Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Dangerous Assumptions

proud parents
Photo © Lucy Downey | Flickr / Creative Commons
[image: Two Canada geese swimming with a fluffy baby gosling.]

Julia Bascom

There is this thing that happens sometimes.

Parent has an autistic child. Autistic child doesn’t speak, or their speech isn’t an accurate window into what they are thinking. Autistic child is presumed to be very significantly intellectually disabled.

Years later, a method of communication is found that works for the child, and it turns out that they are in fact very smart. Very smart! The parents are overjoyed. They begin talking about presuming competence, the least dangerous assumption, that not being able to speak is not the same as not having anything to say.

They are so, so excited.

And they start talking about all the incorrect assumptions they had. If we’d known, they say, we wouldn’t have done X. If we had known they could read, think, hear us.

And it’s a big problem, because the way they talk… they think the problem was that they treated their child like they were intellectually disabled, and they weren’t. But that’s not the problem. The problem is that they thought their child was intellectually disabled, and so they didn’t treat them like a person.

These revelations, about presuming competence, human dignity, and the least dangerous assumption—they don’t apply only to kids who are secret geniuses. They apply to everyone. They are the most important for the kids who really do have intellectual disabilities, who really can’t read or use full sentences and who really do need extensive support. The people who came up with these terms came up with them for a population where there is very little doubt that significant disability is a factor. These terms don’t mean assume they aren’t actually disabled. These terms mean assume they are a person, and remember what you don’t know.

When the neurodiversity movement first got its legs, oh so many years ago, we got a LOT of pushback from people who thought we were denying disability. And we had to be clear that we meant everyone. And I worry, more and more, that certain very academic circles have left that behind, in practice as much as in theory. It makes liars out of the rest of us, and it makes a lot of work very, very difficult.

If I told the parents in question that I am thinking about this, they wouldn’t understand. They’re not saying intellectual disability doesn’t exist, they would say. But the truth is, they’re either saying that, or they’re saying thank god, it wasn’t my kid.

And it’s a slap in the face, every time.


Originally published at juststimming.wordpress.com. Sincere thanks to Julia for allowing us to share it here.

Friday, June 7, 2019

How Being a Minority (of Mixed Race) on the Autistic Spectrum Shaped My Life

Emanuel Frowner

Emanuel Frowner (photo courtesy the author)
[image: A smiling mixed race man with short black
hair in a natural style, and a mustache. he is wearing a
collared orange-and-blue Knicks pullover.]
I grew up mostly in the Bronx with my dad and my grandmother, and I still live there. The neighborhood was dangerous during my childhood because of fighting and drugs—a few people were killed. Therefore, I could not go out alone (until I was 17) and my folks were very protective of me. I would see my mom on the weekends. Sometimes, I would hang out with my siblings (with my folks). They had a different mom than I did, but we had the same dad and grandmother. Even though my grandmother looked very white, she called herself black, but my dad did not agree with her on that. My mom called herself black as well.

I was very quiet, and I would stutter sometimes.  My grandmother told me that this was because I think faster than I talk. She also told me that a still tongue keeps a wise head. I took these as compliments.

I went to an elementary school right near where I lived. At first, I did some mischievous things like breaking forks. During a test, I bubbled in all of the choices and the kids started saying that I was all wrong. The teacher erased them. My grandmother found out about this and she was not happy. At that point, I started doing a lot better and I began getting good grades on my report card. I kept working hard and with the help of my folks, I was named student of the month. This was an honor for me and it made me feel proud.

This did not prevent me from being bullied by other students and teachers just because I was different, which led to my dad homeschooling me from the 6th grade until I got my GED in 2000.  Being homeschooled helped me excel academically. It also helped me develop a strong work ethic, and it helped me to think outside the box.

Another reason my dad homeschooled me was because he did not want me to be fed nonsense. My dad did not want me to get a diagnosis that would put me in a box, or have a label so others could categorize me. He also did not want my brilliance and sensitivity to be overlooked, or want me to be marginalized to the point where it would do irreparable damage. This was a culturally specific issue (which is described later in this essay) as well as a generational issue; my folks stressed that getting an education was the most important thing. And my dad also did not want me to be apart of the herd mentality; he wanted me to develop along my own lines. He took me to his job to meet his coworkers and we all would hang out sometimes. It was okay for a while, but I would have liked to been around others who were similar to me.

Technology really came into my life when I was in my late teens. I began emailing and texting, and no longer had to rely on talking when communicating with others: I could take my time, and respond at my own pace. This also helped me have more privacy, and over time I began making my own decisions.

Before I knew I was autistic, quite a few people told me that I was very bright person who was just quiet and shy—even though I had particular interests like dates, sports stats, being punctual and being patient, yet did not have a few social nuances that others had. This may be because, being mixed race and from a minority culture (I am part Caucasian, part African American, some Native American, some German and a little Scottish, just to name a few), I found that talking about psychological subjects like autism is overlooked and is often talked about in a bad way. Also, I hardly received the type of support or empathy I needed when I was struggling. For example, when I stuttered a bit, I was told that I was hesitating. Another example is when I chose Psychology as my major in the summer 2004, one of my relatives was not supportive of this. But it made me even more determined to do well and I got my BA in Psychology from St. John’s.

In 2005, I started hanging out with my oldest brother Blair, who lived in Canada. He knew an autistic lady, started reading about ASD, and began telling me that I might be autistic. He did some research online and found the Seaver Autism Center at Mt Sinai for me. I did interviews and tests there, and the doctor told me that I was on the autistic spectrum. I was a little surprised, but it was a blessing in disguise.

I began reading up on autism. Two years later When I told my dad what the doctor said about me, he was surprised, but then he came to accept it. I joined some support groups over the years and made a few friends. In 2009, a lady, Katrina R. from Job Path, helped me obtain two jobs through customized employment. I have had those jobs for eight and a half years.

Today, I still work, and also do some speaking gigs. I am also a die-hard Knicks fan, and have been for years. In the future, I would like to do even more public speaking and I would like to run workshops relating to autism. I would like to write a book about my life story and I would like to write more articles on topics relating to autism. I would like to one day run an autistic group designed for minorities. I would definitely like to do more acting in order to improve my skills.