The Irresistible Autistic Draw to Child Porn and Numbers Games

Apparently, autistic men are drawn to child porn due to our emotional ages being the same as those of a child.

Uh, no.

First of all, the minute you start talking “emotional age” (or variants of mental age, intellectual age, etc), you’re going down the wrong path.  Someone who has trouble with emotions but has lived with that trouble for two decades is not like a 10 year old.  Period.  The same goes for intellect.  I’m not going to go into that argument now – other than to say these emotional age theories are bogus.  I do have reasons for saying it.

Second, the assumption is that people become pedophiles because people with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) are emotionally immature:

Though now equipped with a full-grown body and full-grown sexual drive, many ASD males are stuck emotionally at a prepubescent age. They look like grown men, but inside they’re only 10 years old. They don’t want adults to show them how sex is done; they want 10-year-olds to show them.

I can assure you, as an autistic adult man, that I didn’t find 10 year olds sexually interesting.  Not at age 10 and certainly not as an adult.  I don’t think I’m in the minority, either.  Developing in a different way, such as learning about sexuality at a later age, does not imply that one is “inside” like one that learned earlier.  And, if I remember my grade school days, the boys wanted to see adult woman boobs just as much as 10 year old boobs, if not more.

In addition, if this theory is true – there is a connection between delayed sexual development and child pornography, we should see that in the demographics when people who view child porn are analyzed.  After all, autistic people aren’t the only ones who might develop differently.  One site on child pornography says this about who child porn users are:

[Child porn users] may come from all walks of life and show few warning signs. In fact, users of child pornography on the Internet are more than likely to be in a relationship, to be employed, to have an above average IQ, to be college educated, and to not have a criminal record.[25]Those arrested for online child pornography crimes have included judges, dentists, teachers, academics, rock stars, soldiers, and police officers.[26] Among the few distinguishing features of offenders are that they are likely to be white, male, and between the ages of 26 and 40, and may be heavy Internet users to the extent that it interferes with other aspects of their lives.[27]

While some of these traits are shared by some autistic men, none are exclusive to autistic men – and some are most definitely not associated with autistic men who are still trying to figure out “how sex is done.”  Note that “lack of sexual experience” isn’t listed.  In fact, presumably, most child pornography viewers aren’t trying to learn about sex since they are already in relationships.

Now I realize this doesn’t prove that child pornography viewing isn’t more common among autistic men.  But I would suggest that the editor and source for the article in Daily Beast should probably confirm their theory rather than wildly speculating on it – particularly since a surface level examination of child pornography shows that it is not a problem linked directly to underdeveloped sexuality.

There are tons of other problems in the article too, such as a badly explained theory on lack of generalization in autistic people causing relationship issues.

That brings us to the second problematic article of the week – Dating on the Autistic Spectrum, on The Atlantic’s website.  This article talks about the difficulties autistic people have dating – but it perpetuates some dating myths in the process.  For instance, the article talks about flirting with random strangers as a part of the dating process.  For some people, it may be – and certainly it may be what someone interested in a partner for a night might do, but it is not what people interested in long-term relationships generally did to meet their spouse.

Most people don’t meet their spouse at bars or other casual encounters with random strangers.  The meet through friends, work, school, or church primarily (not internet sites, either, although that’s probably more effective than bars).  They see and get to know someone in an environment where dating isn’t the primary (or at least only) goal.  Autistic people are no different – it’s not about knowing how to flirt.  It’s about meeting people and finding out that there is a mutual attraction.

Yes, autistic people have trouble with this.  Most of the autistic people I know who are in relationships certainly started dating much later than non-autistic people generally do.  And I find we don’t generally do well with quick flings – most of us want a deeper relationship.  You don’t find that trying to pick up random women you know nothing about!

Part of the problem I’ve seen with autistic dating advice in general is that it’s focused on how to make the other person be attracted to you.  While initial attraction may have a role to play, successful relationships move past that stage pretty quickly.  There has to be something deeper than just “she’s pretty” to base a relationship on.  But rather than talk about this element of relationships, what gets talked about is “How can I show I’m confident to get this pretty girl?”

Certainly, I do think in both sexuality and dating, autistic people get very little useful education.  Sexual education is poor for just about everyone, but for autistic people it’s even worse – too many educators and parents don’t see us as sexual beings (or, if we are, it’s only an urge that needs to be controlled, not something beautiful and wonderful that connects us with others).  And we do need to know not only the mechanics (something that I think would help many men – they generally don’t know what makes a woman enjoy sex), as well as things like contraception, boundaries, and consequences.  Oh, it probably shouldn’t be heterosexual-only focused.

