“Weeds or Herbs?”: Eugenics Rhetoric Reinvoked

Filed Under (Activism, Employment, Eugenics, Uncategorized) by Estee on 26-11-2013

banner-specialisterne-dandelion

I am end of term, writing papers on technology and autism using critical theory and my interest is how we invoke these to obtain work, to socialize, but also in how these shape our existence. While technology is said to open up avenues for communication, we do not heed the critical theorists warnings of Adorno and others – that there can be “no true life possible in a false world.” The question is, how do virtual realities and mass culture, mechaniziation and so forth limit the acceptance of autistic bodies among us? It seems that work to befit the body, not the body to work. This is also a feudal notion invoked by the company Specialisterne which is a software development company providing work opportunities for autistic people.

My job is to critique these structures and life is my lab. I am a mother to an autistic son as well as a single mother and I engage (and explore) in atypical forms knowledge production with my son – I attempt to resist the standard ways of producing knowledge that in fact are, to Adorno’s critique (my interpretation), relativist – that speaks only unto itself within a frame. That is, science speaks to science and we’ve adopted its rhetoric. As such, it may shape the way we think about our lives by this framework.

We cannot examine a system if we don’t try to work from without. So, when I go online to look at the company Specialisterne, which provides work opportunities for autistic bodies, it is imperative that we question how bodies may be vulnerable to exploitation in totalizaing “autistic charactersitics” as: “able to focus for long periods of time; superior ability to recognize patterns; superior visual perceptual ability” and so forth. While autistic people need to eat, and work provides important human connection (see “emotional labour”), we have to be cognizant that we are working within a system that reduces support, devalues disabled bodies and in fact, requires all of us to work longer and harder – in fact, like machines…automated…autistic. While these characteristics that may be present for some individuals, we have to be aware of how generalities about autistic characteristics may serve to oppress people.

That said, as I do my research, I was tuned in on the marketing of Specialisterne to ask if an autistic person is a “weed or herb?” (see Specialisterne’s banner above). If we are to speak, to anchor ourselves in frames of reference for how we have come to be where we are and to think about autism, we are obliged to point out that the term came from a eugenics book Weeds in the Garden of Marriage (1931) by George Henry Lane Fox Pitt Rivers. Using this object metaphor is also explored in this paper by Gerald O’Brien in Disability Studies Quarterly.

It might be helpful for self-advocacy organizations to engage in media and marketing monitoring to ensure that dignity, respect and the history of oppression is recognized, so that we may never again re-invoke the rhetoric which belonged to the eugenics movement which rendered the segregation and sterilization of disabled people mandatory. It is curious that marketing firms would not research this thoroughly.

Autistic Teenager Tipped for Nobel Prize

Filed Under (Autism and Learning) by Estee on 22-11-2013

It is important to remember what autistic people can do in light of my previous post this morning of autistic people being confined to the isolation rooms and separate schools. Imagine the emotional and intellectual starvation of most autistic children who live in isolation or in segregated schools which only educate the “lower skills.” Not everyone is a Nobel Prize winner, and creativity can take many forms. Non-verbal, “behavioural” autistic people are always thinking, even when they “look” autistic (and looking autistic shouldn’t be judged as negative!). This is important for every parent, educator and friend to remember – even if the skill isn’t translated into normative language. This mom’s philosophy of muchness is rich and beneficial and I agree with her 100%. Let’s keep listening. Let’s keep providing opportunities for autistic people:

What’s Going on In Canada? Autistic Children in Isolation Rooms

Filed Under (Activism, Human Rights, Law) by Estee on 22-11-2013

The CBC news story on an autistic child being sent regularly to an isolation in a B.C. school was aired this morning. The student, who is “mildly autistic” (she can speak), is sent regularly to a windowless room. In polling the other young students if she should go, they responded with a resounding yes.

So what’s going on in Canada? Recently, the institutional “residents” of Huronia were awarded for their incarceration and imposed sterilization in Canada. Schools regularly remove students from classrooms. Despite the loss of the Auton case, ABA is the only “therapy” in Canada that attempts to normalize the autistic child. Negative reinforcement is still used in some of our government-funded autism centres. So while Auton didn’t win, the ABA movement has. There is no choice for autistic children in Canada. The Harper government has an agenda of ridding autism from our country. Money is spent from our “top” charity Autism Speaks to cure autism and when those same ABA schools and communities apply for funding for a $5,000 whiteboard, those grants are denied. As Ari Ne’eman writes in Loud Hands Speaking, the charity Autism Speaks does nothing to support autistic people and the communities that support them. Those same walks in our communities, with the parents who give thousands of dollars to it, get nothing from that charity in the way of supporting autistic well-being, lives and options. Despite deinstitutionalization, the rehab and medial model is supported to keep incarcerating people with disabilities. There is a human rights model, and those in the rehab and educational industries would be wise to start reading.

