It is said that if we don’t learn history, it tends to repeat itself. Wars such as the Crusade went on hundreds of years ago, but today similar patterns of religious, political, and social violence exist today. For the disabled community, there is a history of horrendous violence. Forced sterilizations were done on women thought “too unfit” to have children. People were looked up in institutions and shut off from the outside world. While many parents and professionals dealing with autism fear that there is not enough support for autistic people to find the resources they need to live, they seem to show very little care or interest about the safety these children need to live. Today, many people claim there is greater awareness about autism, there are deplorable patterns of violence committed, condoned, and perpetuated by parents, schools, law enforcement, businesses, and the media that the general public seems to neither know nor care about. It seems today that if you talk to the average American on violence against autistic people, they seem to be either unaware (or else have a distorted view) of at least (though certainly not limited to) ten examples that show it still is very secure in its place in American culture today.
Isabelle Stapleton is a severely autistic teenage girl whose mother, Kelli Stapleton, tried to kill her by lighting charcoal near the van she slept in. Issy miraculously survived and was taken away by her father, but her mother was later interviewed on the Dr. Phil Show to talk about her “compassionate killing” for her daughter, owing to the fact that there were “not enough services” for Issy, and he and several of Kelli’s supporters claimed (or at least implied) that she should have a lighter sentence. Dr. Phil’s treatment of Kelli may have been largely for ratings, but the fact that he was willing to pull this huge publicity stunt by taking to such a heavy, controversial subject shows that he has very little respect for autistic life.
Sounding the Alarm
Sounding the Alarm Battling the Autism Epidemic is a documentary film released just this year by Autism Speaks co-founders Bob and Suzanne Wright. In the film Bob complains throughout the film that autistic people “do not die” of autism despite the fact that both he and Suzanne are the grandparents of an autistic son. The rest of the film is primarily complaints by parents about the costs of programs such as Applied Behavior Analysis and of how their children will not communicate, along with footage of Dan Sphlinx from Anthrax complaining about how he has to go on duty to pay for his son’s services with clips of him hugging his wife goodbye, and interviews from Autism Speaks walks with subjects complaining about how there are very little public funds for autism, despite the fact that many autistics find ABA dehumanizing, that they try to communicate through non-verbal behavior, and that AutismSpeaks spends the largest portion of its money on genetic research for autismand executive salaries and accounting expenses.
The Autism Genome Project
The Autism Genome Project is a scientific partnership founded by Autism Speaks that seeks to raise money into research of the various genes that cause autism. Over 60% of AS’s budget goes into this project, several times more than services for autism or even corporate salaries. Alarmed, several autistic advocacy groups, such as the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network and the Autism Women’s Network, claim this research could help parents terminate autistic pregnancies as has happened to fetuses with Down syndrome. Moreover the AGP states that it needs brains from autistic human beings for doing their genetic research. The statements recalls to me the early 1800’s when Native American scalps were considered highly valuable. Despite the problems with AS’s impact, Autism Speaks is sponsored by a number of well-known businesses and do-gooders such as Home Depot, Joe’s Crab Shack, Macy’s and one of the oldest and largest women’s college fraternities Alpha Xi Delta.
Avonte’s Law was started in 2013 in New York City after autistic grade-schooler Avonte Oquendo went wandering from his classroom and was found dead near a river. Despite the negligence of this school environment, Autism Speaks, along with the New York City government thought automatically that solution was to resort to police security of special needs classrooms and passed this law that requiring security alarms outside the doorsof NYC special education classrooms to alert police forces, which have a long-well documented history of abuse against autistics.
The Judge Rotenberg Center
A residential, special education facility in Massachusetts, the JRC has a long history of using electroshock therapy on the skin of and withholding food from autistic and other disabled students who refuse to do what its teachers tell them. Students have been shocked for flapping hands, spinning, and refusing to take off their coats. Children have died in this institution, and an FDA Panel hearing was organized to address the issue of torture at this school, which is currently funded by tax-payer money. Autistic activist Lydia Brown wrote in an open letter to the FDA Panel, “You cannot treat animals this way. You cannot even treat prisoners like this.” Meanwhile, the JRC was shown in Autism Speaks’ 2013 walk to be partially funded by this organization.