We also need to know about relationships.  But it needs to start with the premise that we’re not all that different from neurotypicals.  If neurotypicals don’t meet each other at bars, why should we?  Where there is differences (we may have fewer relationships, for instance), it’s important to maximize the good things that come along with these differences – a deeper, close relationship is a good thing compared to tons of shallow relationships (note that I’m not saying neurotypicals have shallow relationships and lack deep ones).

I think, too, a huge part of being an attractive person to someone else is to have a full life without the other person – too much relationship education is focused on the goal of partnering.  It needs to be focused on the broader goal of a full life, with romance possibly being one part of it.  While someone is waiting for the right person, they can be enjoying and exploring life – but too often the focus becomes only the relationship, and thus the person is trying to find something to complete them, rather than finding someone to share what they (and the other person) have in life.

We should be teaching people that just having a relationship won’t complete you, won’t make you feel better, and won’t improve your life.  You need to find these things yourself – sure, a partner may provide insight and light and growth in these areas, but ultimately it’s not their job to fill a gap to make you whole.  We need to be teaching what kinds of relationships are beneficial and satisfying, and what ones are not.  We need to focus on things other than “numbers games” to get a partner.  Of course people are probably going to respond to this and say, “Joel, that’s easy for you to say.  You’re married.”  I recognize that, and I recognize the pain of loneliness (which is not only due to lack of a partner).  All I can say is that it is possible to enjoy life – I enjoyed my life before I met my wife.  I know that other people may have different desires (and, again, it needs to be okay for people with no desire to be accepted fully too).  I hope people find ways to be happy and enjoy life.  But I’d start with a focus not on how to seduce women (it’s typically men that are taught seduction), but rather on what constitutes successful relationships.

Akathesia is no big deal, right?

10mg Haldol Tablet

10mg Haldol Tablet

Let’s say you go into the emergency room, screaming in pain. You let the doctor know that there are drugs that will help you, but, unfortunately, like many pain drugs, they also are abused by some, so the ER doesn’t want to give you those drugs (another part of our war on drugs that has collateral damage – but heck, it’s only sick and disabled people, so who cares – we’re supposedly making a difference in drug addition, after all, and sacrificing the sick and disabled is worth that [yes, sarcasm]).

Then you make a mistake. You mention a past mental diagnosis – you know, something like autism. But it could have been any number of other labels – depression, anxiety, OCD, MPD, PTSD, etc. After all, you assume that they are asking all these medical questions of your past to help you, right? No, they’re trying to label you. And once crazy, always crazy. Even if complaining about something completely unrelated to crazy. Like pain.

But, with this new information, the ER staff says, “Oh, he’s crazy. That’s why he’s screaming. We need to calm him down.” NOT “we need to relieve his pain.”

Maybe they do some tests (more on that in a bit) on the off chance they are wrong. But while waiting for those results, let’s get the person to quit screaming. Now there are two ways of doing that: we can actually treat the complaint or we can do some other random shit. Treating the complaint is boring medicine. So let’s do random other shit.

Let’s say the person I’m describing above was given Haldol and told it was “for pain”. No, it was to sedate and shut him up. But crazy people don’t need to give consent, right? The result of this was a significant bought of akathesia – basically the person wanted to die right then and there. In other words, the Haldol made him crazy. But of course that’s not what that’s seen like – what it’s seen like is they need more sedation, not that they are having a bad reaction to Haldol (despite bad reactions being common – more on that later, too). Crazy people act crazy. It’s self evident. Oh, not just crazy. But also drug seeking probably because they are an abuser. Lots of crazy people are, after all.

And don’t even think about telling them it makes you react bad. The only reason you’ve been given Haldol is because you’re crazy, and just saying you don’t need or want it – or that it does bad shit to you – is proof you need it. Great, huh? Don’t believe me? Read M.D.O.D., which I quote:

If I read on the triage sheet that you are “allergic to haldol” I will duck and dodge and try not to see you. If someone has given you haldol you are either schizophrenic, in which case you need it or something like it and it’s really too bad you are allergic to it, OR, you are a freak, and one time when you were completely bat-shit crazy in the E.D. six people held you down and you got a nice intramuscular injection of this neuroleptic drug. You didn’t like it because it made you shut the fuck up and feel unpleasant hence you tell people you are allergic to it. No worries though, I’ve got more up my sleeve if you freak-out again. Lot’s more, but I’m not saying what so you can’t tell me you are “allergic” to it. Haldol, if you are crazy it makes you sane, if you are sane it makes you crazy. Beautiful.

