A Response to Prof. Guy Dove on Wendy Lawson’s Book

Filed Under (Acceptance, Activism, Critical Disability Studies, Discrimination, The Joy Of Autism) by Estee on 22-10-2009

I have come across Guy Dove’s review of Wendy Lawson’s Concepts of Normality recently (after being away for a while), and have to defend our positions.

Wendy Lawson’s book is about regarding individuals with autism with respect and dignity and questions our idea of what is “normal” when dealing specifically with autistic people. It is a wonderful thesis based upon how society views “normal.”

Of the “guest author’s” Dinah Murray and myself, Dove states:

The guest authors, on the other hand, seem openly hostile to such parents. Murray sarcastically remarks, “Some Others [members of the typical population] weep and moan and deplore their autistic child’s existence; they wallow in self-pity and congratulate each other on how Truly Dreadful it all is.” This statement illegitimately paints a diverse group of people with a broad brush and seems to be little more than a mean-spirited attempt to silence critics. Klar-Wolfond is not much better. In her discussion of the admittedly questionable practice of using scientifically unsupported biomedical therapies, she offers the following rhetorical question, “And to make them what? — better at maths, quicker on the sports field, or well-mannered?” This is doubly insulting to parents of children who have tried such therapies. First, it belittles their concern. The suggestion is that parents are merely trying to get their children to “act normal” when in fact they are often trying to ameliorate severe challenges with respect to communication and social interaction as well as other difficulties including debilitating anxiety, painful gastrointestinal problems, insomnia, and even violent behavior. Second, it denigrates their reasoning. Many parents who try such therapies agonize over their decision. Although some of these therapies have potentially harmful side effects, most do not. When Klar-Wolfond lumps together treatments as diverse as supplements and detoxification therapies, she is being both misleading and unfair.

To me it is a response not terribly unfamiliar. Dove discounts Dinah’s perspective of being an autistic individual herself and myself as also being a parent who “agonizes” over decisions. It is precisely to that point I think worthy of addressing and why I wrote the piece in the first place.

Parents of autistic children are being eaten. A plethora of information does not constitute proof of what causes autism or what may assist with the symptoms of autism, and even those symptoms may not be a direct cause of autism but autism may cause a more heightened reaction to an ailment. Come to my house when Adam has a cold and instead of a tired child, he may be running around the house.

Yet the rise of speculation has lead many (clinicians and those in the medial profession included, and conversely thanks to the researchers who have endeavoured to provide the real proof to many speculations out there) to sell their products to the risk and danger of the autistic child, feeding upon the desperate worry of parents – and most of the time these parents are new to autism thus more open to trying anything to “helping” their autistic child recover.

I can’t help but chuckle and Dove’s choice of words. “Hostile” is a descriptive word typically ascribed to women who tend to take a critical stance. The hysterical, hostile woman is no more a stereotype than the idea that autistics are less worthy and in need of a cure. Yet Dove, to be fair, is of the mindset, it appears, that these remedies are somehow safe and that parents are only trying to make the best choice. It is here where I think he misses not only the point, but an opportunity to engage in a discussion of how we come to push unproven remedies that risk the safety of our children. The very idea that our children are “not normal,” is the premise for trying to recover them, which is why Dr. Lawson chose the guest author essays for her book. The attempt, by Murray, Lawson and myself, is to identify this preying upon parental worries, not demonizing parents. Yet all of us have to step back and take a close look at what we are putting at risk and why. Further, Dove’s defense of parents instead of the autistic people who are much more vulnerable is sadly typical in our age. It is this stereotype we are challenging and we need to point out the irony of critiquing the view of the autistic person who implores a different view.

Yes, all parents agonize over their decisions. Where is the mechanism by which quackery is separated from scientific proof? As a parent, I can relate to the agony of putting my child on ANY medication (and this is NOT related to his autism but to his overall well being and health). The non acceptance of autism as a way of being, which is precisely Wendy Lawson’s point, has driven many parents to put their children on hundreds of unproven remedies at the same time.

The question is not hostility, Professor Dove. It is a question of having a critical mind precisely when emotions are the driving force behind the autism “hysteria.” For any parent or autistic person willing to engage in this discussion, we are in turn called “hostile?” Have you witnessed the hostility by non autistic parents against autistic individuals who are trying to be seen and heard?

I can tell you as a parent and a friend to many autistic individuals, there is a great deal of agony, indeed. The agony is in pushing them to recover from autism, not recover from stomach pain. Whether the two are linked, no one can really say. The evidence is still very anecdotal. Clearly, that pain should be remedied, but not at the risk of administering hundreds of medicines simultaneously in order that our children can act more “normal.”

I gather being critical is less important than putting our children’s health and safety at unnecessary risk. As for Adam, I couldn’t bear seeing him in pain. Of course I would seek counsel from his doctor and endeavour to remedy his pain. It would be no different if I had a non autistic child. The point is autistic children are being put at much higher risk precisely BECAUSE they are autistic.

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About Me


ESTÉE KLAR

I’m a PhD candidate at York University, Critical Disability Studies, with a multi-disciplinary background in the arts as a curator and writer. I am the Founder of The Autism Acceptance Project (www.taaproject.com), and an enamoured mother of my only son who lives with the autism label. I like to write about our journey, critical issues regarding autism in the area of human rights, law, and social justice, as well as reflexive practices in (auto)ethnographic writing about autism.