Applied Behavior Analysis
ABA, known for breaking down everyday tasks into smaller steps, has been known for trying to suppress autistic behavior by getting them to not flap their hands, spin, or do any rocking whatsoever. A contributor to the autism blog Unstrange Mind wrote in a post about three weeks ago that he walked past a clinic where her saw a young girl who had just gotten out of ABA therapy with her parents. Her mother said, “Look at me, Janie.” The girl refused to look at her, and Janie’s father said, “Look at your mother, Janie.” Janie still did not budge. Eventually, her father held her by her arms and legs across her mother’s knee while Jane trashed and screamed, and eventually looked at her mother. The author of this post wrote afterwards, “What did Janie learn that day? …that adults can have whatever they want from her, even if it hurts and even if they have to hurt her to get it. Janie learned that her body does not belong to her and that she has to give others access to it at any time, for any reason, even if she wasn’t doing anything that could hurt herself or others. Janie learned that there is no point in resisting and that it is her job to let others do what they want with her body, no matter how uncomfortable it makes her.”
It is well-documented that police abuse has taken place towards autistics in a number of cases. Nicole Flatow wrote in the independent editorial Think Progress in late June of 2013 that, “After a taxi driver spotted an autistic 11-year-old walking naked on the highway early Saturday morning, Oregon State police used a taser to apprehend her. Although police said the move was necessary to stop her from danger, a witness at the scene, Adam Bednar, disputed this account, saying she wasn’t walking toward the road.” In 2011, an eight-year old autistic boy in Denver was reported as having a meltdown by Colorado state police. His teachers told him to calm down, and when he continued to meltdown, state police came in and handcuffed the boy, ordering that he be taken to a nearby mental hospital for a psychological evaluation, the whole time being handcuffed as he was driven to the hospital.
I don’t get it. I went to a special needs school and I saw meltdowns happen regularly. At no point in six years of attending did I see any instance of police authority, let alone handcuffs.
The Washington Post on two autistic young adults locked up in their basement
Last summer, two twenty-two year old twin non-verbal autistic young men in Rockville, Maryland were found in their basement with no furniture standing in their own feces. Police investigated the basement on unrelated drug charges, upon which they found these two young men. Police apprehended the parents, John and Janice Land, and they both appeared before a judge on trial. This incident was later covered in the Washington Post on August 6, 2014. The article spoke for only about two sentences about the appalling treatment of the two boys and instead spent nearly eight full paragraphs discussing police stories of working with autistic children who’ve wandered off in different states, testimonies of parents uninvolved in the situation talking about the lack of services for their autistic children when they reach adulthood, and testimonies of people who know the Land couple who expressed an “understanding” for why the Land’s acted the way they did. The thinly-concealed tone of the article stops short-barely-of condoning the abhorrent treatment of the Land couple.
It’s well-known (or at least most people think) that autism is four times more prevalent in males than in females. Yet current psychological studies show that autism diagnostic standards mostly measure autism in males instead of females. This fact was so obvious that even Wikipedia was able to cite it. With so many horror stories of autistics who wander unwittingly to pedophiles and rapists in the media, one has to wonder why most psychologists consider the diagnoses aren’t considered as important for females as males. Without the diagnosis, autistic girls and young women could miss the services that allow them to learn non-verbal social skills and judge people’s characters more correctly, making them one of the most endangered female populations in society.
I know too well, from six years in my Kansas public elementary school, that bullying against autistic students exists and is still alive today. I know of autistics that have been threatened, harassed, and victimized in schools. In sixth grade 2002, a classmate said to me in the lunch-line, “I wish someone would fly a plane into your house.” After teachers heard that this kid had bullied me for several months, I know of nothing to this day that was done about this violent remark, to which I told my parents. Only a few weeks later, a couple of this kids friends, and maybe he himself, were reported as calling a sixth-grade girl “fat and dumb.” For this I saw them send right away to the principle by a lunch room attendant. We are like fish it seems, to immersed in water to know we are wet. Most parents wouldn’t know that this young kid might have been talked into autistic bullying by cultural mechanisms they don’t even see exist, e.g., perhaps he had seen the way students in special education are portrayed on television, and his elders did not even watching it, or notice them on TV. Such talk only perpetuates stigma and thus the violence that has been allowed to go on in everyday life.
Suddenly it doesn’t look like there is much more awareness about autism today. The presence of autistics who die of (and are injured from) police abuse, electroshock, murder from caregivers is still as much here as it ever was. If you do think there is more awareness, I want to ask, “will it save these children?” More importantly, “will it bring them back?” However much autism seems to be a word or phrase in the household, autistic violence, torture, and neglect are not. And is it possible, perhaps, that maybe we should be focusing on other things than causes and cures for autism? Society seems to push for the resources autistics need some more but essentially neither know nor care about the protection. If I could contact these lost children and ask them about the work of autism’s most trusted champions, would they thank them for this?