Really, that’s a doctor posting something I think he thinks is funny and amusing. Clearly he hasn’t experienced the side-effects, nor does he see his patients as even remotely human. I wish this type of doctor was rare, but it’s not.

On those side-effects, read about one form of the drug. If you’re not willing to give someone a painkiller in the ER because of possible risk of bad things happening (contributing to drug abuse), why the heck would you give this, when you don’t have a patient relationship and the ability to monitor? Simple: They are crazy and you don’t give a fuck.

Of course that Haldol causes akathesia isn’t particularly new news. Here’s a 1984 study – yes, 30 years ago – 40% of patients experienced akathesia within 6 hours of a single dose. Within 7 days, 75% did. And it was severe – life threatening – akathesia in many cases. And for many people, NOTHING could treat the akathesia. Really about all you can do is sedate, wait for the drug to leave the bloodstream, and maybe restraint so they don’t act on their strong desire to die. That the doctor caused. The best quote in the abstract? “We believe these tallies to be important because akathisia causes much misery and often goes undiagnosed.”

But of course if you’re a hospital giving people Haldol and then walking them out the door, and the person kills themself a few hours later, that’s because they were crazy. You tried to help, after all.

I probably should take a minute and define akathesia. It’s life threatening – see this British Medical Journal case study (also drug induced, as are most cases of akathesia). Akathesia is hyper-arousal, typically also accompanied with severe restlessness and inability to sit still. This is seen as craziness of course. Unfortunately, much of the writing talks about akathesia being “uncomfortable”. It’s not uncomfortable. It’s life threatening. It can be the worst anxiety you’ve ever experienced. That’s not a comfortable thing – you just want it to stop.

Of course akathesia isn’t the only side effect of these drugs (and Haldol isn’t the only one, nor are newer drugs significantly different in side-effects, despite the best attempts of marketing to say otherwise).

Oh, the thing that they initially treated with Haldol? For the person I’m basing this article on – with many personal details changed – one of those “long shot” tests came back. Meningitis.

Haldol is not a treatment for meningitis. And the person’s symptoms were consistent with meningitis. But the Haldol nearly killed the person prior to getting proper treatment for meningitis. But until a supposed crazy person can prove their illness has nothing to do with being crazy, everything is because they are crazy. Everything. And they’re a drug seeker too.

An Anniversary

Yesterday was my wife and I’s forth wedding anniversary. It’s been a wonderful time. We have one of many autistic marriages we know of – it’s clear we can form relationships just fine, thank you very much. I also think the basis of our marriage – honesty and communication – would help out a lot of other relationships among people who aren’t necessarily autistic.

I’m also thankful that in the USA, my federal government is recognizing same-sex marriages. That removes some of the taint of unequal treatment of others from my marriage, and thus makes my marriage more beautiful. Others are for the first time experiencing what straight couples have experienced for years – being treated like people.

Yet others still have trouble getting married – group homes deny people the ability to live together, people may live in states our countries that refuse to recognize gay marriage, or there may be any number of any reasons. My wife and I spent some time yesterday thinking of this.

We also spent some time thinking about the people who are single, either through choice or because they have not yet met their future spouse. There’s a ton of discrimination against single people – society assumes we should be married, even when we aren’t (and may or may not want to be). So we also remembered those people.

Our desire should be everyone’s desire: we want to see people happy (obviously without harming others). Whatever that ends up meaning.

Coy Matthis – and Excuses to Exclude

I wanted to write a bit about a big local news story. But I also wanted to write about how different populations (in this case, trans people and autistic people) face too many of the same stigmas and excuses when we’re excluded.

As an autistic person, I’ve seen plenty of excuses to exclude. Of course we’re not the only group of people excluded from places and activities, as a long history of exclusion in the USA demonstrates. Today, one group that frequently loses their rights is transgender people. As autistic people, we should be concerned anytime anyone’s rights are infringed – we know what it is like.

