Comments on: Making a Mockery of Disability Changing the Cultural Conversation Wed, 30 Oct 2013 16:22:20 +0000 hourly 1 By: Jeanne Mon, 29 Jul 2013 03:31:05 +0000 Rachel, Thank you for your perspective. I found your blog through Karla’s page. I am really saddened about TA. Several years ago, his book, The Complete Guide, changed all our lives for the better. I felt his perspective was so much more positive that almost any other books I had come across. But what Karla described, and seeing on her page how many other people are saying that this is not new, that they have tried to tell him his jokes are offensive, for years. Well, I’m just really sad about it. I hear so often how people on the spectrum are supposedly lacking empathy. Yet so much more often, it seems the NT’s are the ones who lack empathy. Only by calling out this behavior publicly will we have any hope to change it. Thank you for speaking out.

By: Zr Mon, 05 Nov 2012 15:39:52 +0000 I attended an autism-themed conference with Isabelle Hénault as main speaker, a couple of weeks ago.

Much was said about autistic people’s peculiarities and difficulties they face in society. The word “They” was used in almost every other sentence. Audience’s response was almost the same as described in Atwood’s performance. Full comedic laughter, as if watching Mr. Bean, or similar movie.

At some parts, I was almost literally in pain when listening to the series of descriptions of all the possible (not TYPICAL, but let’s get prepared for the worst, just in case) ways living with autistic people can go wrong, and terribly wrong… And watching one, certainly fully well-meaning girl, sitting next to me, writing those things down into a notebook. At one point, I couldn’t resist and said to her: “Don’t write that down, it’s totally NOT like that!”. She did anyway, right before my eyes. The horror.

Bottom Line: Isabelle’s lecture might have been beneficial by causing EXISTING parents, siblings, girlfriends, boyfriends, friends and co-workers to give an extra effort to PRESERVE and IMPROVE their EXISTING relationships with KNOWN autistic people which are just TOO IMPORTANT to lose. However, people who have currently no known relationship with autistic people at all were also given a lots of reasons to not bother at all and avoid us in the first place. Just to be sure.

During one of the pauses, I told her: “There is one way this lecture’s efficiency can be objectively measured. All of the attending people should meet again after a few months and tell us how many autistic people they’ve consequently employed, befriended, dated or slept with in the meantime. If the number is zero, then this conference has failed its purpose.”

Whether by being wrongly constructed, or by being attended by wrong people, either way.

By: Cut it Out: An Open Letter | Aspergers and Me Mon, 29 Oct 2012 18:38:24 +0000 [...] way to say “you’re bad.” It may be a by-product of the fact that it is socially acceptable to blatantly mock and belittle disabled people, but I maintain that neither of these things are in the least bit [...]

By: Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg Sat, 27 Oct 2012 18:25:10 +0000 Karla, I agree with you entirely. I’ve written a new post in response:

By: Karla Fisher Sat, 27 Oct 2012 05:11:16 +0000 I think I have been VERY light in my reports about the Tony presentation. Let me elaborate a little bit more as people are not getting the “right” bigger picture. Here is how the presentation day went…

1. Sets up the joke with a story line that includes an NT and an ASD person. He either says nothing about the NT or he sets up the NT to be the good guy.
2. Brings in the punch line by either imitating or otherwise telling about an autistic perspective (from his experience) <—— Here is where I think that this is just like me and how I think.
3. The entire room is now laughing at Tony's imitation of autistic people.

It repeats over and over and over. Throughout the whole day the room is laughing at how I exactly feel and would act in the scenario he just set up. He made 1 joke about Britts and 2 about NTs. Other than that it was all out laughing at autistic people.

Example no. 2: At one point Tony talks about a married ASD couple. He talks about how they are in their house at night quietly reading and the neighbor stops by to bring them some nice snack and introduce himself (<—- here the NT neighbor is set up as the "good" guy offering gifts and introduction). Then Tony gets into his "acting mode" and gets wild eyed and starts to freak out as he explains… The ASD couple are quickly running through the house turning off the lights and ducking behind the chairs. Tony ducks behind the podium to act out the bit. (<—— sets ASD couple up as the assholes at worst, a stereotype at best) At this moment the entire room is laughing validating that this behavior is NOT okay by any sort of social standard.

