuality and other non-heterosexual sexualities.  Research supports this.  However, what research doesn’t support is a link to child pornography.  There are anecdotes and some academic writings similar to the Daily Beast article, but they are generally case studies and hypothesis, and thus not able to be used to draw broad conclusions.  Nobody debates the existence of sexual predators and child porn viewers among autistic people – the question is whether or not there is a link to autism (just because an autistic person does something doesn’t mean autism was a contributing factor).  In the accounts I’ve read of autistic child porn viewers, all of them had one other element: either the person was in an adult relationship (in many cases, married) where presumably adult, age-appropriate sexual activity occurred, or the person had otherwise expressed a sexual interest in adults.  In addition, in most, the person also assaulted or harassed adults.  I say this to confront Temple’s mom’s unsupported hypothesis that autistics, being emotionally undeveloped and thus like children emotionally, seek out images of children.  Clearly even in the academic case studies of autistic adults who view child porn, there’s not a lack of interest in adults – those emotions and attractions are definitely there.  We’re not talking emotional development delay – we’re talking someone who places their self-gratification and unusual desires above society’s rules and other people’s welfare.  That’s not “being childlike.”  It’s being criminal, something autistics and non-autistics both manage to do (ironically we don’t blame a desire to be part of a group facilitating some criminal activity, like some gang activity, on the neurology of the person doing it unless they are non-neurotypical – even though the desire to fit in is important and common for people who have neurotypicality).

Another factor involved with autistic emotion is the social acceptability of expressing our emotions.  Here, I’ll stray a little from research recognizing that personal experience is not something we can draw firm conclusions from (so if you want to criticize something here, THIS is the personal experience part!).  One of the tactics of bullies in my childhood was to provoke me to “tattle” or have an “outburst.”  The bullies were skillful – they knew how to manipulate the situation so that the teacher or authority would see Joel seemingly overreacting, without seeing all the background for why Joel reacted the way he did.  So, for instance, they might tease me all day when the teacher isn’t looking or watching, but when I’ve finally had enough and blow up, the teacher just sees me yelling and screaming at the bullies.  When asked, “Why?” I likely can’t respond coherently or calmly, or I say, “He’s teasing me” to which the teacher thinks, “That reaction is WAY beyond how he should have reacted to being called a name once” (and it would be, if it was once).  So, now, I’m emotionally immature (ironically, the bullies who exploit this are not).

We do experience emotions differently and deeply.  Adults aren’t children, even if the adults have emotional differences.  It might sound good to think of an adult as a child as why the person would be sexually attracted to kids, but that’s not supported by studies of pedophiles (a group that has been extensively studied).  Yes, there are autistic criminals, pedophiles, and child porn viewers.  We’re not all saints, and there are some pretty horrible people among us – just as there is with the rest of the population.  We’re not unique and free from the sins of humanity.  But we’re also not more likely to sin, nor more likely to “act like children emotionally.”  We will act differently than neurotypical adults, that’s for sure.  And there’s a wide variety of difference, but none of that is like a neurotypical child.

Part of fixing the problem of poor sexual education among autistic people involves us treating people as they are, not as we think they are or want to see them.  That’s where this scares me the most – if you think a 20 year old is emotionally a 10 year old, what did you think of them as at 10 years old?  Certainly not a 10 year old.  So, if they were like a 5 year old then, you probably don’t need to think of them as soon-to-begin puberty.  So you get to put off that sex talk that you might give a neurotypical (although, unlike what Temple’s mom says, most people put off that talk for neurotypicals too – they just don’t have the justification; dads are not generally teaching kids about sex, nor are moms – so don’t blame the absent dad for this, as the present dad and the present mom don’t do it either).  But the reason for this talk isn’t to keep your child from becoming a predator as much as to keep him from becoming a victim and to help him as he grows develop the type of relationships that are positive and affirming of everyone involved.  That’s something everyone needs.