Coy Matthis is a (now) second grader. She successfully brought a complaint against the Fountain-Ft. Carson School District (Fountain is a town directly south of Colorado Springs, home of Focus on the Family and several other right-leaning political-religious organizations). Her complaint was that the school district prohibited her, a transgender girl, from using the girl’s bathroom, and suggested (initially) that she used the boy’s bathroom, or, (later) a staff restroom.

Predictably, the Division of Civil Right’s decision (pdf) angered a lot of people, with predictable complaints, as it affirmed Coy’s right to use the girl’s bathroom. As you read through some of the complaints I’ve seen below, as I paraphrase them below, think about what other populations you’ve seen these complaints used against. This is one reason it’s important to ally ourselves with other communities – their struggle is remarkably similar to our struggle, so it’s useful to learn from each other. Of course Coy and others like her have plenty of different struggles than autistic people generally have, but there are some commonalities even where the specifics are different.

I don’t believe she’s really trans, her parents are using her

This argument comes down to “I don’t believe her.” How many times have we heard that about autistic people in the autism community? The minute an autistic speaks out against something someone is saying or doing to autistic people, we learn that we aren’t really autistic. Denial of our identity is a pretty basic way of trying to silence an opponent. And plenty of autistics are told that they are only pretending to be autistic.

But, that aside, I’ll make one suggestion: if you know a 6 year old boy (Coy was 6 at time of the bathroom ban), see if you can get him to wear girl’s clothes to school, tell people he’s a girl, and otherwise do “girl things.” I’ll be mightily impressed if you can do this. After all, society strongly encourages gender stereotype conformity.

How can a 6 year old know she’s trans?

Likewise, we’re (autistics) are too often dismissed when we relate our experiences interacting with the world. “How can you be bothered by a fluorescent light?” It’s basically, “My experience was nothing like yours. I never went through being trans at 6, so I can’t see how that’s possible. I never was bothered to the point of pain by a fluorescent light, so you’re making it up.”

The answer to this question turns out to be pretty easy. From a recent American Academy of Pediatrics (not to be confused with the American Academy of Pediatricians!) policy technical report (pdf) on treating LGBT children:

Awareness of gender identity happens very early in life. Between ages 1 and 2 years, children become conscious of physical differences between the 2 sexes. By age 3, children can identify themselves as a boy or a girl, and, by age 4, gender identity is stable. In middle childhood, gender identification continues to become more firmly established, reflected in children’s interests in playing more exclusively with youngsters of their own gender and also in their interest in acting like, looking like, and having things like their same-sex peers.

Clearly, children know they are boys or girls at a young age. When that knowledge is significantly different than the apparent sex of the body, to the point where the person can’t accept living according to the stereotypes of their body, it’s a serious – potentially life threatening – problem (it can create such unhappiness that people feel suicide is their only way of dealing with this). The solution to this problem is to live as you are, not as people might want you to be. This, in Coy’s case, was confirmed medically through her doctors and therapists. I imagine the “Is she really?” question crossed these experts’ minds. I also imagine they investigated that and got a good answer. Probably a better one than someone without knowledge about gender identity can come up with, particularly without knowing Coy!

Finally, again, ask a random six year old if he’s a boy or girl. Hopefully you’re not surprised that the child provides an answer quickly (well, unless the child may be questioning, in which case it’s very healthy). Children generally know what they are. Really!

Boys have Penises, Girls have Vaginas

We have expectations about “obvious” things. Lots of people have expectations about autistic people – “They don’t talk” or “they couldn’t live without 24×7 help” are two obvious ones (I’ll note that the 24×7 help isn’t something people get even in institutions, but that’s not the point of today’s post, so I’ll move on). It’s another way to say, “NO, you aren’t. You’re what I think you are.”

I’m not sure where Arnold’s kindergartener learned about penises and vaginas, but as the decision by the Division of Civil Rights states, it’s a bit more complex than that. The decision cites the presence of intersexed people as examples of people that don’t conform to the overly simplistic “boys have penises, girls have vaginas.” Enforcing some sort of uniform standard is yet another way of dismissing someone’s identity. “You’re what I think you are. I know better than you. Or your parents. Or your doctors. Or the State of Colorado. Or the US Department of State” (all of the above recognize Coy as a girl). I’m going to pick the sex trait *I* think is important to determine your gender (note that gender and sex are different – I’ll mention that later).

