About How We Talk About Autism

I was able to make it into New York last night and hear philosopher Ian Hacking give his keynote speech on How We Talk About Autism, for the Stony Brook University conference on Cognitive Disability: A Challenge to Moral Philosophy. Some reflections on Professor Hacking’s lecture are here—-the lecture has kind of “jump-started” my thinking for my book on language and neurodiversity.

Tropic Thunder and the R Word

Following up on dsobey’s post on Tropic Thunder: From insult to injury, a brief review of what’s being said about the film on Slate in a post on my blog, Words, Words, Words. I’ve been reflecting on the “r word” and on hateful speech so casually applied to persons with intellectual disabilities—to the point that many people think it fine and well that a movie like Tropic Thunder is “questioning stereotypes” when it’s rather simply reconfirming them, and showing why we do need to look so very closely at how we use words like “simple” and “different” and, yes, “retarded.”

Savage Language

If you haven’t read what talk show host Michael Savage thinks about autistic children (99% of whom he says are misdiagnosed), go here.

If you haven’t read his attempt to explain himself, go here. Savage cites his own experience seeing his “severely disabled” sibling die in a “‘snake-pit’ of a ‘mental hospital'” New York as why he “[knows] first-hand what true disability is.”

This is my suggestion for providing him with a little autism education. And then things got even more interesting when I brought up a recent use of the word “retarded” by another mother of a disabled child.

Maybe sticks and stones don’t break my bones, but names—but words—can really, really hurt and miss the mark entirely.

Restraints and Rights

Today’s New York Times reports on what may be an increase in the use of restraints on children—-with behavior problems, ADHD, autism—-in public schools in America, where there’s less oversight about such abuses than for psychiatric hospitals and in nursing homes. I would have thought the kinds of practices—holding a student down prone on the floor, for one thing—-were the stuff of some benighted Victorian past. But physical restraints were repeatedly used on my own son in a New Jersey town we used to live in, and without the school district telling us that this would occur, as I wrote about in a post today. And in Bedfordshire, in the UK, a family may have their 12-year-old autistic son, Ben Haslam, taken into care by the Local Education Authority, following a dispute about what the appropriate education is for the child. He’s currently in a school where, after a lot of trouble, he’s doing really well.

Both cases highlight how little people take into account the perspective, and the feelings, of disabled children and especially children with limited communication. Of course my son didn’t like—was terrified—when he was physically restrained with his arms twisted behind him—-but he wasn’t even able to say “no” or “stop it.” Ben Haslam does not talk, but you can tell from watching a newscast that his current school has helped him tremendously, that he’s learning and interested.

More onrestraints and aversives used on autistic children here—yes, this is happening in America today, to disabled children. What sorts of people call this “education”?

Excluded: Sorry, it’s not your right

Recently there’s been one story after the next in the news about an autistic child, and about special needs children, being removed (physically, in some cases) from public spaces: A Minnesota church, more than one airplane, a kindergarten classroom. I’ve followed many of these cases on my autism weblog and the discussions that have emerged have often gotten long, and been more than heated—-they’ve been full of vitriol, hostility and disgust that parents of disabled children have so little regard for others’ safety and are, indeed, so seemingly careless of the needs of others.

Parents of disabled children do care very much; indeed they may be the most sensitive of all to how strangers feel when a child “misbehaves” in public. But being parents of kids who often don’t get understood, we have to take care—to advocate—for our kids. Experience has shown me that, at the end of the day, if my husband Jim and I don’t stand up for Charlie, people just walk by. In May, I wrote a post entitled Excluded: On Keeping the Faith about the daily advocacy a parent of a disabled child, and one’s disabled child, find themselves performing everyone we step into a public place and I’m reposting it here. Continue reading