Example no 3. Additionally he makes little quips throughout that further perpetuates stereotypes or just plain is meant to hurt. Like about the time he talked to this one guy that he met and he knew he was Aspie because he was wearing the "Aspie uniform" (then he describes the uniform.) <—– Again the room busts out laughing. It is the same clothing that I and 2 other people were wearing.

Example no. 4. All throughout the day Tony kept telling the room about how all Aspies are genius as he pointed over and over again to Bill Gates, Einstein and many other completely not diagnosised yet profoundly gifted people. This is one of those stereotypes that really hurt autistic people as a whole. YES, there are a select percentage of autistic people who are very smart and will be able to have lucrative careers in high tech and science BUT not most autistic people. Autistic people like NT people come in all manners of abilities and IQ. Let's say that you are a housewife. How would you feel if you went to a presentation about women and at that presentation the speaker ONLY gave kudos to the women who had exceptional careers and did not validate you as a woman? I see so many autistics who are very slighted by this stereotype. Temple Grandin is also aware of how negative and bad this is and is why I was the only "techie" that she allowed in her latest book. It hurts us as a people to have these sterotypes.

I could go on and on…. It was pretty amazingly bad in a lot of ways.

His non apology was patronizing and condescending.

Not saying that everything he does is bad and I actually like the work he does on Autism Hangout. That said Tony needs to learn a few things about us before he can be ALLY.

By: Patty Fri, 26 Oct 2012 01:43:48 +0000 Wow. Just wow. I can’t decide what is worse: that Tony Attwood mocked the people he is supposed to be helping or that people are actually defending him. Ivo, if you are a parent of a child with autism, I am really shocked you would not just defend Attwood, but that you would tell autistic adults that they are wrong for having their feelings hurt.

Rachel is right: Attwood did an impersonation. For a laugh. That offends me. If I saw someone impersonating my son, I would be furious. But what would be worse is if people claimed he was wrong for being hurt by such mockery.

You can argue that Attwood’s intentions were pure, but his reply to Karla proves that he has no respect for the people he is supposedly helping. It’s one thing to be inconsiderate and make jokes at someone’s expense unknowingly (it’s not right, but people are stupid sometimes, though I would argue that Attwood, of all people, should know better) but once it was called to his attention, Attwood should have apologized sincerely. And he should have promised that he would make every effort to avoid such bad behavior in the future. Instead, he blamed the victim. And to me, that shows his true beliefs and feelings. It doesn’t matter what his intentions were, really. But I would say if his intentions were in fact pure, he would feel mortified at discovering he hurt people. That he thinks he did nothing wrong disturbs me even more than his mockery.

By: Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg Thu, 25 Oct 2012 22:02:50 +0000 First of all, Ivo, this is my blog. If you’re going to respond to something I wrote, address me directly, not in the third person. And if you’re going to address what another commenter has written, please have the respect to address them directly as well.

Second of all, on my blog, I will be the judge of what’s tangential, not you. In fact, I will be the judge of what I answer and what I don’t. If you give me trouble about that again, you will be banned. I am very busy, and my time and my energy are limited. If you don’t like what I allow here and how I respond, you are welcome to move on.

Third, whether you call autism a disability or a different way of thinking really doesn’t matter. The point is that Attwood was mocking people who are members of a vulnerable, stigmatized, marginalized minority. It’s not even remotely close to saying “I know someone is a Christian when I see they are wearing a crucifix.” That is not analogous to what Attwood did, at all, for reasons too numerous to list in a comment. The main one is that he didn’t say “I know that someone is autistic when I see them engage in repetitive patterns, have difficulty with expressive and receptive language, and indulge in special interests.” He did an impersonation. Of a vulnerable minority. To get a laugh. That is exactly analogous to a Christian doing an impersonation of a Jew to get a laugh. I know this because I am a Jew and I know how it feels. I’ve been there when someone did exactly that. It was humiliating. And it’s not because there is something wrong with me or my perceptions; it’s because there was something wrong with the action itself. Talk to any minority person. They will tell you the same thing. It does not matter what the intent is. What matters is the impact.

