Saturday, October 03, 2009

Autistic people are persons: An anniversary

The statement that "autistic people are persons" is part of the 2008 decision by the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal in Dawson vs Canada Post Corporation. Today, this decision is one year old. Here is the relevant excerpt:

[133] This said, there is no doubt for the Tribunal that autistic people are persons, that unfortunately they are not well accepted in society, that they are looked at often times as special creatures who are not part of society as a whole and that society would be better off without them. The Tribunal is further of the view that autistic people need to be better respected and protected in society. They need above all to be better understood and accepted. [...]

[134] Hence, the Tribunal is of the view that the Canadian Human Rights Act provides to autistic people the same protection as to non autistic people and that both are equal before and under the law.
These statements are contrary to existing Canadian jurisprudence. In ABA-related litigation, autism advocates have used Canada's major human rights laws, including our highest law, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, to deny the humanity, personhood, equality and human rights of most autistics in Canada.

This wholesale denial and dehumanization is exemplified in the Auton and Wynberg trial decisions. These two decisions have been universally revered and promoted by autism advocates, as representing what autistics deserve.

Autism advocates also universally opposed my intervention in Auton, which sought to inform the Supreme Court of Canada that, contrary to the positions of both sides, autistics are human beings with human rights, and this status should not be denied to most autistics in Canada.

By "most autistics," I mean those of us, the majority of autistics in Canada, who have not received unlimited ABA-based interventions starting early in life.

To my knowledge, the CHRT decision in my case is unprecedented in Canada, in recognizing the personhood, humanity, equality, and human rights of autistics--regardless of which interventions we have or have not received at any point in our lives. More about the CHRT decision, including its serious problems, can be found here, and some background is here.

The CHRT decision was not appealed by Canada Post. It has also been cited in another case, this time decided in Federal Court, involving an autistic and Canada Post. Here is an example of how my case was cited, from paragraph 79:

The Dawson case above, specifically is critical of rigid corporate rules that preclude true inclusiveness of those with disabilities such as the applicants.
The decision in my case was helpful in giving another autistic person the chance to pursue, if she wishes, a human rights case based on Canada Post's decision not to hire her. And the Federal Court decision in turn includes language which may further help other autistics seeking to be regarded and treated as human beings with human rights.

Autistic people are persons--happy anniversary.


jypsy said...

Thank you. So much..

Ari Ne'eman said...

Indeed. Happy Anniversary and thank you for your important work.


Funny, I was going to say the same of John.

Congrats on the anniversary of joining the human race...hope you don't decide to rescind your enrollment by year two!

Michelle Dawson said...

Only 2 people, so far, are barred from commenting on this blog. Livsparents responded to one of them (in case things look confusing...).

Also, an accurate account of how the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network has responded to my work is here.

Clay said...

That was a great victory, for all autistics everywhere. Happy anniversary, and I hope you continue to be victorious in your efforts.

Anemone said...

Happy anniversary, and thank you so much. I have no idea how you managed it, but it's wonderful that you did.

Bev said...

Thank you, Michelle.

Phil Schwarz said...

What jypsy and Bev said!

FWIW, the CAPTCHA word assigned to me was "oustrub", which sounds a lot like what you must have to do when one of those two people try to post comments to this blog. (A large gummy eraser comes to mind, for the second half of that ersatz compound verb :-).)

dinah said...

Happy Anniversary from me too: a hugely important victory, with world-wide implications.

Marius Filip said...

I am posting this just to see whether I am the other person barred from commenting.

With all due respect, I cannot join in congratulating your anniversary.

While I fully agree with your slogan that "autistics deserve better", I do not consider, by any means, that autism in itself "deserves any better", that autism is a difference, that it is an integral part of the person and that autism deserves any respect. Autistics, yet. Autism, not.

As a natural consequence of your stance, which relies on a philosophy precluding reality and forming the foundation of an interpretation of this disorder before the reality of this disorder is considered in its entirety (I will mention only the "while communication may not develop on schedule, and that it may be difficult, it will in fact develop, and in many cases, develop completely." - I invite you to consult the opinion of a parent I know who has an autistic child usesing 20 words at age of eight), I strongly believe that your work is harmful to the autistics in the first place.

Because I believe that the basic and most important right of an autistic person, that is to be able to get rid of his disablity - is profoundly hindered by your work.

So, no thanks, no congrats from here.