In the meantime, the B.C. school board seems defensive about its position. Policy-makers are deferring and the autistic girl is left in limbo and to the devices of a system that remains intolerant of her inclusion. There is an air of defense in this position. This, let us be reminded, however, that this is an infringement of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the UN Enable on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. It is against the law as more cases set the precedents (it is still an hermeneutical exercise it seems, but the principles apply); we have to keep working. The school system, which only cares about those who conform the best and get through the fastest (it’s a business model of course that doesn’t care about those who require support – it uses the cost-benefit/burden models), supports this marginalization. Most disturbing is the trend of adults who poll young children, or indeed condone this isolation of their autistic peers. These adults need to be questioned, their attitudes need to be changed, and in most cases, the only way to implement change is to bring this to the courts.

And where will our Autism charities be in incidents like in B.C.? Those who continue to support the amelioration of autistic people in the guise of acceptance and help? There is a predominant medical and libertarian model that we urgently need to discuss. It makes sense when government money supports economic solutions, that is, proposals to make children normal contributors to the market economy. Of course, these are just proposals. Work projects will only work when autistic people are respected, their rights upheld and dignity in place. As in other countries, all people (especially considering our economic privilege in this country) should receive a baseline of support in order to live good lives (but I’ll leave that discussion for another post). These are modeled in other countries but we don’t pay attention. There are too many people living in poverty and many other people are making lots of money in the false-marketing of cure and recovery, not assistance, support, rights, social supports, attitudes, and yes, employment – the latter which more often than not is also a means of emotional and social support. Such exclusion in policy and law speaks volumes. Autism Speak’s leader in Toronto states that she “hates autism but not her child.” What message does that send to a public still in need of education about disability, it’s history and human rights? How does that attitude improve the lives and acceptance of her child, and other people who will always be autistic? These are the challenges that are most difficult to face and that ask many families with any child who is different to lock up their doors and stay off the playground. If we don’t talk now, we are risking a horrible reversion to institutionalization.

Instead, let us think about how we can work together to recognize that our country is sick, not autistic children and adults. We some of that change such as the recent settlement of former inmates of Huronia. We need to work with our communities to identify the attitudes and policies that lock us out and keep us in isolation.

Why is Seeing, Believing?

Filed Under (Adam, Anxiety, Behaviours, Communication) by Estee on 21-11-2013

I learned another lesson tonight. Adam has had a few difficult days. He was complaining last week that his ear hurt, and I thought maybe he had an ear infection. I took him to the doctor who suggested it could be his 12-year-old molars coming in. I was still worried; I thought the dentist told me they had already come in. A few days passed and Adam wasn’t eating that much. His body began to twitch and spasm more. Yesterday, he placed his body under the cushions of the couch, wanted to watch a Baby Einstein video (as opposed to Shrek or Wall-E) and I knew he needed comfort. These are the things he will do to get it. I then suggested a bath and he headed for the stairs.

Once he got to the front door, however, things were out of place. Adam spent time picking up his coat, and placing his shoes just the way he wanted them and did it again and again. He was stuck in his loop. Then all of a sudden, he layed down on the floor on his goose-down coat and began to scream, biting the fabric of the sweater that was laying beside it. The blood-curdling scream broke my heart. I sat at the top of the stair, where I was waiting for him, calm and quiet. “It’s okay, Adam. I’m right here.” Adam let out a few more screams, but they didn’t last too long. I called my father to come over as I didn’t know what was going to happen next. Grandpa is one of Adam’s favorite people and I thought it would help. But Before Grandpa arrived, I came down the stairs and sat at Adam’s feet. “I’m right here. It’s okay.”

“Okay,” he said in a distressed voice.

“Do you want to move to the couch?” Adam seemed uncertain, needing more of my help to get him there; he got up walked half way down the hall, then back, unsure of where he needed to land.

“Come to the couch,” I repeated. Adam laid down and I sat at the edge of his feet with my hands on his legs. “I love you Adam. Everything’s going to be okay,” I said in my Zen-mother voice. My entire body wanting to absorb the knotted energy around him. I smiled at him lovingly and he smiled back.

“Hand is hurting,” he said looking straight into my eyes.

“Oh, I’m sorry your hand is hurting!” He leaned back and then sat forward again.

“Hand is hurting,” he repeated, holding it out for me.

“Yes your hand is hurting. Do you want me to kiss it or blow on it?”

At that point Grandpa arrived, also quiet and calm in Adam’s presence. Adam lead him to the basement where they typically hang out together. Soon after he came back upstairs for a bath and went to sleep.