It’s a way of saying, “There can’t possibly be any girl who has a penis, because, well, I say so, that’s how I’m defining girl. No penis.” (Ironically these same people probably would pick a different trait if Coy was ever to have genital reassignment surgery – part of the proof that they aren’t really concerned about genitals nearly as much as making sure they voice their disagreement with the person’s identity) That simplistic, genital-based thinking not aligned with most current research or thinking on gender. Just as someone can believe man-made pollution has no or extremely little impact on climate, you can believe whatever you want about gender. But that doesn’t make you right. With the vast degree of diversity in the human condition, it’s pretty hard to say anything with absolutes, particularly with something as complex as gender. We might all like absolutes (penis = boy, XY = boy, or whatever else), but absolutes just don’t fit the realities of humans. We’re complicated. And trying to make it simple might make you seem smart to yourself, but really exposes your ignorance.

Ah, we’re not discriminating on the basis of gender, we’re discriminating on the basis of sex

Again, autistic people see this type of hair-splitting. We’re told, “We’re not refusing to hire autistic people, we’re refusing to hire people with (insert some autistic trait).”

Likewise, trans people face this as a result of sloppy language used by politicians, lawyers, and the general public.

Quick, if you’re asked if you’re “male or female”, should that question be entitled “sex?” or “gender?” If you said gender, you’re wrong. Gender is identity and/or expression (depending on context). Man, woman, girl, boy are words to describe gender. It’s how you interact with society, which generally doesn’t involve genitals or chromosomes (I don’t ask someone for a genetic test before calling her “Ms” or ask someone to drop their pants before I call them “Sir”). Sex, on the other hand, is biological (and complex!). It’s the combination of traits, such as brain structure, gonads, genitals, secondary sex traits (height, bone structure, muscle structure, fat distribution, breasts, baldness, voice pitch, etc), hormones, and chromosomes – any one of which can point towards a different sex than the others (hence why it is complicated!). So, if you’re interested in a person medically, you may want to know their sex, but if you’re interested in whether you call the person “sir” or “ma’am,” you’re interested in gender (and then you should ask “man or woman” generally, not “male or female”, or better yet, allow the person to fill in the blank in case they don’t identify either way).

Unfortunately for Coy, Colorado, in addition to making transgender a sexual orientation (huh? Trans people are straight, gay, bi, and otherwise – it’s like making transgender a skin color, it makes no sense), confuses sex and gender throughout its laws, to the point where the Civil Rights Division concluded they are synonyms and the meaning has to be discerned through context. Both parties (the school district and Coy’s lawyers) agreed that sex and gender are distinct. But of course our laws are muddy, because legislatures are not quite so clear. Other examples are the Colorado “Change of Sex” form which is used to record a change on Colorado ID cards and driver’s licenses. The State form titled “Change of Sex” doesn’t, outside of the title, ask about the person’s sex. It asks for the person’s gender! Or, the famous, “One man, one woman” standard for marriage. They don’t really mean man or woman (gender), they mean one male, one female (sex). Courts have all agreed that they mean sex, even when they said man and woman (and didn’t define what makes someone a man or a woman) – it was a ban on same-sex, not same-gender marriage.

This is unfortunate because you have statements in law that allow creation of some single-sex (or single-gender, depending on the regulation or law – both terms are used) facilities. For instance, having a “men’s bathroom” is not illegal in Colorado, but the legislature absolutely intended to make it illegal to prohibit trans men from using it (even female men). So, is it sex or gender discrimination to ban a man from the men’s room, when single-sex (or is it single-gender) facilities are allowed?

It turns out that the saving grace for trans people is that the law is otherwise clear – the law was clearly intended to allow trans people to use a bathroom that matches their identity. But there’s going to be a lot of pointless debate in the future due to imprecise language. While advocates might agree that women need to be treated like women on paperwork and in laws, we probably should ensure we don’t muddy the waters by letting laws pass using the word “sex” when “gender” is meant, or vise-versa. The argument could have been avoided with precise language.

The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few…

Okay, it makes for a good movie. But it makes garbage public policy. This argument was essentially the argument used in every single case of widespread discrimination in the USA. Why were Americans that had Japanese ancestry locked away in interment camps? Because trampling on their rights was seen as an acceptable price to pay for the illusion of security it gave the majority of citizens. It’s today used against autistic people to argue for segregation in school or institutionalization.