Michelle Dawson said...

In response to what I can decipher from Mr Filip, I disagree that communication means speech, only. See, e.g., Keen (2005), for the negative consequences of presuming that autistics can't communicate. See also the expressive language findings in Aldred et al. (2004).

Also, and it's mystifying why anyone should have to say so, I disagree with Mr Filip's view that being recognized as human beings with human rights is harmful to autistics, or to any other disabled people, or to any people at all. I similarly disagree with Mr Filip's view that recognized standards of science and ethics (what I argue for) are harmful to autistics.

Here's a bit from the Eldridge Supreme Court of Canada decision:

"It is an unfortunate truth that the history of disabled persons in Canada is largely one of exclusion and marginalization. Persons with disabilities have too often been excluded from the labour force, denied access to opportunities for social interaction and advancement, subjected to invidious stereotyping and relegated to institutions [...] This historical disadvantage has to a great extent been shaped and perpetuated by the notion that disability is an abnormality or flaw. As a result, disabled persons have not generally been afforded the “equal concern, respect and consideration” that s. 15(1) of the Charter demands. Instead, they have been subjected to paternalistic attitudes of pity and charity, and their entrance into the social mainstream has been conditional upon their emulation of ablebodied norms [...] One consequence of these attitudes is the persistent social and economic disadvantage faced by the disabled."

In other words, Mr Filip's stated views of disability are harmful to disabled people, according to the Supreme Court of Canada, in a Charter case.

Michelle Dawson said...

Also... many thanks to jypsy, Livsparents, Clay, Anemone, Bev, Phil, and Dinah for your genuine kind words. The anniversary belongs to everyone--all persons.

Anonymous said...

No Congratulations here, Ms. Dawnson. Your continous demonization of those who seek help for their autistic child is harmful and disrespectful.
Especially those of us with a severely autistic child.

Justin's Mom

laurentius rex said...

The problem with ASAN (Which is an organisation I neither belong to or have affiliations with) is that taking a media, or cultural view of your position, you appear to have gained a somewhat iconic status because of your various actions in Canada, and your internet output.

As with any Icon, there is a reality behind that and the person is not there image at all. I would personally regard you in terms of advocacy of something of a maverick, very much your own person, whether you are right or wrong (and this is not the time to debate the in's and outs of our own differences)

I am something of a maverick too, you cannot automatically rely on me to say the same thing that the herd is saying, just because they are blowing hot in that direction at any particular time. This has brought me dissaproval in the autistic community, particularly on the hub before.

I am afraid that it goes with the territory.

KWombles said...

Autistic people are people. That's such a simple thing that society ought to get. There shouldn't be any argument there, and yet, folks like Marius prove the point in such a fundamental way of how much work we have to do in order to get that basic, obvious truth understood and accepted.

Autistic people are people, with the same basic rights, the same humanity and dignity, that all people have. Michelle is right; autistic people deserve better treatment than society gives them, but until all parents of autistic children can give them that, the chances of moving society in the direction are made all the harder.

Parents like John and like Marius miss the point, so stuck on their own disrupted narratives are they. They confuse this acknowledgment of the value, worth, and dignity inherent in all humanity with the concept of doing nothing to improve individual functioning.

They dehumanize and often demonize the autistic individual. Don't believe me? I quote a parent on my blog today who explicitly said that autism is the devil and autism is a part of his/her child.

Now, having had conversations with Marius before, I'll give some benefit of the doubt to him (slight) that his harshness may be partly a result of English not being his first language; he has called autism evil before, but does not appear to realize just what kind of connotation English speaking people place on it. But, there appears to be a consistency to his positions that language barriers do not explain away.

Benjamin Ethan said...

Your disagreement with ASAN, headed by Ari Ne'eman, greatly alarms me. I wish to see peace within the autism community. I tried to find information on ASAN websites, but I found nothing. Can you point me in the right direction? What can be done to bring about peace between you and ASAN?

Michelle Dawson said...

In response to Dawn, please show me where I have demonized anyone, been disrespectful to anyone, harmed anyone, prevented anyone from getting help, or written anything inaccurate.

Also, in my view, anyone who uses the term "severely autistic" should provide their criteria, please.

Michelle Dawson said...

In response to Benjamin Ethan, and to repeat myself, for an accurate account of how ASAN has responded to my work, see this.

Sadderbutwisergirl said...

