Tuesday, November 21, 2006

The dehumanization specialists

You've never heard everything, when it comes to autism advocacy. They'll always find a way to denigrate autistics even more, to make us more dreadful and scary and repugnant. They'll always find a way to put us in even more danger, should we make the appalling error of venturing out into society without our ABA therapists. Autism advocates specialize in dehumanizing autistics, and they're not done by a long shot.

This is the opening from today's Globe and Mail column by Margaret Wente:

It's hard for the rest of us to imagine what it's like to have a child with autism. Imagine a kid who has the Terrible Twos -- forever. A kid who screams for hours, bangs his head and doesn't sleep at night for weeks on end. A child who doesn't speak, is often inconsolable, who bites and hits other kids, and whose diaper you may still be changing when he's 10.

Then Ms Wente introduces one of the sources of this information, who is a leading Canadian autism advocate (and FEAT director):

"My son is in a mainstream class. He goes to other kids' birthday parties," says Jean Lewis. She is the mother of an autistic 12-year-old and also a director of a B.C. parents' lobby group. Where would her son be without treatment? "He wouldn't be living at home," she says. "Without treatment, kids like this are usually institutionalized by the time they're adolescents. They're living in restraints, living in diapers. They have to have their teeth removed because they bite."

Now the "choice" for autistics is either to undergo unlimited "medically necessary" ABA (no other kind will do), or to be institutionalized, to live in restraints and to have our teeth pulled. Maybe institutions have gotten to be old hat. Maybe the powers that be have become inured their daily bombardment of messages that autistics just naturally belong in institutions. So Ms Lewis, being an eminent autism advocate, had to make things a little more compelling.

In Ms Wente's column, Ms Lewis is describing the same autistic boy who Michael Lewis, her husband, promised to institutionalize "immediately" or "shortly thereafter" if ever his ABA program stops for any reason.

I'm pretty sure it's hard for Ms Wente and Ms Lewis to imagine what it's like, to wonder if you'll lose your freedom, again, because so many important people keep dehumanizing you and insisting you don't belong in families or society, but in institutions and in restraints. And then to wonder if, next time, they'll also pull your teeth. Because Ms Lewis says that's what we need. And Ms Wente reports this uncritically.

The end of Ms Wente's column reveals a further source of Ms Wente's information. That would be the Autism Speaks video, "Autism Every Day", which Ms Wente describes as "a glimpse of a day in the life of autism parents". She fails to see "Autism Every Day" as a glimpse at what autistic children have to endure, every day, when they are seen as appalling burdens, when they're talked around and shunted around as though they're non-sentient props. Ms Wente demonstrates that when you dehumanize autistics enough, as Ms Lewis so proficiently does, right down to pulling our teeth if we don't behave, then we disappear altogether, so that the only humans Ms Wente can perceive in "Autism Every Day" are the parents.