This argument used towards trans people implies that use of a bathroom by a trans person (or whatever other right they might have) is somehow interfering with the rights to another. There’s this idea that just being in a bathroom or other place with someone with different genitals is somehow hurting the other person – that it’s an infringement on rights. This is probably only true if you value a “right to discriminate”, which sadly some do value. The only right violated is your right to violate someone else’s right.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I would hope the school would do something about two male boys showing each other their penises in the boy’s room rather than using the room for it’s intended purpose. You go in there to do your business. And by all accounts, that’s exactly what Coy did – her business and nothing more. Now if someone was showing their genitals, you deal with that. It is inappropriate behavior to do that in public restrooms, but it’s equally inappropriate if it is two boys (with penises) doing it. Or two female girls.

And there is a solution for the person who really does feel uncomfortable (no students reported feeling uncomfortable with Coy, it should be noted; it was a couple of school administrators that felt uncomfortable with the idea of Coy using the girl’s room). You let them use a more private facility. Problem solved – now both kids can pee in peace.

She can use the boy’s room…or the staff bathroom, so she can pee

Again, this is used in other areas of discrimination. With autistic people, we’re told that there are other places we can, other activities we can sign up for, etc. We can be somewhere else, just not here. So it’s all cool, right? Of course not.

There’s more to bathrooms than just peeing. While it’s not a place to wave your genitals around in front of others, it has a social component – actually several of them. People do socialize in bathrooms (particularly, from what I hear, women). And, more importantly, bathrooms have a gender confirmation purpose. Some people are violently attacked simply for not following society’s expectations for their presumed sex. Sometimes someone will watch someone use the bathroom, just to determine, “Is that person a man or a woman?” The door they use tells them. If they use a third door, or a door not in conformance with their expression, that confirms, “This person really isn’t a woman, ‘he’ is a man” rather than, “Oh, this person might just be a tall woman.” Someone that already drew a conclusion may not be swayed by this, but for people that were unsure, this can confirm or exclude that a person is dressing and acting appropriately. Equally bad, if people thought the person was a woman, and had no doubt about her being a woman, but she uses the men’s room (or a third bathroom), now she’s obviously and visibly different – and very likely the conclusion will be, “She’s not a real woman.” That’s a risk to her. (it can work the same way for trans men) It’s a risk she should evaluate, not someone else.

Finally, asking any student to do something different just because of who they are (rather than a choice they make), such as using a third bathroom, will say to other students, “This person is different.” Now, difference isn’t bad in itself, but too often that message is communicated too. In this case, the message is, “This person isn’t a real girl.” That contradicts the message the school was properly trying to send when it used feminine pronouns and otherwise treated the girl as a girl.

I don’t think I could ever understand what it is like for someone who has went through pain of being trans, and having a body that didn’t match their being. But I imagine it’s incredibly humiliating and triggering to be told, “No, I think you’re really something else.” A life of people not accepting who you are probably becomes very painful to many. It implies that the trans person is a liar, cheat, fake, evil, sinner, and whatever else. Imagine the pain that it must feel like to have people constantly remind you that they don’t see who you are. Imagine that someone has chosen to live who they really are, not the lie that was killing them, only to be told they are wrong for choosing life over death.

What about safety?

Again, this happens for autistic people. People have stereotypes about what is safe and what isn’t. Someone screaming in a meltdown is “unsafe”, whether or not they intend to do violence. As is someone saying things that an autistic person might to an authority, like, “What you’re doing isn’t safe, it could get you hurt if someone didn’t like what you were doing” (something an autistic person I know did to someone without authority or training who was trying to enforce zoning codes). It feels like a threat, either the meltdown or the concern about a person’s safety. So it must be. Even when it’s not.

Likewise, discussion about bathrooms always comes around to safety. There is an idea that a rapist or molester would never rape or molest someone with the same body parts as themself, and would never enter a place where he or she shouldn’t be – but once you let them in, they’ll now rape or molest. This is problematic for a bunch of reasons, such as assuming that people who have the “wrong” parts would only be in some places to cause problems. But it’s also wrong – we still have extremely strong laws to protect people against rape and molestation. They aren’t always applied or used, but the laws themselves are generally pretty strong and carry severe penalties. If that’s not going to keep someone from doing wrong, no sign on the door will.

Even more significant, however, is who’s safety is seen as important to protect. The idea is that this hypothetical wrong-bathroom-rapist (I know of no case where this has actually happened – where someone raped someone after entering a bathroom and claimed he or she had the right to be in a bathroom because he or she was trans) is a bigger concern than the safety of trans people (who are raped, molested, beat, and killed for using the “wrong” bathroom). The concern wasn’t about making Coy comfortable and safe (part of that is showing that she’s normal and a real girl, not a fake or liar in need of correction). It wasn’t empowering (by letting Coy and her parents make decisions about what is safest for her). No, it was treating people like Coy as the threat – if she uses the bathroom, then people are unsafe because hypothetically someone else might. So the threat needed to be removed.

