Autism And The Whale

Filed Under (Acceptance, Advocacy, Discrimination) by Estee on 25-02-2010

images-1 Tilikum is the “killer” whale confined at Seaworld with an apparently demanding entertainment schedule. Listening to Naomi Rose, head of the American Humane Society and a mammal scientist on CBC News at Noon today, she noted that Tilikum is not meant to “be a clown,” and that this puts a great deal of stress on the animal, explaining reasons for its aggressive behaviour. She spoke about Orca Whales as “individuals,” and discussed them and their families, as well as their social networks, and that when in their natural environment, do not attack humans.

In the media, the debate rages as to whether the whale should be put down, kept at Seaworld to remain an entertainer, or be sent to a Sea Tank in Iceland — a choice which Rose recommends. Transcribing her statements on CBC today, she noted that Tilikum has a history of this behaviour and should not be kept under the same conditions. In other words, get the message!

“He could be trained to adjust to going out into the open ocean to exercise and get more choices and then maybe his stress would be reduced,” she said, suggesting Tilikum may have simply been trying to play with his trainer.

“If they keep him in isolation the way they do, they keep him in that small tank that he’s in, this is going to happen again.”

There sure is a lot of attention for this beautiful creature. All the talk about how the animal is under stress and how that animal communicates that stress naturally got me thinking about Adam, autism and methods of communication and how many of us do the same things over and over again to no avail. Working against nature doesn’t work for very long. It has real consequences.

We are calmer on the home-front again and Adam seems to have found his place here in the house that has been understandably strange. I expect that while he is calm now, we will have a few more bouts of stress. Like Tilikum, we cannot demand that he perform like nothing has happened to him, or not react to this kind of change. Adam will communicate his true nature and it is up to me to listen.

Now if autism advocates would advocate for autism they way Naomi Rose does for Tilikum…

In keeping with the theme of this story is a post by Clay I would urge readers to visit: “Violated for Having Autism.” 


Post a comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.


About Me


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 (, 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.