This decision should be older than one year old. The idea that autistic people are equal to their non-autistic peers should not be considered enlightening, nor should it be made so with a human rights law. But thank you for posting about this, Michelle.

Joseph said...

Because I believe that the basic and most important right of an autistic person, that is to be able to get rid of his disablity - is profoundly hindered by your work.

First time I've heard this is a right. I don't think getting rid of any disability has ever been considered anyone's right, and in practice, this "right" is rarely exercised. Even with curable disabilities, there's no such right in a country like the US, for example (where you have to have money or insurance to get cured) even though it could be seen as a right in a country with free universal healthcare.

Additionally, I doubt Michelle has so much political power that she could stop the search for a cure, even if that was her intent. The idea that she should stop researching matters of fact because they might not be relevant to a "cure" is a bit absurd.

Benjamin Ethan said...

Thank you for responding to my comment within the hour. Of course, I also appreciate your efforts that "Autistic People are Persons" and I plan to continue my efforts that all autistic people are persons, no matter how "low functioning" they may appear even to other autistics.

Please accept my apologies for making you repeat yourself. In response to your comment I again carefully read your accurate account but I had hoped that you could provide me not just accurate but also verifiable information. I will not bother you again even though I remain greatly alarmed and I wish to see peace within the autism community. I hope I can find someone else to point me in the right direction.

Clay said...

MF said:
"As a natural consequence of your stance, which relies on a philosophy precluding reality -

Because I believe that the basic and most important right of an autistic person, that is to be able to get rid of his disablity - is profoundly hindered by your work.

Who has a philosophy that precludes reality? There is no such right to a "cure", especially one that doesn't even exist! Get real!

Ed said...

I'm so glad to see this Michelle. Your work benefits all of us. Thanks.

Benjamin Ethan said: "I will not bother you again even though I remain greatly alarmed and I wish to see peace within the autism community."

I would like to see that peace among those of us with the same goals as well. It's good for ASAN to show that their desire to represent this autism community is something they take seriously and that political aspirations and affiliations won't cause them to avoid hearing specific members and the information they can offer as a matter of convenience thereby attempting to exclude those members and redefine that community as one that is more to their liking.

Whenever they as a group target individuals that present questions and information that isn't convenient for them as enemies rather than addressing their concerns they make it much easier for people to believe that they would take more extreme measures to discredit and attack the character of someone.

Benjamin Ethan said...


You are someone else - can you point me in the right direction? Do you have verifiable information that you can disclose to me about problems with ASAN? Then, let's deal with these specific problems and make peace within the autism community.

Ed said...


Alain said...

Thanks you very much Michelle...

Michelle Dawson said...

"Benjamin Ethan" may be a name used (in one way or another) by Aurhur Golden, promoter of facilitated communication, the other person I've banned from posting here, for many reasons. Mr Golden is aware that he is unwelcome here.

Arthur Golden is also one of the very few people who've managed to be banned from posting on the TMoB board in its long history. It takes a lot--a lot--to get banned from the TMoB board.

I should have noticed the possiblity that the poster was Arthur Golden before, sorry. I am always very naive and it does not easily occur to me that others will be dishonest. And in my view, it is better if people are honest.

Because I'm not sure, I'm going to leave "Benjamim Ethan's" existing messages up for now, but I for one will not be responding to them. Also, further messages may be taken down.

jypsy said...

Benjamin Ethan is the name of Mr. Golden's son. The comments here do not resemble any writings of Mr. Golden's son that I have ever read.

I share your naivety and you feelings about honesty Michelle.

Stephanie said...

To Dawn, Justin's mom:

As the mother of three children with autism, one of whom is severely autistic, I must say I disagree that Ms. Dawson's work is at all harmful or disrespectful to the autistic child as your statement implies. Her efforts may, however, seem harmful and disrepectful to you, because she attempts (with some success) to thwart your attempts to "normalize" your child and the people who would/do help you do so.

Every person, no matter how severely disabled, deserves to be treated as a human being with human rights recognized for other citizens.

Furthermore, requiring ethical scientific practices is neither harmful nor disrespectful. It is quite the opposite. Theories falsely called "science" have done extreme harm, up to and including death, to people with neurological differences. And yes, those differences can manifest in genuinely disabling ways, but that doesn't mean the people are any less human or any less deserving of ethical scientific practices.

