Another year, another April; by now we know the drill. This isn’t gonna be some encouraging post asking Autistics to stand up defiant like the one I made last year, though I stand by those encouragements (and granted, the post itself was kind of cringe-worthy, looking back at it – the message was good, but the delivery could have used a touch or two).
However, I’ve decided to start doing an annual review of the month of April, of Autism “Awareness” (or “Beware-ness”) Month, colloquially known as Autistic Acceptance Month within neurodiversity circles, where I will be reviewing some major Autism-related events from April, all the while discussing my own perspectives on said material.
So, without further ado, let us get started.
First off: in similar fashion to last year (and if I recall correctly, the year before), William Shatner, an actor best known for playing Captain Kirk on Star Trek (I haven’t seen much Star Trek as I’m more of a Star Wars fan), once again continued to show his support for Autism Speaks.
I believe we can all agree that Autistic people are pretty decently represented in fandom groups, particularly what are considered the “nerdy” ones, from Star Wars, to Star Trek, and everything in between. For many of us these things may be “special interests”, interests we are passionate about and thus end up learning and knowing a lot about, attaining levels of knowledge far beyond that of many non-autistic individuals.
As such, when Shatner first announced that he was sponsoring Autism Speaks, the Autistic community, particularly Autistic Star Trek fans, quickly moved on Twitter to try to educate him and explain to him why supporting Autism Speaks was a bad idea. Unfortunately, he was rather dismissive of this criticism, dismissing us as a “vocal minority”, moving the goalposts, and, in a typical reactionary fashion, acting as though he was being “bullied”.
This year, however, Bill Shatner doubled down, publicly supporting or defending some rather horrendous things. In this case, electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), better known as “shock therapy”. ECT is a part of ABA, a form of conversion therapy in which, through manipulative tactics based on the dogma of behaviourism, Autistic individuals are coerced into mimicking neurotypicals, at our expense – with the stated goal of “reducing Autistic behaviours”, which basically refers to extinguishing stimming and forcing eye-contact.
I have made other posts on this blog talking about stimming and importance – and more of those posts will be coming over time. ABA is horrible, and it is unfortunate that the ABA lobby still manages to rally such support (same with Autism Speaks, though). However, if Shatner was only supporting ABA, I could at least somewhat understand that he has been taught that this is a good thing. ABA “therapists” are, after all, experts at manipulating and gaslighting people (I mean, they do it for a living), and they continue to, successfully push the idea that ABA is the “gold standard”, only “evidence based” “therapy” for Autistic people, and worse, our only hope at not living horrific, tragic lives (and ironically, being the very reason many of us do live horrific, tragic, and short lives).
Supporting ABA out of ignorance is something the Autistic community at large is working to gradually push back against – but supporting ECT for Autistic people, utilized through ABA, is seriously crossing a line. For one, electric-shocking has been banned in many places, including in the USA, where some centers still use it, such as the Judge Rotenberg Center (JRC), an older ABA center which has somehow managed to withstand multiple campaigns to dismantle its’ use of such torturous aversives.
Secondly, electric shocking people is just plain inhumane, particularly to get them to stop behaviour that neurotypicals deem “undesirable”. This is compounded by the fact that animals are treated better than this. That can be said for ABA as a whole, however, which is as much based upon animal training principles as it is of gay conversion therapy – in fact, some might say that animals, whom are often taught skills like “intelligent disobedience”, are given more independence and autonomy than Autistics.
Seeing a celebrity with such a large number of followers promoting such a dangerous, harmful, and evil practice was disconcerting to say the least, and it was something I did not expect even from him. And when called on it, he continued to dismiss, belittle, and re-tweet us, with the blatant intention of inciting his fans to target and harass those of us who were criticizing him – and harass us they did.
A couple of my friends had to temporarily lock down their Twitter, making their tweets protected in order to shield themselves (to which Shatner screenshotted their tweets to continue to sic his followers on them), and I also had a few exchanges with his fans. Some of them were willing to have a discussion in good faith, which we did – and I and fellow Autistics managed to change a few minds or at the very least, have a productive discussion – which is always nice, especially in a time and environment (such as Twitter) where productive discussion is rare.
The most unpleasant exchange I had was with another senior individual, who, after throwing several sub-par insults, decided to rub it in my face by making a donation to Autism Speaks, and taking a screenshot of him doing it. There were many others who attacked me – most of whom were pretty easy to deal with, but this was one that left me angry for several days. It’s one thing if you disagree with someone on an organization, but to then donate to said organization and rub it in their face (especially when I was demonstrating evidence showing a former executive of their group fantasizing about murdering her Autistic daughter) is beyond deplorable.
Then again, the whole exchange left me feeling angry and uncomfortable, particularly due to people believing that the mother’s attitude was in any way justifiable. It is very concerning that people continue to believe this in spite of the Autistic community’s efforts to kick this mentality to the curb, because it literally kills us.
In the end, many of them, including Shatner himself, blocked me, either because I bested them in a debate, or because I’m not the kind of person to stand around and take nonsense, especially when my friends and comrades are under attack.
In addition to Shatner, there has been a continuing backlash against the neurodiversity movement and the Autistic community. As we gain ground, certain groups seem hell-bent in pushing us back; in trying to show us our “place”.
This has largely manifested through the hate group known as the “Autistic Dark Web”, a group of reactionary, far/alt-right Autistics who portray themselves as self-styled revolutionaries. In a nutshell, they claim that Autistic people should stop acting like “victims” and submit to the status quo, all the while themselves acting like “victims” whenever we speak out against them. Likewise, they claim that we are vile, mean bullies, while several members of their movement have gone out of their way to harass prominent Autistics, often simply for expressing joy at being Autistic.