Likewise, forcing Coy to use a different bathroom doesn’t make her safe either. While a private bathroom may be more safe than a shared bathroom, it can also be less safe. It’s more safe when it’s a non-stigmatizing option that everyone might (and do) use, but it’s less safe when it serves to “out” someone or communicate she isn’t a “real” girl.

If you’re really worried about everyone’s safety, then worry about it (start by giving people privacy in anyplace where they may be partially or fully undressed, privacy even from people with the same sex parts). It means also worrying about rapists that have the same genitals as their victims. Otherwise, it’s just an excuse.

Other Excuses

I’m sure there are other excuses. All of the above were excuses I recall hearing, either in the formal determination by the Civil Rights division, or by commentators about this. The reality is that none of them get to the root of the problem: they are justifications, not the real problem. The real problem is dislike for how someone else lives their life. The excuses are simply attempts to justify bad behavior on the part of the person making them.

Hiring Autistic Employees

It’s all the rage for companies such as SAP to seek out autistic employees for software development or testing positions. But, when I read about this trend, I have mixed feelings. It’s an improvement from the charity model where we’re hired for, in general, only low paying jobs (link via NFB) or to do jobs that only exist as a form of adult day-care.

And I do think autistics can be good software people! I’ve worked in computers since I first started working and I do think my autism makes me a good worker – I think it gives me a different insight into how things work, a different point of view. I think it’s good for employers to recognize that.

So, people being paid good wages for software development or testing is a good thing. That said, I do get a bit nervous anytime a company starts seeking to specifically hire a minority group – often wages are less than the prevailing wage, a charge that has been leveled against the US software industry’s usage of foreign workers on H1B visas. After all, someone might be willing to take a less-than-fair wage if it is either more than they make in their home country or if it is in a location want to be at, but couldn’t normally achieve. In other words, the competitive wage market pays people less if they have a harder time getting employment (after all, not every company is is interested in H1B visa holders). Do you know who else has a harder time getting employment? Oh, yes, autistic people!

Now I’m not saying that SAP or others are paying autistic people less – I really don’t know. But it’s certainly something ASAN and similar organizations should closely monitor. We should not become a cheap form of highly productive labor (albeit cheap for SAP is nothing like cheap for Goodwill). So let’s keep the pressure on to make sure we’re treated right, not as a new low-cost employee class. But this is not the main thing that bothers me with the autistic employment programs.

There are other things that bother me more. First, most of these programs are “trials”. Rather than creating employment situations where employees with disabilities can succeed (often required under today’s laws for all jobs), the companies feel the need to prove that we’re not only productive, but that we’re more productive than other employees. What happens if we’re not? What happens to the autistic person who isn’t? Certainly, we have some extremely talented people in our community. But at the same time, not every autistic is going to be better than the average NT at software testing or any other random job.

That’s the second thing that bothers me. It substitutes the old “we can’t do anything” myth about autistics with one of “but there are geniuses among autistics” idea. While, absolutely, there are geniuses among autistic people, I suspect that we have tons of people who can work but probably won’t quite be considered a genius. They might not have a skill that closely aligns with a highly commercially valuable occupation, like software testing. They may be like anyone else walking down the street. They might be the greatest garbage truck driver in some sanitation company’s employ, but they might also be an average garbage truck driver! That’s not a bad thing – my guess is that most of the sanitation company’s drivers are average – and that’s plenty good to make good money for the company.

So I don’t like the idea we have to be geniuses. We shouldn’t have to be.

I also don’t like the idea that we can employee autistics as software engineers, but positions as garbage truck drivers are ignored.

But, finally, more than the above, I want to see all companies examine their culture and practices to see how they are excluding people from employment for reasons other than job skills. I don’t know if SAP’s internal culture is good or not (I hope it is), but plenty of software companies could expand their doors to women, LBGT people, older people (meaning “older than 25” in some cases!), and, yes, autistic people, by simply getting rid of some of the cultural garbage – as others have written. I imagine other industries could do similar things.