Simply put, severely autistic people need human rights, too.

Congratulations and Happy Anniversay!

Stephanie said...

"Also, in my view, anyone who uses the term "severely autistic" should provide their criteria, please."

In my case, it means that my child is predominantly non-verbal (unless it's singing or related to the Veggie Tales theme song), bites himself when he's frustrated, runs in front of moving cars if you don't watch him closely, still "studies" kindergarten material at the age of 9, and has been (falsely) described as mentally retarded by some of the professionals in our lives.

Generally I do not use the term except when I'm pointing out that severe autistic traits and neurodiversity are not mutually exclusive.

Michelle Dawson said...

What in reality I would like to "thwart":

1. Denying to autistics the status of human beings with human rights.
2. Denying to autistics the recognized standards of science and ethics that automatically protect and benefit nonautistics.

Re "severely autistic," everyone is free to create novel autism criteria and categories, of course.

Creating and expediently imposing novel criteria and categories is a signature practice of autism advocates.

But there are "severe" consequences to autistics (see, e.g., standards of science and ethics, above), when we are ranked, classified, dismissed, silenced, excluded, written off (etc.), according to arbitrary, expedient, ever-shifting-when-expedient criteria.

Some accurate information about "severity" of autism is here.

Neurodiversity is part of the general idea that disabled people should have human rights. I have never encountered persuasive evidence demonstrating that autistic people, unlike all other people, are better off being denied human rights.

laurentius rex said...

I am in agreement with Michelle here regarding the inherent human rights of Autistic People and the right to ethical research.

Equally I am in agreement with the arbitrary way in which categories of autistic are defined.

However I have to say that the official categories, that perhaps Michelle is using in her own research are also wanting in that respect, being arbitrary and politically defined.

I look forward to the day when rational "science" can "blow the bloody doors off" the restrictive notions of a "triad" of impairments to recognise there are no hard and fast categories in the natural world.

To use an analogy I a fond of, Autism is like Arthritis, there are many varieties all sharing a mechanism in common, the ability to damage joints.

There is nothing whatever to indicate what the severity means other than by the social impact that it has on ones living.

laurentius rex said...

Whoops correction to add to clarity to para 3

I am in agreement with Michelle in regard to the arbitrariness that severity of autism is defined.

I am not in agreement with the practice itself.

Anne said...

Dawson v. Canada Post Corp. is good law, and it has stuck. Happy Anniversary.

Larry Arnold, I'm looking forward to seeing what you come up with in your research. Seriously. It's bound to be interesting.

Michelle Dawson said...

I've deleted "Benjamin Ethan's" comment. It was completely off-topic. See also my and jypsy's messages above.

I suggest that Benjamin Ethan and/or Arthur Golden post his/their many views on their/his own blog(s). I don't have, and will never have, a tiny fraction of the sophistication, etc., required to deal with this kind of situation.

Stephanie said...


"Re "severely autistic," everyone is free to create novel autism criteria and categories, of course."

To clarify, I do not embrace the "severe" label, but do use it to communicate with parents who claim that neurodiversity has nothing to offer "severely autistic" people.

Any label of severity is going to be arbitrary, no matter who defines. Any description of severity is based solely on perception. The word itself is subjective in nature and cannot be objective. In theory, a single set of criteria could be developed, but how that criteria would be applied would still be subjective, based on observed behaviors and the observer's bias.

In Alex's case, his atypical behaviors become more "severe" or obvious, as you said in your earlier post, when someone who is antagonistic to his well-being is trying to interact with him (for example, the CPS worker who wanted him placed in a group home).

Laurentius rex,

"There is nothing whatever to indicate what the severity means other than by the social impact that it has on ones living."

Well put. In Alex's case, it means he faces more prejudice and marginalization that his brothers, who are more socially adept. It also means people in legal authority have tried to use the "severity" label to justify why Alex should be medicated, segregated, restrained, placed in a group home, and otherwise stripped of his rights.

Corina Becker said...

Congrats on the anniversary of the victory. It should have happened sooner, but it happened.

We can do this. Together.

Queenbuv3 said...

I just found your blog and I can't wait to read more. Bravo in your efforts to bring to light the mistreatment of people with Autism in your country.

Our son is 11 and has what is considered severe Autism. We love him to death and have always respected his needs and rights as a person. Our son is not a burden and we brag about his accomplishments to anyone who will listen. We advocate for our son by highlighting what he can do and the potential that he has to do more. Yes, we have had struggles in raising him but doesn't any parent raising any child?