This morning on the way to school, Adam sat in the back seat in the car and declared, “tooth hurting,” while pointing to his front tooth. When we arrived at school I checked but couldn’t see anything wrong. Adam had a fine but reportedly cuddly morning with his assistant. She said he became increasingly twitchy. Adam had said “yellow” which is what he has learned from the 5-point scale which symbolizes levels of distress. His assistant immediately took him to the sensory room. Adam began to tell her that his back, bottom, nose, were hurting and indeed he had a nosebleed at lunch time. When I heard he was pale and sweaty, I decided to fetch Adam early from school. Upon hearing about this, Adam assumed that he would not be able to go to circus arts where he is coached in the trampoline and began to scream. I texted (much of this conversation was happening by text) his assistant to say no, we were going no matter what because he had been asking for it all week long.

Adam did well the first half of the session and then let out a yelp. His coach put him in the silk swing until he yelped again. It was time to go home.

Nearly in tears for the way my own body responds to Adam’s distress on the inside, Adam yelped again in my car.
“Adam, I need a word please. I don’t understand screams.” I was expecting protest but Adam was quiet. When we arrived home, he again had a meagre appetite, unusual after rigorous exercise. He again placed his body underneath the cushions of the couch. He then showered and then yelped in his room. I suggested we brush his teeth, and when we did I noticed that a tooth had broken through the skin.

“Oh Adam, poor you. You are in pain!” Adam smiled from ear-to-ear, probably relieved that I finally understood what he had been telling us all along. I hugged him.

“Tired,” he declared as he climbed into bed. “Daddy hurt.” I figured he wanted to tell his father that he was in pain.

“Do you want to call daddy now?”

“No”

“Do you want to see daddy tomorrow?”

“Daddy tomorrow.” That’s an affirmative.

So as I think this through, when Adam says he’s sick and many of us just think sometimes he says things that don’t mean anything, I consider how much MORE listening we all have to do. Why do we need proof? Why do we need to see a tooth is hurting to believe it? I’m not suggesting that people (or I) don’t listen to Adam,but that Adam seems to need a lot more time and affirmation to feel comfortable as he passes through pain. Even for all the words Adam mustered to communicate how he felt, to get help, we didn’t see it and we didn’t know quite what to do for him. It’s not that we didn’t try to be helpful, or that we didn’t go to the doctor, but we beat ourselves up about Adam and his “behaviour” almost to the point of wondering if it had any function at all. Another lesson learned: We don’t always need to see to believe and Adam did the job that we always tell him to do. He communicates like hell.

What Might Derrida Say About Autism and Language?

Filed Under (Activism, autism, Communication, Community) by Estee on 16-11-2013

Adam types, mostly independently, and also with various modes of assistance. Of late, he has developed his grammatically perfect sentences and I have to wonder about teaching the system of language. To most, this should be a heralded moment when Adam has joined us, society, in the shared system of social reciprocity. Yet I wonder about that term reciprocity. Is it reciprocal when we are a dominant group of language users? What of Adam’s own communication is considered valid? With learning our system of signs and signifiers, he will be able to join classrooms and other groups. I wonder about the validation of his body, his movements as asserting his being in society. I wonder if he will not lose his, for lack of a better way of putting it, metaphorical ways of speaking. This to me was representative of communicating a pattern of thought, perhaps translation, and perhaps a pattern of sensory experience; meagerly conveyed through our dominant language. In order to think this through, we have to consider how we limit experience by insisting on a form of contemporary autistic “oralism” (a term used for the Deaf/deaf, when they were force to speak instead of sign).

Adam also sometimes speaks. Sometimes he finds it hard to use words and “speaks” better through his body. This discontinuity, as it is often called, is referred to in the medical system as impairment or a problem. Speech in our society, we must remember, is also denotative of “rationality” which I continue to problematize. Derrida might not consider his speech discontinuous any less than language and rationality are (Simons, 88). Derrida says that without any gap between pages and letters, there would be no language or communication. So language is in itself discontinuous.

Adam’s meaning must be considered similarly. Without considering his whole being in the moment I could not weave a meaning. (And it should be noted that this should not be executed by only myself. I recognize I am a dominanat language user/speaker and I have to ask for various clarifications in a translation process but also have to be patient and simply watch and listen). Meaning is co-constructed, but the most important part of this that I want to convey is that often parents ignore this complex aspect of communication and maintain a level of expectation that no one autistic person will ever accomplish without a feeling of self-loss. Inasmuch as people should be praised for achievements, they should be praised for who they are. I also consider how this interactive view contributes to the feelings of impairment; that is, every interaction with others, mostly those fluent in speech (and who may consider themselves superior or normal as a result of being a political majority of talkers), contribute to feelings of impairment. There are a number of issues here, too long for a mere blog post, but let me continue.

