Defaming Autistics in the Name of Autistic Advocacy
"I've posted my opposition to what Alyric has done here and here."
I disagree and for only one reason. I'm quite sure that when Michelle started working with Mottron and writing advocacy on behalf of innumerable folks everywhere, she had no idea where it would all end up and her own prominence in it. But, she is that prominent and there it is. The cost to prominence is to be a front runner. Therefore the argument that this is going to make her life difficult has less legitimacy than it might. Actually, I tend to think that it makes life more difficult in the long run to avoid this kind of confrontation and this confrontation has been brewing for a very long time, to the point that autism advocacy here in Canada has been poisoned by it. Now that's my opinion and goody for me, what a nice safe opinion it is too. Am I going to be affected by this action? Nope and because of that dear reader, you must take what Michelle thinks into account first before you do anything at all.
The main drag:
I wrote this letter (not a very good one) because I've had enough of the advocacy of some so intent on their narrow pursuits that they think that those who contribute in ways not supportive of their agenda can be defamed at will. That the autistic involved is important and that this importance is being recognised in the broader autistic research community is not actually central to the matter. What matters is that whole slabs of raw data, namely the perceptions and cognitive characteristics of autistics, cognitive psychological studies all, are being dismissed as 'anti-ABA'. Why? Because I suspect that this is a major point of unavoidable embarassment for behaviourists who can claim in 40 years of research nothing at all that furthers understanding of autistics, yet they have vast intervention mechanisms in place. Naturally, if you're FEATBC and are running a major political campaign to have Medicare fund ABA, anything seen to detract in any way has to be marginalised and if at all possible de-legitimised. Well that has to stop. I know their agenda and know more thAn enough about how governments fund autism services to be in sympathy with their aims, while not necessarily thinking that this is wonderful for all autistics and all skill sets. It emphatically is not and there's no evidence to say so. Just look at Medicare funding for autism services in Australia - and that's PT, OT and speech therapy, no where near ABA. They're talking to the the tune of 20 services per annum, what a joke.
It is however, no joke when autistics are defamed in the name of attempting to sideline enormously important research because it doesn't fit with your plans. How can anyone claim to represent autistics or have their interests at heart while doing so is simply not possible that I can see. As such, I'm calling on anyone who cares to write to FEATBC and any politicians you care to protesting their extraordinary activities, highlighting the importance of this research and emphasisng that reasonable people, including legitimate advocates just do not do such things. I write from the outsider perspective, not being Canadian and I think that it would be helpful if folks outside of Canada could let Canadians and their politicians become aware of the disgust in which these advocacy efforts are viewed. The Medicare for Autism website lists politicians supportive of this initiative and they are the ones who will be most aware of the very negative publicity that FEATBC's activities are likely to generate since politicians always look at the wider picture.
7 November 2008
Dr Sabrina Freeman
c/- Ms Jean Lewis
Families for Early Autism Intervention of British Columbia (F.E.A.T.B.C.)
Suite 425 - 1489 Marine Drive,
West Vancouver, BC, V7T 1B8
Dear Dr Freeman and Ms Lewis
I am writing concerning the posting in duplicate of the following to the FEATBC message boards on, Wednesday, October 29, 2008 at here and here.
The text is as follows:
“The National, CBC's flagship nightly newscast hosted by Peter Mansbridge, has proven itself completely worthless to anyone who has any respect for truth.
Here is the piece of garbage they have recently produced:
It is important to note that Michelle Dawson is a self-proclaimed "autistic" who has never had a formal diagnosis. A newspaper report has revealed that she has supposedly "self-diagnosed" herself. Much evidence suggests she is an opportunist who is seeking profit and attention by exploiting public ignorance about autism.
Temple Grandin, a real autistic who is NOT against ABA, says:
"The problem is, you talk to parents with a low-functioning kid, who've got a teenager who still goes to the bathroom in his pants and who's biting himself all the time. This guy destroys the house, and he's not typing, no matter what keyboards you make available. His life is miserable."
Why do people like Michelle Dawson never talk about how miserable these children get without treatment? That's because they want the fame and fortune of Temple Grandin but have nothing to contribute, so they resort to any method imaginable, often at the expense of truly disabled children.
Everybody has an opinion but, the problem is that this posting will place the Medicare for Autism Now campaign in jeopardy if it ever becomes apparent in government circles that a prominent autism advocacy society, which claims to be doing their all for their constituency - autistics, one would assume, blatantly treats one of them to a disgraceful display of overt defamation and disrespect. No one it seems has considered the effect of such antics on an outsider. I am an outsider, though reasonably knowledgeable of the history of the altercation, having followed it from my own country before I arrived in yours. Your government decision makers are also outsiders. What is immediately obvious is that a prominent Canadian researcher in autism, Michelle Dawson, who has done as much as anyone to drag psychological research into autism into the cognitive revolution and who selflessly represented herself and therefore all autistics before the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal (CHRT), is being grossly misrepresented. Those who seek prominence and profit do not elect to work as unpaid volunteer researchers (for
the many years that the CHRT case was in progress) and neither do they seek no damages following the successful outcome of their CHRT case. It is also obvious that Ms Dawson’s diagnosis will have been scrutinised most thoroughly by CHRT. The numerous non sequiturs in this posting would not under any circumstances be put to any other Canadian researcher. Imagine if Dr Eric Fombonne were to be asked to “talk about how miserable these people would be without treatment”. The attitudes expressed represent ignorance combined with base ingratitude. I am not a Canadian but I know where to find the text of Ms Dawson’s CHRT outcome. These lines are particularly memorable:
“the Tribunal finds it disturbing for the future of autistic people that they be seen because of their condition to pose a threat to the safety of others and some form of nuisance in the workplace. An employer has a duty to ensure not only that all employees work in a safe environment but also that ill perceptions about an employee's condition due to poor or inadequate information about his disability lead other employees to have negative and ill-founded perceptions about him.”
I plan to use those lines in the event of discrimination in the workplace against my ASD offspring. But those lines, bearing the imprimatur of the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal, would not exist without the perseverance and hard work of Michelle Dawson. They can be a resource for anyone, including non-Canadians.
I find it extraordinary that an autism advocacy organisation should allow such contempt for what are admirable achievements by anybody using any yardstick. There are not many Canadian researchers who are listed as principal author for papers published in the prestigious journal Psychological Science, which is where one can find Dawson et al, The Level and Nature of Autistic Intelligence. There are not many who contribute to book chapters for sentinel reference texts. Ms Dawson has done that also with her contribution of Learning in Autism to J. H. Byrne (Series Ed.) & H. Roediger (Vol. Ed.), Learning and memory: A comprehensive reference: Cognitive Psychology. What country wouldn’t be proud of such a daughter? What autistic advocacy organisation wouldn’t be proud of such an autistic daughter?
The sentiments expressed by the poster and disseminated by supporters of FEATBC do nothing for the reputations of those involved and may do a great deal more harm than foreshadowed given the importance the participants put on persuading governments to do more for autistic children. That these proponents have disseminated such blatant falsehoods about a prominent and autistic Canadian does nothing to persuade others that their concerns are justified and worthy of serious debate.
I look to the governance of FEATBC and Medicare for Autism Now to rectify this situation.