I live in the U.S. and my son is in a TEACCH program which has made such a difference in his life. He was subjected to ABA when he was little and it was horrible. We are wondering if there are any TEACCH programs used in public schools in Canada as we are looking into moving there. Any info you could give us would be very appreciated : )

Camilla Connolly said...

Belated happy anniversary. from just one of the majority - on the other side of the planet - who did not receive ABA as a child.
Keep up your excellent work.

Michelle Dawson said...

In belated response to Queenbuv3, nice to see you here.

Because I criticize the science and ethics of ABA-based autism interventions, it's often falsely assumed (no idea why) that I must support DIR/Floortime or RDI or TEACCH... etc...

While there is some published evidence to support the use of TEACCH programs, this evidence is still very limited and of poor quality. The evidence showing that TEACCH (primarily or combined with other approaches) is not effective is also very limited and of poor quality.

This doesn't mean that no autistics do well in TEACCH programs. But it does mean that there is no way of knowing whether autistics who do well in TEACCH in fact are doing well because of something specific to TEACCH programs, or are doing well in spite of TEACCH programs, or are doing well simply because they are not in other kinds of programs, or might do even better if they were not in TEACCH... and so on.

I don't know of any TEACCH schools in Canada, sorry, though I've run into information about TEACCH-based training in Quebec, which means that there are probably some TEACCH programs out there, or at least, some schools or programs that use some TEACCH-type methods.

Long ago I read (in the media, probably this was in 2004 or so) about a school in Quebec that was supposed to use TEACCH but really was just an attempt to cram as many autistic children as possible into a segregated school, where the children were then written off.

Education is a provincial responsibility in Canada, so the situation varies from province to province. You have to find out about the programs available in the province you're interested in living in.

For example, in Ontario, all public schools are now required to use ABA-based approaches with autistic students. Even if you do not want ABA-based approaches used with your child, your child will be attending schools where everyone he encounters has been trained (if briefly) in ABA methods and has been trained that ABA-based interventions are the only effective way to deal with autistics.

In some schools there may be mandatory functional behaviour analyses or assessments, which is mandatory ABA.

For a story about a good experience with public schools in Canada, see this.

Queenbuv3 said...

Michelle-Thank you so much for taking the time to give me this info. I really appreciate it : )

MMC said...

As a lawyer, I have read both the Auton and Wynberg trial decisions and fail to see where it was ever asserted or accepted that individuals with autism are not "persons" under the law or do not have the same human rights as all other Canadians. Could you please refer me to the portions of the decisions you are talking about?

Michelle Dawson said...

In response to MMC, keeping in mind which autistics are at issue (see original post), I'm at a loss as to how the point could be missed in the trial decisions. The issue MMC cannot locate pervades these decisions, and pervades the positions taken by the parties. The issue is not confined to one or two statements.

What MMC fails to notice was central to my Auton written argument. It was also an issue in the Wynberg appeal decision. And the Tribunal probably did not address this issue on a whim.

Kathryn Cramer said...


KeithABA said...

Waiting for you post on this article:

Randomized, Controlled Trial of an Intervention for Toddlers With Autism: The Early...
Dawson et al. Pediatrics.2009

Which oddly the primary author's last name is Dawson.

How are you going to spin the results of this study as being methodologically unsound? Especially after your use of the Magiata 2005 article, which had the WORST methodology I have ever seen, yet you held on a pedestal as proof that ABA had no empirical support.

Michelle Dawson said...

In response to Keith ABA, Magiati et al. was published in 2007. The linked-to post doesn't bear out Keith ABA's predictably and wildly inaccurate claims.

What is it about behaviour analysts and false and/or exaggerated claims? Is it part of the training?

A study can be poor quality by the standards in non-autism, non-ABA areas, and still be better quality than most of the ABA literature. This is the case with Magiati et al. (2007), which has the rare advantage of being conducted by researchers who do not have relevant conflicts of interest.

DawsonG et al. (2009) is not a study of an early intensive ABA-based intervention, at least not when it comes to the experimental group.

Michelle Dawson said...

Forgot to add that Keith ABA is badly and rudely off-topic--all the more so, given that finding a much better place to comment would have been easy. Autism advocacy (and ABA) standards strike again.