If I follow Derrida’s line of thinking about language, there is no easy translation. I consider Adam’s typing a way of translating his thoughts into a system; I have to recognize that language limits the expanse of his thoughts, experiences and sensations. Like science, which is a system of thought and signs, we learn to frame a “problem.” We understand science by learning its language and it is primarily an encapsulated system which speaks among itself. It is here that I will reiterate a need to move away from science as “truth” as there are other valid modes of inquiry, much of which is already produced by those who are non-speaking. I am concerned also when fellow allies and autistics revert to this form of absolutism which has only oppressed them for many years. There are ways to take back the research and inquiry and IMFAR (among other science orgs) needs to respond to them too. I am reticent, as much as I support, a specific “autistic” advocacy as we know that language and labels change with time. How do autistic people keep their needed culture while at the same time co-organize across the many disabilities who share the need for respect, acceptance and inclusion (the latter word needs clarification but I will not do so here)? Many people labeled with autism prior to 1993 were placarded with dementia praecox, schizophrenia, mental retardation, to name a few. Labels are socially constructed, temporal. They are as diachronic and responsive to society as much as the rehabilitative and treatment methods seek to “recover” them. Yet they do share one characteristic which is political and social exclusion. Here, language as a system has played a huge role in how we regard and treat autism.

To continue with Derrida, discourse and meanings are shared and malleable (my word). Meaning is assembled across spacing/timing and interactive contexts. A text is like a textile, “produced only in the transformation of another text” (Writing and Difference, 279-80). The problem occurs in the behavioural and the sciences, Derrida would argue, when “provisional meanings are taken for definitive ones” (Simons, p. 90). Isn’t this what we’ve done? Isn’t this the way we continue to respond to organizations like Autism Speaks? In a Sausserean sense, we react to the constructed meaning, signifier of autism and we continue to validate it. In other words, by reacting, we also support the dominant system. In a political sense, I think this is important to remember when we respond. It’s not that we should not do so, but we must also think of ways of moving beyond this discourse as I fear we may only be continuing to support the current infrastructure that oppresses many people who do not fit the normal paradigm.

References:
Derrida, Jacques. (1978) Writing and Difference. Pp.279-80
Simons, Jon. Contemporary Critical Theorists from Lacan to Said. p. 90.

Where I left off..let me say a few words

Filed Under (Adam, Communication, Estee) by Estee on 08-11-2013

Hmmm, let me see, where do I need to begin again? I am in the mood to just tell you where I last left this blog off, between finishing my MRP, changing Adam’s school and off to the PhD races. I can already see where this will try to pull me in many directions but Adam keeps me focused. He types on his own, but he also increases his spoken words. He is not cured of autism just because he is gaining these skills. It simply represents (if I can use that word) that coming to words, no matter how many or few, is different for all of us. Progress is not linear and I’m skeptical of progress. In terms of the human body, it changes over time. That’s about it.

Focusing on words, despite the fact that I write and defer to them all the time, remains tenuous – open to interpretation. Words are both important in this verbose culture, one where David Abram might say we are conditioned to speech (alas unaware of nature around us and our other senses) whereas Adam and others may be more attuned. If I say that, I am walking a tightrope – I wish to avoid sensationalizing “autistic” skill. Could it be there is a space in between words that we are ignoring more than ever before? Don’t we all tend to say that we live in a world where we feel more disconnected? How ironic the term automatic/automatism/autism; I get up, get in my car behind glass and these actions are automatic and required for work. People honk horns, illustrating a passive aggressive irritation – with other human beings – that may dissolve without the glass, behind computer screens. By stating my observation, I am speaking my hope. This doesn’t have to be, “just the way it is.” We can rethink the way we form relationships and community.

Words are what Adam learns in school, what we teach him through typing, reading. He is strongly attracted to words; he owns that hyperLEXIC label. We find it hard to find the right lexicon to describe our lives within a paradigm of normality, alas devoted to speech. We cannot see the forest for the trees; we are too busy building roads and computerized devices. We are busy proving our minds… and our reason.

Still, Adam is happier. He is being educated in a “real” school, and that only happens with those willing to accept that he still needs a person to help him navigate spaces, other bodies…a deluge of words coming at him in the forms of conversations and instructions. He is with other kids, and he gets to learn. This makes him happy. He directs when he needs to be with others and when he needs his space, and he learns to translate what he knows into the words we need for proof. And I, in a PhD program, must combine lots of words to put to this, in an attempt to move beyond them. In the meantime, I always feel full when Adam is around and there are few words between us. I seem to understand so much about his meaning, and he mine. Silence is full.

Director of Wretches & Jabberers At York University Tomorrow Night!

Filed Under (Communication, Critical Disability Studies, Film) by Estee on 06-11-2013

Hi everyone…sorry I haven’t posted in a while, but this is well-worth visiting at York University in Toronto tomorrow night:

Narratives on Ability with
Geradine Wurzberg, Director of the Film, Wretches & Jabberers
November 7, 2013 4-6 p.m.
York University
Nat Taylor Cinema
North Ross Building 102

More Details Here: Narratives on Ability

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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.