The dark web opposes the neurodiversity movement, but, as per my previous article addressing the six most common myths about the movement, most, if not all their arguments stem from one of the myths on that list; the most common one being regarding functioning labels. Needless to say, the people on the dark web are mostly Autistics who have grown to support eugenics and curebie rhetoric, but try to justify it by referring to “severe” Autism as opposed to “high functioning” Autism, despite them never truly being able to give a concrete definition for either, as well as ignoring the so-called “severe” autistics who actually support the neurodiversity movement.
The Autistic “dark web”, at the end of the day, has nothing productive or useful in either its’ praxis or criticism. Most of their time is merely spent giving out fallacious “criticisms” of the neurodiversity movement or harassing pro-neurodiversity activists online, and then turning around and acting like they’re the victim.
Next up: ABA. Much of the issues this month that I am talking about are coming from Twitter, and this is no exception. Unfortunately, Twitter can be a rather toxic place for many reasons, and it doesn’t help that people only have 140 characters to express themselves. In this case, Autistics who oppose ABA are generally at odds with self-proclaimed “warrior parents” and ABA “therapists” who are defending ABA, claiming it “works”.
Many of the participants in this new front in what I like to term the “Autistic revolution” are actually from my home province of Ontario, Canada. Ontario’s current government (whom I do not at all support, particularly as a left-leaning person who is deeply concerned by the resurgence of far-right political movements), managed to inadvertently do one good thing, which was scrapping the old Ontario Autism Plan.
Like with most of their other cuts, this was not done out of benevolence or any real motivation other than to give tax cuts to rich billionaires and whatever new fringe agenda Doug Ford has decided to finance, whether it’s cheap liquor, horse-racing, or frivolous changes to Ontario’s logo. Additionally, the fact that our provincial government has also generally cut funds to education and other social services (including disability support initiatives), does not bode well for the future of disabled people at all.
However, the one positive side effect is that the Ford government effectively got rid of the majority of government-funded ABA. Sadly, thanks to the ABA lobby pushing Autistic conversion therapy as the “gold standard” for Autistics, and labeling anything not based upon behaviour analysis as fraudulent or ineffective, and further co-opting other (better) proven methods into their practices (such as AAC usage), Applied Behaviour Analysis was the only “therapy” covered by the previous governments under universal healthcare. So, while cutting funds for Autistic kids might seem terrible, upon examining it more carefully, one realizes that in a sense, it was also kind of good.
In Ontario, and the rest of Canada, Autistic-led activist groups are rising up and gaining ground, which has been excellent. Groups like A4A Ontario and Autistics United Canada are changing the landscape of Canadian Autistic advocacy and pointing things in a more positive, productive direction, and we strive to connect and work with the relevant governments and politicians to create meaningful changes to Autism policies, and to build and engage our local communities.
As is also happening as self-advocacy movements continue to spread, however, is the inevitable clash between us, the ones who should have been taking the lead from the start, and those who have had the power from the start and do not wish to share it. And thus: members of these groups, from “martyr mommies” to BCBAs (Board Certified Behaviour Analysts), to members of other Autism lobby groups, had taken to starting fights with us on Twitter. It is all the typical “you don’t speak for my child!”, “you’re not like my child”, “but ABA helped MY child and you can’t tell me otherwise”, that one might usually expect from ABA apologists, accompanied with excessive levels of verbal abuse and hostility.
Initially, as I generally do, I humoured some of these people, I engaged in conversations with some of them in good faith when possible, and I did my best to civilly educate the general public on why ABA is harmful – however, I still got into the occasional scuffle.
There is a part of me that likes to get into skirmishes now and then; a part of me that somewhat enjoys a good fight; that relishes in the thrill and feeling of battle, of righteous anger. However, April is an exhausting month. In addition to a very volatile environment within the Autism community and growing political tensions, the world itself seems to be turning into a more aggressive and hostile place. From the bombing of churches during religious celebrations, to a concerning increase in hate crimes, a rise in terrorism, and a surge of far-right political movements; from an all-around increase in hate and polarization around the world, to having to bear witness to that cringeworthy Sonic the Hedgehog movie trailer, this month starts to take more of a toll than usual.
When it comes to social media, and this is a lesson I have yet to master – pick your battles carefully. The task to educate the world and solve conflicts simply cannot fall to one person and taking on too many issues at once will leave you drained and ineffective. And if you are being harassed online, as tempting as it is to respond, sometimes you need to block the blatant trolls for your own inner peace. This is something I have trouble with often, but it is something I also desperately need to learn.
I want to at least try to end my review on a positive note, so I will talk about Greta Thunberg, who continues to rise in popularity, particularly as people are starting to acknowledge her Autistic nature, and the role it plays in her activism.
For those unaware, Greta Thunberg is one of the youngest people to be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. She received worldwide attention and fame for initiating a climate strike in her home country of Sweden, subsequently inspiring many other climate rallies around the planet.
The thing that makes me so happy to see Greta doing what she does, is how she is also openly and unapologetically Autistic, and speaks a lot about how being Autistic is what enabled her to see through the lies of society, particularly climate change deniers, and gave her the drive to stand up and do something about it. It was particularly delightful to hear her speak about how she feels that in some ways, neurotypicals are the “strange” ones – a sentiment most Autistics understand quite well. Each time I see another article being written about an Autistic child (or adult) being inspired by Greta’s story, it makes me feel delighted.
As predicted however, though the sheer audacity was still shocking, Greta has received hate now and then – particularly from conservative lobbyists and climate change deniers, some of whom try to spread the lie that she is being exploited (implying that Autistics cannot think for ourselves), or encouraging and spreading hopes that she is triggered into an Autistic meltdown within the public eye so she can be “discredited”.
Greta, however, stands unabated by these attacks, refusing to back down.
And that is an example we must continue to follow every April, and every day of our lives.