We don’t need companies to seek out autistic people to work. We’re not being denied jobs generally because we’re diagnosed autistic or we have “autist” stamped on our forehead, so we don’t need that targeted. We need the things that keep us from getting work targeted. Why not have jobs for people who have trouble working the 9-to-5 schedule, rather than calling that an “autistic” job (some autistics might need that change, others don’t, and certainly plenty of unemployed non-autistics would work if there was more flexibility in scheduling for positions). We’re being denied jobs because we come across badly in interviews, don’t fit the normal environment, are too much trouble to deal with, or we don’t fit the “culture.” We need the companies we already have, with jobs unfilled, to take a good hard look at their culture and learn to be a bit flexible with everyone. We need companies to quit forcing people into a certain mold (which typically has nothing to do with what they do – what does having a brightly lit office have to do with writing computer code, for instance?) and fight their employees over stupid stuff (like an employee that finds light painful). We need companies to look at their managers and figure out, “Are these people treating our employees good? Even employees that don’t socialize and interact the same way? Even employees that might need an occasional workplace adjustment?” We need companies to quit violating the ADA (in the USA; substitute your local law outside the USA) and other laws, and instead embrace not only the law but also the spirit of the law. We need companies recognizing that not everyone is cut out to work a 40 hour-per-week job, but that person that can work 20 hours is still worth hiring and not just outright excluding.

If you want to make work good for autistic people, and encourage autistic employment, here’s some things to start on:

  • Do you accommodate people who ride public transit and are thus sometimes late? Is your company close to a public transit hub? Do you have accommodations to help me get home if I stay late or work shifts?
  • How about medical care? Does it start on day one? Does it exclude any pre-existing conditions (thank you Obama for fixing most of that)?
  • Once a disabled person starts making money, they often will lose government benefits. If they lose their job, it may be a while before they can convince agencies that they are still in need. How can you reassure the disabled person that the risk of working for your company is worth it, that their life (literally) is not at risk?
  • Can I call in sick because I’m overloaded? Can I go home early for that reason?
  • Speaking of health, what if I’m not perfectly healthy? What if I need more than the typical amount of time-off?
  • How am I going to manage my home, personal needs, and work? A neurotypical person might struggle with this, but an autistic person exhausted from work may go home and straight to bed – without dinner – because of the stress. You might say it’s not your problem, but it is what keeps some of us from working!
  • How about communication and meetings. Is your culture meeting-centric? Can it handle someone that needs space and quiet? Do I really have to go to 6 hours of meetings a day (like many technology people, for instance)?
  • Is it okay for me to skip the company social events? Or do I get pressured to come lest I not be a “team player”
  • What buzzwords are you into? (For software shops, I’ll give a hint: agile isn’t necessarily enjoyable for anyone, but particularly not for many of us)
  • If I complain about noise, light, or smells that don’t bother any other employees, will you believe me and do something about it? Or will you tell me that you don’t have any way of fixing it? What if I end up needing a private office (you know, that mythical thing with a door)?
  • How does your training work? What if I don’t learn the same way that the other 99% of your employees learn? What if I need to you to train differently?
  • If I am getting bullied by coworkers or a boss, will you do anything? Will you do it before I have to go to HR? Will I get penalized when I do go to HR?
  • Do you expect me to do the job just like everyone else, even if one part of the job is something I’m really good at and another part is something I’m really bad at? Or can I be put in the position where I’m doing what I’m good at without failing at the stuff I’m bad at?
  • Can you assign me work in a clear way? If you expect me to use “common sense” meaning “figure out what I should have told you,” I might not do great.
  • If I’m overloaded or provoked, and do something unusual but not dangerous, are you going to react in fear and consider it a safety risk, or are you going to actually figure out what I need to succeed?

I’m sure there are other things. But these things do matter. And, yes, they are complex. It’s hard to do this.

But let’s focus on that. Instead of finding the autistics that fit well into your culture and advertising the “autistic friendly” jobs, let’s find ways to make the culture inclusive of as many people as possible – including the autistics that have the skills and desire to work, but can’t get in the door anywhere. These aren’t the easy-to-hire autistics who can fit into a standard 9-to-5 office environment (sorry, we have an 8-to-5 environment in most places) but also the people that can’t find for all sorts of other reasons – not because the word “autistic” is on their resume, but because they interact differently socially, have sensory differences, don’t typically multitask great, and may have skill patterns with a different set of peaks and valleys than typical employees.

Hopefully SAP and others are doing that (and if so, I am thrilled!). Let’s hold them accountable to make sure.