Moreover, it really doesn’t matter whether all or some or most autistics talk in a robotic voice, or stiffen their bodies when they talk. For a non-autistic person to do that in front of a non-autistic audience is to impersonate people in order to get a laugh. That was its purpose. Its purpose was not clinical. Its purpose was to engender laughter. It’s exactly the same as if he were at a conference on cerebral palsy, and he got a laugh by limping across the stage and pretending to drool. Would the impersonation be accurate? For some people with CP, it would. Would it be mockery? Yes. Because context is everything. If you’re doing it in a context in which majority people are laughing at vulnerable minority people because of who they are and how their bodies work or look, it’s mockery. It’s practically the definition of mockery.

Finally, I did not say that all disabled people, all autistic people, and all parents feel the same way. I said that there are people in each group who feel that way, and the “all” referred to the fact that there are people from each group who do. You would do well to familiarize yourself with my other writing, because you will see that I protest very strongly against overgeneralization whenever I see it. So please don’t accuse me of the very thing I take care not to do. If you are unclear about my meaning, please ask. Making assumptions, when you’re not familiar with a person’s work, is never a good idea.

The bottom line is that I do not know any disabled person who enjoys being mocked. And if tomorrow you find me a disabled person who says they just couldn’t care less, it really wouldn’t change a thing. When it comes to people who are bullied and mocked on a daily basis, mockery is wrong. It leads to very, very bad outcomes, and it needs to stop.

The fact is, the people who get to say what’s mockery and what’s not are the targets of the mockery. Period. I can be an ally to African American people all day, every day, but I still do not get to decide whether or not something that concerns them is offensive. I have white skin. I do not deal with racism. They do. And when they talk about what’s offensive, then I listen and I take my cues from them, and I do not tell them that they have nothing to be upset about. They will be the judge of that, because it concerns them, not me.

If you don’t agree with that stance, then we really have no common ground here, and there is no point in continuing this conversation. If you’re going to keep insisting that Attwood wasn’t mocking us, I’m not going to keep this discussion going, because it will be a waste of time for both of us. We will need to agree to disagree and wish each other well.

By: Ivo Thu, 25 Oct 2012 20:45:58 +0000 Hi Rachel, my first post was not address to you, I should have been clearer about that perhaps but I did end it by mentioning I might go over some issues I had with your post later. I split things up due to length.

I also think it is fair for you to say my first post was tangential. I agree, it was. But it is also fair to point that out of other posts made before mine there were some that were as tangential and you didn’t call them on it (at the very least one previous post is very directly comparable to mine).
I also take issue that you go to say that my post has nothing to do with what you have written – I really disagree with that, as I think it is fairly clear in particular from some of earlier comments to your post that the character of Dr. T. was being questioned by some (even if your intention was not that this would happen, it did happen).

Personally I believe that intentions DO count. You may disagree.

My first and perhaps main issue is that you seem to have a different viewpoint from the one that Dr. T. seems to have regarding autism as a disability.
Dr. T. a priori does not hold that position by default – as you are well informed you must know this as well.
As such, even if he was mocking autistics (which should be clear neither I nor him think is the case), according to his own view he would not be mocking a disability. He would then at most be mocking a different way of thinking (I would still add that mocking a different way of thinking is in principle wrong, but it won’t raise nearly as much fuss as some of your other examples – and for good reasons).

If you think all autistic people are disabled (which I assume is actually not your opinion), then in my opinion that is a bigger problem than the issue you have with Dr. T. usage of humour.
I would personally rather you stop using “disabled people” when referring to autistics (and I’m not alone in this), it is not accurate and I really don’t think it is appropriate; I honestly think it stereotypes much more (and negatively) than the actions you object to.
But despite that, if you don’t stop using that terminology I won’t make a big fuss about it. I know full well you can’t please everyone, and I am convinced your intentions are good and that you use the term because you feel it communicates your messages better. You don’t think you are mocking autistics by doing so and neither do I. I don’t think Dr. T. using humour is mocking autistics and neither does he.

Next I would like to cover your flawed comparisons to mockery of religious beliefs. You are probably aware that there are many people (atheists?) actively mocking religious beliefs and people actually don’t get so fussed about that – see the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, or lots of people declaring “Jedi” as their religion in some countries official polls.
Your comparison with religion also fails on another important level because in your examples you implicitly built in stereotyping and I therefore consider it a strawman.
I would like to know what you think of the following more direct comparison that hopefully avoids being a strawman…
I spot someone wearing a crucifix (a specific behaviour) and I “diagnose” that person as a Christian (I probably made an accurate guess). I mention my method to a parent of a Christian: “I know someone is a Christian when I see they are wearing a crucifix”. He laughs. I hold that doing so is not mocking Christians, and that in general reasonable people would not be offended at my guess / “diagnostic” or that my commend made the parent of a Christian laugh.
If instead I said “all Christians wear a crucifix” then that is stereotyping and it would be a different story.

As far as Karla’s and your account of the situation goes, Dr. T. states (paraphrased) “I know one parent is autistic if he (…)”. (…) is not “wears a crucifix” but some other specific behaviours. I hope you agree this directly compares to my example with the crucifix.
Dr. T. is apparently an expert at diagnosis (he may do some research but he seems above all to be a clinician) – he knows full well that autistics are extremely diverse, say, as diverse as NTs (more?) and not all autistic parents will react that way. He is making a good informed guess that very few non-autistic parents would react that particular way and using that to identify them. Surely that is not mocking nor stereotyping and it is certainly. He is NOT stating that all autistic parents will react that way. At most he is stereotyping NTs as he is establishing very few of them would react in such a logical way!

This very much follows into how very telling it is that Karla herself did not feel offended until the audience started laughing. Dr. T.’s description after all was quite accurate for perhaps a majority of autistics (though not all).
When you look at it from a specific way, you may even conclude he is simply presenting a more memorable (in the full meaning of that word), exemplified version of what essentially amounts to some of the diagnostic criteria. He does it that way because he wants people to remember the information he is conveying.

The final big issue I have with your post is very well illustrated in the following sentence:
“It’s not just autistic people who care about this. It’s disabled people. It’s the parents and friends of disabled people. It’s all of us.”
You obviously don’t speak for everyone. In particular you don’t speak for me, and you don’t speak for the people in these conferences that were laughing. Most of those people apparently are parents of autistic people (I rather not use “disabled people” myself).
THOSE are parents of autistic people that DO CARE and DO OBJECT when autistics really are mocked and bullied (given your sentence above you agree with me on this) were THERE… If Dr. T. really WAS mocking autistics and being a bully, they wouldn’t be laughing along! You should reconsider your view if only due to this very point…
Otherwise you are not being consistent. You can be consistent and be wrong, but you can not be inconsistent and be right. At the very least you should retract the sentence I quote at the start of this paragraph.

Finally, you state that Dr. T. is being condescending saying “Karla didn’t understand”, but Karla herself admits her lack of understanding as she only became offended with Dr. T. when the other people laugh.
Also, if Dr. T. is being condescending I ask what are you being when you say that I and all those parents at the conference that laughed are the ones that don’t understand?

I DO respect your intelligence, and I DO respect your opinion (I think it is wrong but respect it) – otherwise I wouldn’t waste my time with such a long post. Please, even if you continue to think I’m wrong, extend the same respect to my opinion, and to the opinion of Dr. T. You have your reasons, but so do we.

By: Ben S Thu, 25 Oct 2012 18:19:46 +0000 it’s not a simple misunderstanding, but i don’t have much hope that someone that thinks it is will ever understand how to say ‘sorry, i understand why what i did was wrong, and i wouldn’t do that again. thanks for explaining your perspective to me”.
sometimes, people, you screw up. you just need to be able to be humble, and genuinely say you messed up. there aren’t a lot of other palatable responses.

By: Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg Thu, 25 Oct 2012 17:58:25 +0000 Ivo,

Nowhere have I judged Attwood or attempted to detract from the good work he does. I’m not judging him as a person. I’m judging what he does when he mocks disabled people. There is a huge, huge difference, and I am always very careful to distinguish between the two. I do not judge people. I critique what they say and do when I feel that what they say and do is upsetting, hurtful, potentially destructive, or otherwise problematic.

I’m among the most well-informed in this community. I think things through very deeply before I respond, and I respond with more civility than most people. If you want to post here again, you need to respect that. You also need to respond substantively to the points I make, and not go off on tangents on issues that have absolutely nothing to do with what I’ve written. If you can stay inside those boundaries, you are welcome to comment here. If you can’t, your comments will not get through.